Federal union filing complaints about increase to office time

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is putting together formal complaints that by mandating federal public servants return to offices at least three days a week in September, the federal government is undermining collective agreements.

The government directed all public servants, with few exceptions, to be in the office three days a week starting Sept. 9. 

That’s an increase from the current rules that, broadly and varying by department, require these workers in the office either two or three days a week. These benchmarks can sometimes be averaged over a month rather than a given week.

The Treasury Board said it updated the policy to “maximize the benefits of presence in the workplace and to bring greater fairness and consistency to the application of hybrid work.”

The office of Treasury Board President Anita Anand told CBC News in an email the updated directive “still offers the flexibility of a hybrid work model by allowing most public servants to work from home for up to two days.”

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the complaints to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board.

Dated Tuesday, it’s not clear whether the two complaints about the Treasury Board of Canada — one directly about the board and a slightly different one about a bargaining group’s dealings with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) — have been officially filed.

A coalition of unions, including PSAC, has called a news conference Wednesday morning about challenging the three-days-a-week rule.

PSAC National President Chris Aylward speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in February. He’s part of the news conference Wednesday scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The crux of PSAC’s complaint is its stance that the deals that ended strikes last spring “requires managers to assess remote work requests individually, not by group,” as it put it in a summary of the tentative deal and again in the complaint.

Then last week, despite work being done on a consultation committee, the government unilaterally changed the rule without telling PSAC, it contends.

Fighting to keep current plan

Both complaints allege the Treasury Board didn’t bargain in good faith and is undermining the union’s reputation.

The CBSA complaint adds that the government seems to have broken the Labour Relations Act by changing the rule while working on a new deal. The former deal expired in 2022.

PSAC wants the current two-to-three day plan maintained.

“The decision has not only broken the trust between PSAC members and their employer, but very concretely, it violates the collective bargaining rights of thousands of workers,” PSAC said in a Tuesday news release

Tanya King is among those workers.

“I’m worried that they will try to paint us all with the same brush and they’re not going to consider individualized accommodations,” she said.

A woman poses in a home hallway.
Tanya King says she has a request for full-time remote work and is worried about what the upcoming change will mean for her. (Submitted by Tanya King)

King, who works for Public Services and Procurement Canada, is autistic and transgender. She said she has experienced harassment and microaggressions in the office. 

After she received medical instruction to work from home full-time, she requested the government approve a full-time remote working arrangement.

She’s currently working from home five days a week while her application is under review and worries the change might jeopardize her request.

King also thinks more time in the office might hurt workers’ productivity. She said capacity issues could lead employees to waste time they could spend tackling their caseloads searching for an open and functional workspace.

“I think as public servants we’ve proven largely that we work really well remotely,” said King.

Anand’s office, for its part, said “workplaces can accommodate this transition.”

Gilles LeVasseur, a part-time law professor at the University of Ottawa, said he doesn’t think the government will back down on the change to three days a week.

Legal action could lead the government to implement more accommodations for workers or address issues such as workspace and parking availability, he said.

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