Federal public servants to return to the office 3 days a week this fall

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The federal government will expect public servants back in the office three days a week beginning later this year.

A federal government source who is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter confirmed to Radio-Canada what the French-language newspaper Le Droit first reported Monday.

The source said the policy shift is due to come into effect in September, but added that could change.

It’s a major alteration to the twice-a-week hybrid model that prompted some 155,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members to walk off the job last year in what their union called a “watershed moment” for workers’ rights.

“Now, you will be protected from arbitrary decisions about remote work by the government,” PSAC said in a statement last June.

Ten months later, both PSAC and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) say they’ve been blindsided.

“It absolutely catches us by surprise,” said Stéphanie Montreuil, head of public affairs for PIPSC. “It came with no warning and no consultations from our part.”

Montreuil said some members are still heading into the office only to participate in virtual meetings.

“We’ve advocated for presence with purpose,” she said.

An empty bench sits on Queen Street in downtown Ottawa
Ottawa’s Queen Street appeared nearly deserted on Monday. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has urged federal workers to return to the office and boost the local economy. (Stu Mills/CBC)

3 days ‘a good start,’ Ford says

In Ottawa on an unrelated visit Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford reiterated his call for federal public servants in the capital to get back to the office and breathe life back into the city’s often deserted downtown.

“Three days is a good start,” Ford said, reacting to the news. “When you’re coming here, go out for lunch, maybe go into a store, pick something up, go to the mall — that’s what we need, that’s what stirs the economy.”

Treasury Board President Anita Anand did not comment on the report.

But Minister of Public Services and Procurement Jean-Yves Duclos said individual ministries would maintain the final word on how employees return to the office.

“All departments need to contribute to the conversations that are taking place with Treasury Board,” Duclos said.

Last September, Commercial real estate company CBRE found vacancy rates in downtown Ottawa had jumped to 15.1 per cent by the end of June — the city's highest rate on record.
The 2024 federal budget set a 10-year target for cutting Public Services and Procurement Canada’s office portfolio in half. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Neither PISPC nor PSAC would speculate about how members of the two giant unions might react to the news.

In downtown Ottawa, public servant Tannis Labelle wasn’t keen on the idea of returning to the office for a third day.

“It adds to my work day, it takes away from my family life — I think it’s a waste of time,” she said.

The 2024 federal budget set a 10-year target for cutting Public Services and Procurement Canada’s office portfolio in half.

With that anticipated reduction of federal government office space and no firm plan for an end to hybrid working on the horizon, many public servants are questioning not only when they’ll return to the office, but where and even how.

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