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Canada’s public sector unions threaten to disrupt return to offices

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This week, Chris Aylward, the national president of Canada’s largest public sector union, warned Canadians they were facing a “summer of discontent.”

Mr. Aylward of the Public Service Union of Canada joins the leaders of three other public sector unions in announcing they have launched a series of legal challenges against the federal government’s requirement that a majority of their members at least be present in the workplace. Three days a week starting in September. They said they would use “coordinated action” to cause chaos as a pressure tactic.

For most Canadians, the ability to primarily work from home disappeared not long ago with the health threat of the pandemic. in January, Statistics Canada reports 20% of people, including government employees, spend most of their working time at home. This is well below the 40% level at the height of the pandemic, but still higher than the 7% level in 2019.

The return-to-office mandate remains a major source of debate within the federal public service.This is one of the key issues behind 15-day strike Just over a year ago. But the job action fell short of a deal giving civil servants mostly the right to work from home.

Many government employees, such as prison and border guards, cannot work remotely, but the government now requires others to be in the workplace at least twice a week. Aylward and other union leaders told a news conference that many members had difficulty finding work space or equipment upon arrival. They all agreed that adding another day would compound these issues.

“This poor decision pushes workers into physical offices and ultimately sets them up to fail,” Aylward said. He added that more commuting would undermine Canada’s climate goals and suggested government offices could be converted into residential buildings, to help solve the housing crisis.

Most importantly, union leaders say the decision is a political move by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to appease Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford. ), who recently expressed a desire to see more workers return, as well as commercial landlords. In the center of the city.

One factor that doesn’t help the government’s cause is that most civil servants only learned about the plan on September 9. A report in the Ottawa Citizen According to the leaked memo. (Executive-level civil servants are expected to appear in court four days a week.)

Cabinet minister Anita Anand, who is responsible for Treasury Board and Personnel Affairs, told reporters the decision was taken by senior civil servants and not politicians.

Ms Anand’s press secretary Mia Tomasi did not respond to questions about how the group spent the three days in the office. She did say the government has confirmed offices can accommodate staff as they appear more frequently.

“It’s a real mess,” said Professor Linda Duxbury of Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, who began researching remote work long before the pandemic. “The union’s argument is unconvincing. The union has no power to dictate. Where you work is in the hands of your employer.”

At the same time, she added, “The Canadian government is trying to do it the easy way, which is to focus on a few days. The harder way, and the right way, is to focus on work.”

Professor Duxbury said private sector employers with effective return-to-work plans would consider a number of factors to determine how many working hours each job would require, including “how much time is spent interacting with customers, how much creativity is involved “How much innovation is required and how much time is needed for things that we know require face-to-face interaction,” she said. Such reviews found that while some jobs could be done entirely remotely, others could require a five-day work week, and many would. Work is somewhere in between.

Union leaders were coy about what kind of “workplace action” would trigger the summer’s chaos. Perhaps for good reason: Under labor laws, any kind of workplace slowdown or strike would be considered illegal by the government.

The union representing Canada Border Services Agency employees is in contract negotiations and could theoretically go on strike legally. But a government official told me that 80% of its members are essential workers who cannot strike.

Professor Duxbury said there would certainly be an outcome if the unions followed through on their threats.

“I don’t expect a lot of sympathy from the Canadian public,” she said.



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