Ottawa

Federal public servants get green light for gradual return to office

A return to the office may not be too far in the future for some public servants, according to the president of the Treasury Board of Canada.

Unions say return must be done safely

The Treasury Board of Canada gave the green light for more federal public servants to return to the office, but decisions will be made by each department or agency. (Émilien Juteau/Radio-Canada)

A return to the office may not be too far in the future for some public servants, according to the president of the Treasury Board of Canada.

Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier, who also heads the Treasury Board, released a statement allowing departments and agencies to "resume their planning to gradually increase building occupancy, while continuing to respect the appropriate use of workplace preventive practices."

The news represents a green light for a gradual return to the office and other workspaces, but places the decision-making power in the hands of each department and agency.

At the same time, the Ontario government has officially ended its vaccine certificate system and lifted most capacity limits and restrictions. Quebec is making similar moves March 14.

Plan paused in late 2021

Many Canadian employers paused plans to bring workers back into the office in late 2021 because of the rise of the Omicron variant.

In her statement, Fortier said there won't be a one-size-fits-all approach adding the board expects federal organizations to "continue to be agile and demonstrate flexibility as necessary" to adapt to ever-evolving public health measures.

The Treasury Board also supports a transition to hybrid-work models wherever applicable, she added. 

President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier says there won't be a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to a return to the office. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The largest federal public sector union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, still encourages its members to work from home if feasible while encouraging all decision makers to continue to prioritize safety.

"What they've done is started gently opening the door toward a return to the workplace in person without directly imposing any sort of massive return," said Alex Silas, the union's regional executive vice-president.

"At this point the ball is in the court of the different departments, which are going to develop their own plans and their own return to workplace policies based on the different health guidelines in those localities in those regions."

The union is also fighting for stronger language around working from home in its collective agreements. 

Union wishes for more unified approach

Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said her union had hoped for a more unified approach and wonders whether some public servants will find other employment if forced back into the office. 

"Public servants have shown that they can work from home, that they've liked the flexibility, that they are productive," Carr said. "They will migrate or tend toward those organizations who are going to provide that flexibility."

She said her union would prefer to work with specific agencies and departments for back-to-office plans, as opposed to just the Treasury Board. That means ensuring they open up work sites, plans are transparent, and collective agreements and legislation are respected.

She echoed concerns about ensuring any return is done right.

"I'm concerned that by allowing departments to determine what model they want, they might actually be doing a disservice to their own organization," she said. 

With files from Radio-Canada's Rémi Authier and Rosalie Sinclair

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