Canadians working for the public service will have to spend at least two to three days per week in the office come April, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier says.
The new “hybrid work model,” which Fortier announced in a press conference on Thursday, will see employees return to the office for between 40 and 60 per cent of their regular schedule.
“In person work better supports collaboration, team spirit, innovation and a culture of belonging. It helps teams build trust and learn from each other,” Fortier said.
“That’s why today, we announced that the federal public service is adopting a common hybrid model of employees working on site at least two to three days each week, or 40–60 per cent of their regular schedule.”
Read more: The end of work from home? Most Canadians return to office as 1 in 10 stay home, poll finds
In the almost three years since the COVID-19 pandemic forced most Canadians to stay in their homes, “many” of Canada’s 335,000 federal government employees have already returned to working on site for a couple days each week, a backgrounder on the announcement read.
This new approach, however, “will represent a change for others,” it added.
“We’re going to continue to improve our approach so that we can best serve Canadians,” Fortier told reporters, calling the change a “generational shift.”
When pressed for specific data or studies that underpin her claims that forcing public servants back into the office would improve service, Fortier did not provide any details. Instead, she said the government is focused on adding “equity” and “fairness” to the workplace.
Reporters doubled down, asking once again for data — but Fortier did not provide any.
“We are looking at everything that we’re doing to make sure that we serve Canadians best, and we’re adapting this model this way,” she replied.
Rumours began to emerge in recent weeks that the government might be forcing its workers out of their homes and back into their cubicles.
Canada’s largest federal workers’ union, however, had reportedly slammed the possibility and argued any planned return to work should be part of collective bargaining conversations.
“It’s very concerning that unions haven’t been consulted on any plans for a blanket return to the office for federal public service workers,” Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said in a statement reporter Kathryn May published Monday in Policy Options.
“Bargaining agents need to be part of these discussions to ensure the health and safety of workers is at the heart of the decision.”
Following Thursday’s announcement, PSAC issued a series of scathing tweets about the latest development.
“Today, Treasury Board mandated all federal public service workers to return to the office 2-3 days/week starting January 16. This flies in the face of workers’ rights and their proven record serving communities remotely—for YEARS,” the tweets read.
“Last week, despite rumours swirling, we received confirmation from Treasury Board that there would NOT be a blanket mandate. Our position on remote work for federal public service workers remains the same: it’s an issue for the bargaining table.”
Meanwhile, hospitals — particularly those serving children — continue to face strain from what some healthcare workers have dubbed a “triple-demic” of flu, RSV and COVID-19 cases.
When asked about the risks posed by bringing public service workers back to the office while the viruses continue to circulate, Fortier suggested in French that employees follow “public health directives.”
“We encourage, clearly, workers, employees, to wear a mask inside the office if they’re close to their colleagues,” she added.
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