OTTAWA -- The president of one of Canada’s major federal public sector unions is calling on the federal government to continue to invest in work-at-home infrastructure, saying employees are “really, really nervous” about potentially returning to the office due to COVID-19.

Most federal public servants have been working at home since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the physical distancing guidelines.

Speaking on CTV Morning Live Friday morning, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada President Debi Daviau said about 10 per cent of PIPSC workers have continued to report to the office during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With September fast approaching, Daviau said all federal departments and agencies are figuring out their own timing for bringing employees back to work.

“Now, what departments are talking about in the first start of return to work, and some are already returning to the office, is somewhere in the range of 25 to 30 per cent maximum occupancy in offices,” said Daviau.

“Many departments are now sort of triaging what functions are going to be essential.”

Daviau said discussions on back to work protocols between the unions and the departments are going well, but there are many unanswered questions for union members.

“They’re very concerned about their safety in internal spaces, with poor ventilation, not enough space between work spaces and I would say the vast majority of public servants, who continue to work very productively from home, are not interested in returning to the office before they’re really safe for them to return to.”

According to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, some Environment Canada and Canada Revenue Agency employees have returned to work.

“Some are saying we’re in no rush, we’re able to do the bulk of our work remotely and therefore we’re not going to return people before October, or November, or the end of the year even,” said Daviau on plans for departments to bring employees back to work. 

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada says employees are nervous about returning to work, and the government needs to take steps to ensure safety in the workplace.

“What we’re been pushing for is a lot of notice period for people so they can reorganize their lives and of course making sure these workplaces are safe to return to,” said Daviau.

“The way they’re configured, the modernizing of workspaces is a real concern for our members. They basically have this hoteling scenario where you wouldn’t even be in the same desk, there would be no physical barriers between workstations. Even the measurement of the six foot rule is causing some grief.”

Daviau tells CTV Morning Live that there are a lot of unanswered questions from public servants about ending work from home.

“They’re really, really nervous about returning to the office. We don’t see the point of throwing caution to the wind when they’re working quite productively at home,” said Daviau.

“I think the employer should instead be investing in making sure they are able to work productively from home.”