Union representing SGI employees wants locations closed to public during pandemic

The union representing employees at Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) says front-line staff have concerns as they're still engaging regularly with the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Packed waiting rooms, close contact with public among the union's concerns

The union that represents SGI employees across the province wants to see SGI locations, like service centres and offices, closed to the public due to safety concerns around COVID-19. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

The union representing employees at Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) says front-line staff have concerns as they're still engaging regularly with the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Wilson, president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 397, which represents SGI employees across the province, say they're dealing with packed waiting rooms, proximity to the public and concerns about proper cleaning.

"They are scared," she said.

Wilson said those working in SGI service centres are concerned because the counters that separate them from the public do not meet social distancing requirements.

"They say maximum 15 in a meeting, but I've gotten calls and reports throughout the day where there's been 25 in a waiting room," Wilson said. "Well, 25 is more than 15, and that's a big concern."

She said staff are also dealing with a number of customers who have English as an secondary language, so in some cases they're unable to understand screening questions about travel and illness aimed at protecting employees.

Close quarters for some SGI employees

While the Government of Saskatchewan has been encouraging social distancing for more than a week, road tests by SGI that included employees in the same vehicle as another person only stopped Wednesday.

That's the same day the Government of Saskatchewan declared a province-wide state of emergency.

SGI said in a statement Friday that the safety of its employees, its customers and the general public is its first priority, with "limiting disruption for customers" being the second priority.

"We continue to assess and prioritize the needs of employees​ ​and customers," the statement said.

"SGI is ​in the process of determining options for reducing foot traffic or closing customer-facing services and only accepting business online​, over the phone or by appointment."

SGI noted it's making case-by-case decisions for employees when it comes to working from home.

The Crown corporation also said it has reinforced with its employees they have the right to refuse service to any customers they deem unsafe.

As part of the emergency declaration, all Saskatchewan ministries, agencies and Crown corporations will implement a phased-in work-from-home policy that comes into effect on March 23 to non-essential employees. This means any employees able to work from home should do so immediately.

Wilson, however, said the phase-in should take place as soon as possible to protect employees and the public.

"They need to shut those doors immediately," she said. "Those doors should have been shut yesterday."

She said SGI should be using a skeleton crew and keeping one service centre open for emergencies, but otherwise using online services and call-in systems to keep employees safe.

SaskTel employees 'a little scared'

Meanwhile, SaskTel employees are also still working, with front-line retail staff still regularly interacting with customers. 

Dave Kuntz, president of Unifor Local 1-S, said its members have some concerns, but that protocols in place should help keep people safe. 

"They're getting the message out to the members," he said. "Obviously people are a little scared and worried, but the protocols should help mitigate any issues." 

A statement from the Unifor Sask Council said the union is monitoring the situation closely and is working with members to ensure a "timely, just, and adequate response to the growing COVID-19 crisis."

"While workplace challenges continue to mount, we continue discussions with government officials to ensure workers and their fa​​milies are protected," the statement said.

SaskTel said in a statement that the safety of customers and employees at all SaskTel stores and authorized dealers is its "number one priority," noting some office hours have changed and may change further as the situation evolves. 
"SaskTel has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and following the guidelines set out by the Public Health Agency of Canada. We are analyzing our store hours daily and we will continue to post updates to our website," the statement noted.

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