Federal public service employees frustrated with ‘vague’ return-to-work plans

As federal employees gradually return to the office in person, some workers and members of the public service union say they want more clarity and consistency from the Treasury Board of Canada on working arrangements.

Since the beginning of March, the federal ministries have been gradual return to on-site or hybrid work after receiving the green light from Treasury Board, which oversees the federal workforce.

The Treasury Board said in a statement that there is “no one-size-fits-all approach” and that deputy ministers each have the authority to determine how their employees will make this return.

But with decisions in the hands of individual departments, some civil servants are frustrated by the lack of consistency.

“We don’t see a clear direction as to what going back to work looks like,” said Sharon DeSousa, national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, a union representing about 200,000 workers in across the country.

She said she’s heard from union members talking about a lack of responses and a sense of “instability” surrounding returning to work, particularly with how plans differ from department to department.

Sharon DeSousa, speaking outside the Treasury Board of Canada building at a rally, said public service workers are seeing different return-to-work plans from department to department. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada)

DeSousa said employees deserve to have safe and healthy work environments, adding that everyone’s mental health has suffered from the pandemic. Employees need to know that the government has their backs, she said.

“They need consistency, they need support, they need to make sure their health and wellbeing is taken care of, and they need clear communication.”

WATCH | Federal workers still see ‘instability’ around return-to-work plan, union says

Federal workers still see ‘instability’ around return-to-work plan, union says

Sharon DeSousa, national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says it’s still unclear how a hybrid work model for federal employees will be implemented.

“Loose and Vague Guidelines”

Kristina MacLean, who works for the Department of National Defence, said she currently advocates a hybrid working model, but the lack of strong language outlining telecommuting options makes it difficult.

“We’ve done the job, we’ve shown we can do the job, now it’s time for everyone to be a bit flexible.”

MacLean said the lack of consistency across departments is a “major problem”.

“Right now it’s at the discretion of the employer,” she said. “Depending on what department you’re in or what classification you’re in, you get different treatment and you could all be working in the same office.”

Kristina MacLean, seen here at a rally for workers’ rights, says she is concerned about inconsistent return-to-work plans that are at the discretion of the employer. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada)

MacLean said she discovered that the communication surrounding the return to work was made up of “vague and vague guidelines” that are subject to interpretation.

“I think that puts us in dangerous territory because if it’s entirely up to the discretion of the employer, how are we going to protect workers’ rights?”

In its Labor Force Survey for August, Statistics Canada said it continues to see an upward trend in people reporting hybrid working arrangements, with 8.6% of respondents working in a hybrid model. .

Statistics Canada said it does not have data on the number of federal public service employees currently working remotely or in a hybrid model.

Differences between departments

CBC News has contacted various federal departments about their plans regarding the return of employees to the workplace. The Department of Canadian Heritage did not respond to CBC in time for publication.

  • The Canada Revenue Agency said it will move towards a hybrid work model and gradually increase the number of employees working on-site.
  • The Ministry of Finance said it is adopting a hybrid plan where most employees will work both in-person and on-site, and hopes employees will eventually spend 50% of their time in the office.
  • The justice department said it is now adopting a hybrid work model and that employees wishing to work from home will need to have telecommuting agreements approved by October 3. There is currently no department-wide minimum number of days to work onsite.
  • The Ministry of National Defense said it will gradually transition to a hybrid workforce over the next few months. About 50% of its employees were working on site during the pandemic, he said.
  • The Public Safety Department said it would adopt a hybrid model, with telecommuting arrangements defined in collaboration with employee managers. He said the process should be finalized by November 2022.
  • Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) said it officially began implementing its flexible working model on September 6, with many ESDC employees continuing to work on-site.
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada said it has maintained essential services on site throughout the pandemic, and an increasing number of employees have come to work regularly in recent months. By September, all executives must have a regular and sustained on-site presence, and all employees or executives who telecommute must have a signed telecommute agreement.
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada said a significant number of its employees continued to work on-site throughout the pandemic, and over the summer employees were returning to offices across the country. Hybrid working arrangements have been adopted and the department said it expects employees to be in the office one to two days a week.
  • Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said the health and safety of its employees is a top priority as they transition to a hybrid workforce.
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it is continuing its transition to a hybrid workplace model.
  • Indigenous Services Canada said he expects to return to the worksites this fall and that an in-person presence will be scheduled for one day a week or more. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said it continues to work on a phased return to work for the fall as more employees return to work.
  • Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said it is implementing a return-to-office plan, with the majority of its employees adopting a hybrid plan, working onsite two to three days a week on average. Some employees will have more or less days of presence depending on their function.
  • Public Services and Procurement Canada says he is gradually transitioning to a hybrid workplace.
  • Transport Canada said each employee has an individual working arrangement with their manager, and employees have the option of returning to work full-time or a hybrid plan depending on their job requirements. The working arrangements agreements are to be implemented by September and several employees have already worked on site throughout the pandemic.

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