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Federal employees will be required to spend 3 days a week in the office

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Federal government employees will be required to spend three days a week in the office, starting this fall.

The Treasury Board Secretariat announced the new hybrid work policy for workers in the core public service across all departments in Ottawa and across Canada on Wednesday, saying the updated policy will "maximize the benefits of on-site presence and to bring greater fairness and consistency."

"As of September 9, 2024, public servants in the core public administration (CPA) who are eligible for a hybrid work arrangement will be required to work on-site a minimum of three days per week," said a statement on the Treasury Board website.

"To ensure leadership and effective support for their teams, executives are expected to be on-site a minimum of four days per week as of the same date."

In March 2023, the federal government implemented the current hybrid work policy requiring federal public servants to work in the office two or three days a week, or 40 to 60 per cent of their regular schedule. The new rules were put in place after federal workers spent two years working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to deputy ministers, Treasury Board secretary Catherine Blewett and Chief Human Resources officer Jacqueline Bogden outline the reasons for the changes to the hybrid work model.

"Requiring a minimum of three days on-site per week reflects the benefits that consistent in-person interactions offer," the letter states.

"These include more effective collaboration and onboarding of new talent, as well as building a strong culture of performance that is consistent with values and ethics of the public service. This approach is consistent with many provincial and territorial governments and private sector organizations."

The three-day minimum requirement will also apply to employees in organizations who had been permitted to temporarily continue working remotely based on specific work models including call centre employees and IT staff members.

The Treasury Board notes the contract negotiations with federal unions in the spring of 2023 saw the employer sign letters of agreement on telework that "sit outside of collective agreements."

"These letters of agreement confirm the shared understanding of telework between bargaining agents and the employer," the government said. "The direction on prescribed presence in the workplace and the Directive on Telework continue to apply."

According to the letter of agreement, telework arrangements are subject to regular review "and may be terminated by either party at any time with reasonable notice."

"Telework arrangements can be initiated by the employee, are voluntary and require the mutual agreement of the employee and the Deputy Head or the authorized representative within each department or organization," the agreement said.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada said earlier this week that it had not been consulted on changes to the hybrid work model, after published reports suggested the government was going to announce the new policy this week.

The federal union says its members "overwhelmingly report" that the current mandate of 40 per cent of the time in-office isn't being "consistently or equitably enforced by most departments and managers."

"When workers come into the office, many already have trouble finding adequate space to work, and often end up spending their office days on virtual calls with colleagues nationwide without ever meeting in person," PSAC said.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service says the changes to the hybrid work model are "deeply concerning."

"We urge the government to halt its push towards arbitrary and one-size fits all policy changes and to engage meaningfully with us to develop a rational and flexible telework policy," PIPSC said in a statement released shortly before the federal government's announcement.

"Public service workers deserve a fair, well-defined approach to hybrid work that considers health, safety, and operational efficiency while delivering the services Canadians rely on."

The federal government is mandating employees back to the office as it aims to reduce its real estate portfolio. Last month's budget directed Public Service and Procurement Canada to reduce its office portfolio by 50 per cent, enabling federal office buildings to potentially be turned into homes in Ottawa. PSPC has over six million sq. m. of office space, with an estimated 50 per cent of the space underused or vacant, according to the government.

The new directive requiring federal employees to spend more time in the office comes just over a month after Premier Doug Ford called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to have employees to return to the office to help boost the downtown economy in Ottawa.

"I know a lot of people love working at home and that's fine, but we need the federal government to get government workers back into the office -- even a few days," Ford said on March 28.

"What it does is it's a real massive boost to the transit ridership, it's huge, and the downtown economy. Without the people down there, the economy starts dying, the restaurants start hurting and everything else starts hurting. Hopefully, the prime minister will call people back to work."

Union promises 'legal recourse'

Sharon DeSousa, PSAC's National Executive Vice-President, told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron that the union is going to fight this change.

"Without a doubt, we are going to take legal recourse and we will be fighting this," she said. 

When asked what kind of legal action the union would take, DeSousa only said, "You'll just have to wait and see."

DeSousa said the current hybrid model is inconsistent.

"They're trying to find space in cafeterias and hallways and trying to hold meetings. It's not working, it's not consistent, and before they move to a three-day work week, they should have fixed the two-day work week," she said.

The government held a meeting with bargaining units that DeSousa said "did not go well."

"Last week, they met with the bargaining agents and denied they had any intentions of doing this. With the leak coming out, it's created a lack of trust with this government," DeSousa said.

"Having remote work makes a happy employee, it creates work-life balance, and, in fact, makes them more productive. Why wouldn't you want that? Why would you increase it? What's the rationale?"

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