Public servants will work in their positions three days a week starting in September

The federal government has confirmed it has updated its policy on remote working and will require public servants to spend three days a week in the office by mid-September.

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The federal government has confirmed that it has updated its policy on remote work and will require public servants to spend three days a week in the office by mid-September.

The decision has been met with frustration from employees and unions, with a Public Services Alliance of Canada leader saying the union plans to file unfair labor practice complaints.

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In a message to deputy ministers on Wednesday, Treasury Board Secretary Catherine Blewett and Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat Human Resources Director Jacqueline Bogden said executives will need to spend even more time working in person, and are expected to be on site a minimum of four days a week.

The message stated that independent agencies are “strongly encouraged” to implement a similar plan.

PSAC picketers
PSAC workers protest in Ottawa in 2023. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick /THE CANADIAN PRESS

“A lack of respect”

Kevin Taylor, a federal public servant based in Rockland, said he doesn’t mind spending more time in the office, but wishes he had found out about the government’s plans through his employer, rather than through the news.

“I enjoy coming in,” Taylor said. “My only complaint is that it would be nice if we found out before the media. I just find it disrespectful to your employees when that happens.”

A government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Monday, confirmed to this newspaper that the government will soon announce changes to its hybrid work model.

At the end of 2022, most federal public servants were instructed that they would return to the office for up to three days a week. The government directive on mandatory workplace presence required deputy directors to implement a “minimum requirement of 2 to 3 days per week in the workplace for all public servants” or a minimum of 40 to 60 percent of the regular employee schedule.

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That policy, which applies to all core civil service employees, students and casual workers, now requires deputy heads to implement a “minimum requirement of three days per week in the workplace for all public servants,” noting that it is also acceptable to require a minimum of 60 percent of employees’ regular hours on a weekly or monthly basis “to ensure flexibility for operational reasons and types of work.”

It says deputy directors “must exercise discretion and adapt to their operational requirements,” adding that “workplaces vary from organization to organization.”

“Implementation continues for departments that have communicated and established a minimum attendance requirement in accordance with this direction,” the policy reads. “For those departments that have not yet implemented a three-day per week minimum attendance requirement, full implementation must be in effect no later than September 9, 2024.”

Treasury Board President Anita Anand was not available for comment Wednesday.

Exceptions to the policy.

The directive outlined several possible exceptions, including for those hired to work remotely before March 16, 2020, for Indigenous public servants “whose location is critical to their identity to work from their communities” and for employees who, with permission from their deputy assistant minister, are working remotely 125 kilometers or more from their designated workplace.

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Exceptional exemptions will be made “on a case-by-case basis, for a limited time or for a longer duration.”

Assistant principals are responsible for monitoring site presence, the policy states, noting that data, attendance reports and IP login data may be used.

“Prior to implementation, managers should proactively discuss with employees any barriers they may encounter, including those related to accessibility, harassment, and discrimination, and define solutions that help address these barriers in the hybrid workplace. “says the policy. “Managers should ensure that individual circumstances are considered on a case-by-case basis, including human rights obligations such as a duty to accommodate, or whether an employee has a reasonable explanation for absences from the designated workplace, such as illness, family reasons . obligations of care or compliance with COVID-19 self-isolation protocols.”

The issue of teleworking has been a major point of contention among unions and was a point of friction during last year’s Public Services Alliance of Canada (PSAC) strike, which involved more than 155,000 workers.

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Alex Silas
Alex Silas, PSAC regional executive vice president for the National Capital Region. Photo by Ashley Fraser /postmedia

“A real slap in the face,” says union leader

Alex Silas, PSAC regional executive vice president for the National Capital Region, said it’s frustrating how the government made the change.

“It’s not really about three days, four days or two days,” Silas said, noting that the union asked the government last week if it had plans to change its policy and was told no. “Our feelings and those of our members are that they are frustrated and insulted by the way the employer is approaching this.”

Silas said the union plans to file complaints about unfair labor practices and consult with its members.

“They are going against what they agreed to at the negotiating table, which was to establish joint panels for each department, to review a hybrid work policy that works best for each department,” Silas said. The union plans to move forward with establishing the panels.

“We’ve been saying from the beginning that a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work,” he said.

“It’s a real slap in the face for federal public service workers.”

In their message, Blewett and Bogden said the government will continue to work with negotiating agents and organizations to implement negotiated letters of agreement to establish departmental review panels and review its directive on teleworking.

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“Used as a walking wallet”

While Taylor said she loves coming to the office, she said her main concern with adding a third day is travel, given Ottawa’s “very poor transit system.”

“I think the biggest issue for most people is public transportation and the cost of it,” Taylor said. Parking downtown is expensive, and without an LRT connection to the city’s east end, taking public transportation from her home in Rockland takes an hour and a half each way, she said.

“Working from home allows us to start work very early, work through lunch and then put in a good eight or nine hours some days. And that’s easy to do.”

Taylor speculated that the government’s decision was “politically motivated.”

At a news conference with Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe on Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the change was “really positive news.” Sutcliffe said the change would be better for downtown Ottawa and for public transportation.

Taylor said it appears the federal public service is “being used as a walking wallet to start propping up downtown Ottawa.”

He said he hasn’t seen any government data showing that collaboration or efficiency improves when workers are in the office. “Many of us believe in being in the office, but with a purpose.”

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