The president of the Treasury Board, the federal department negotiating with striking Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) workers, made her case Monday for why remote work rules are best made by department managers rather than laid out in a new contract.
Many sectors predominantly worked virtually during the first COVID-19 shutdown more than three years ago and the federal government once suggested that arrangement could become permanent for some workers.
As the pandemic evolved — and contracts with now-striking PSAC groups expired — the approach to where people should work swung to the other end of the pendulum.
Through stops, starts and studies, the government announced in December 2022 its workers generally had to return to the office two to three days a week in the first months of 2023.
Union leaders, including those with PSAC, pushed back before and after that announcement. PSAC said its members are just as effective working remotely as they are in the office, and protecting remote work in a new deal is a main reason why it’s striking.
“We want to make sure everyone knows what the game rules are and that our members have recourse if this is not being applied fairly and consistently,” PSAC national president Chris Aylward told CBC Sunday.
He mentioned the 2022 federal budget saying remote work could save billions of dollars a year if it meant the government could sell off some buildings.
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning on Monday she believes rules should be set at the managerial level within each department as they continue to evaluate how to best deliver services.
Host Hallie Cotnam asked Fortier about why this should not be part of a collective agreement.
“It’s operations, it’s … the fact it [could be the subject of a grievance], for example. I think this management right needs to be sustained as a management right and I truly believe remote work or telework is something that will continue to transform,” she said.
“We were in a situation during COVID where we needed to work, by necessity, from home and then we started doing hybrid [work] by design and have been moving.”
WATCH | Mona Fortier on the remote work stance:
Strike enters 2nd workweek
The national strike for more than 155,000 federal public servants under PSAC began on April 19 at 12:01 a.m. and has entered its second workweek.
Two groups covered by the union remain on strike: one includes approximately 120,000 employees who fall under the Treasury Board, making up several government departments and agencies, and the other is a smaller tax group of more than 35,000 workers at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
About 110,000 to 120,000 PSAC members are eligible to walk off the job once you factor out staff performing work designated as essential, such as employment insurance or pensions.
Picket lines have gone up across the country while some government services — including taxes, passports and immigration — are disrupted.
Contracts for both groups expired in 2021. Negotiations between the federal government and PSAC’s two groups began that year, but the union declared an impasse last year and called strike votes this past winter.
PSAC had previously asked for a 4.5 per cent raise each year for 2021, 2022 and 2023.
The most recent public offer from the government to each group was a nine per cent raise over three years, a total that matched recommendations of the third-party Public Interest Commission.
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