Some federal government workers will be able to continue remote work for another year, as most face a March 31 deadline to return to the office at least two days a week.
A spokesperson for Treasury Board President Mona Fortier says the government will take another year to “assess the benefits” of remote work for call centres at the Canada Revenue Agency and the departments of Immigration and Employment and Social Development.
The Procurement Department’s pay centre will also work from home for another year, along with public service adjudicators for the Immigration and Refugee Board.
In December, Fortier announced that all departments would be mandated back to the office at least two days a week to address inconsistencies in the hybrid work model across the public service.
Tania Marcil said she was shocked to learn that some of her fellow federal employees will continue working remotely.
“I’m a little bit shocked and surprised,” she said. “I think that’s kind of the consensus, since everyone had sort of made their peace with it.”
She and her family moved to Halifax from Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, during the pandemic. When her husband got a job opportunity on the East Coast, they were able to move in part because Marcil’s job was fully remote.
Because her department has an office in Halifax, she’s been given the go-ahead to work there twice a week under the new requirements. But two weeks before the deadline, Marcil said details of her office space are not finalized.
Marcil has also been searching for before- and after-school care for her three children since the announcement in December, but so far has had no luck.
Exemptions have already been granted for some workers.
Catherine Luelo, the chief information officer of Canada, said in a memo shortly after the December announcement that up to 20 per cent of IT workers would not have to return to in-office work.
“We have identified high-priority IT exceptions to the common approach to hybrid work applicable across the public service,” the memo said.
The memo also noted that the need to find and retain digital talent was a factor in the exception.
The Treasury Board said on Wednesday that departments will assess requests for accommodation on a case-by-case basis.
“Managers should proactively discuss with employees any barriers to hybrid work they may encounter and define solutions that will help address them in the hybrid workplace,” said Monica Granados, a spokeswoman for Fortier, in a written statement.
A union representing more than 72,000 public servants said Treasury Board acknowledged recruitment and retention were also factors considered in issuing the extensions.
Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, said she doesn’t see a hybrid model being fully implemented any time soon.
Carr said the exemptions are only leading to more chaos around an already contentious issue.
“We don’t have reports of anything getting better,” she said.
Unions representing public servants have expressed frustration with the policy since it was announced, particularly because many are in active bargaining with the government and feel the hybrid work model should be decided in negotiations.
“(Treasury Board) is not coming forward,” Carr said. “They still hold the position that return-to-office is not something that is negotiated.”
Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said he has heard of some members returning home after finding there was not enough space available in their office.
He said members are frustrated by the back and forth messaging from the Treasury Board.
“How do you attach fairness and equality to this when you’re coming up to your deadline for implementation and then you’re saying, ‘Well, no, hold on, we’re gonna provide some extensions up to a year’?” said Aylward.
Bargaining between PSAC and the Treasury Board has been at a standstill but they are expected to head to the bargaining table in April.
—Cindy Tran, The Canadian Press