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SGI to allow more employees to work from home following employee concerns

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WATCH: As Saskatchewan begins to take a more strict stance on COVIDS-19 safety protocols, some Crown employees are concerned their employer is actually moving them in the opposite direction – Nov 19, 2020

Following concerns from employees about rejected requests to work from home, an email obtained by Global News shows SGI is taking a new approach to remote work.

“Those who can work effectively at home are encouraged to work remotely, with their manager’s permission,” the email to employees reads. “If there is a preference to remain on-site (either 100 per cent or on rotation), they have that option and should discuss that with their manager.”

“Managers will be assessing individual scenarios and communicating with their teams immediately to determine what will work best in their areas,” the email continues.

The remote work plan, which followed comments made by Premier Scott Moe Tuesday that is to be in effect Nov. 19 to Jan. 15, 2021, inclusive.

Read more: Saskatchewan reports 32nd death as active coronavirus cases, hospitalizations climb

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“From what I’m hearing so far most of the members seem to be happy,” said COPE 397 President Kim Wilson. “I haven’t had any complaints yet. The corporation is going to go until Jan. 15 with as many as managers let work from home, work from home.”

COPE 397 represents about 1650 SGI employees.

Wilson said that leading up to the policy change, the lack of an option to work from home was a “very big concern” among SGI employees.

“They were really pushing for more people into the workforce. As far as we were concerned they already had enough in that couldn’t work from home,” she said. “For the majority that just wanted to be home for their safety, without having to go through employee health and get a doctor’s note it was just a flat-out no.”

Wilson added that positive tests among employees at SGI’s main Regina office heightened concerns.

“We’ve been fighting them on it,” she said. “So we’re very happy. The only thing is that it’s at the manager’s discretion and I really hope that the managers take it seriously. That’s to be seen over the next couple days.”

The email also says that “those delivering services that require them to be on-site are expected to come into the office as usual”.

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In an emailed statement Monday morning, an SGI Media Relations Manager Tyler McMurchy said “it has been made clear to managers that they should support their employees who wish to work from home and are able to effectively do so.”

McMurchy noted that about 45 per cent of SGI employees were already working on home-office rotations but said the policy change will result in more employees working from home between now and Jan. 15.

He added that customer-facing SGI locations will remain open with safety protocols in place.

Read more: Saskatchewan looks to feds for help as contact tracing becomes challenging

Wilson added that she thinks the health of the economy played into the decision to gradually bring employees back into offices, an opinion shared by Unifor Local 1-S President Dave Kuntz.

“It’s very frustrating from our perspective. Because it doesn’t make any sense,” said Kuntz.

Unifor Local 1-S and 2-S represent over 3,000 SaskTel employees.

Kuntz says that between the two locals, “30-40” work-from-home, or telework, applications have been rejected by SaskTel.

He said he thinks the provinces want those employees spending money in downtown shops and restaurants.

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“There’s a lot more concern,” Kuntz said. “Our question is ‘why?'”

Kuntz says that while SaskTel’s downtown Regina building has COVID-19 safety measures in place, workers are still concerned about shared spaces and surfaces in places like elevators and lunchrooms.

Read more: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe rejects NDP call for immediate circuit-breaker lockdown

“Typically they’re saying ‘job not suitable’,” Kuntz said with respect to SaskTel’s explanation for why the requests were rejected. “Since mid-March we’ve had people working from home, productivity’s been good, sick leave has been down, and morale has been up. Everything has been, for all intents and purposes, good.”

He added that he thinks those most concerned about working in an office amid the pandemic would be unlikely to visit shops and restaurants anyway.

“The reality is people are scared, so when they come to work they’ll sit in their little cubicle, and eat their brown-bag lunch. They’re not gonna go venturing out into the world and risk exposure right,” Kuntz said.

Read more: Broadview Union Hospital in Saskatchewan designated for COVID-19 patient care only

SaskTel, meanwhile, responded in a statement saying that about a third of its workforce is still working from home.

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The statement adds that SaskTel has “only denied approximately 15% of the applications that we have received for Telework.”

It continues to say “Each Telework application is reviewed to make sure it is operationally feasible but not all positions are able to be performed effectively from a home or remote location.

Read more: STARS air ambulance sees spike in COVID-19 missions across the Prairies

Recent communication on the website for Unifor 649 suggests the union representing SaskEnergy employees also have working environment concerns.

649 officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Read more: ‘We need it now’: Experts say at-home coronavirus tests critical to fight 2nd wave

Speaking during the province’s COVID-19 update Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe said his government would be “taking another look” at working arrangements for public employees.

The provincial government provided further comment Wednesday afternoon.

Deputy Minister to the Premier Cam Swan said in a statement to media that while “the public sector is much better prepared than we were in March, and have done a lot to ensure our workplaces are safe”.

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Swan continued to say that “executive government and crown corporations are considering increasing rotations and work-from-home arrangements”.

Read the full statement below:

The safety of our employees and citizens continues to be our top priority as we manage through the pandemic. A number of safety protocols and measures have been put in place to support employees both within and outside of the workplace. 

Senior leadership teams are focused on service continuity and ensuring we can continue to deliver the programs and services Saskatchewan citizens rely on each and every day. Operational decisions such as workplace rotations and remote work arrangements are in place in some workplaces, and are based on a number of factors such as the type of work being performed and location, among other things.

Executive government and crown corporations are considering increasing rotations and work-from-home arrangements. As always, the focus will be to maximize the health and safety of employees and citizens while continuing to provide the services Saskatchewan people need. The extent of these operational adjustments will be determined within each organization.

The public sector is much better prepared than we were in March, and have done a lot to ensure our workplaces are safe. We will continue to monitor and implement changes as needed.

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