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Treasury Board president urges managers to be flexible on exemptions for new 3-day office mandate

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The president of the Treasury Board is standing by the federal government's new hybrid office mandate for federal public servants, but is urging managers to be flexible for staff requiring exemptions.

Anita Anand spoke at the Mayor's Breakfast at Ottawa City Hall on Thursday, three weeks after the Treasury Board Secretariat announced all public servants in the core public administration will be required to be in the office a minimum of three days a week. All executives are expected to be on-site a minimum of four days a week.

"That decision was made by the public service, it was not a political decision," Anand said.

Dozens of public servants attended a rally, organized by the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, outside of Ottawa City Hall while Anand spoke.  The unions have vowed to launch legal challenges over the new mandate.

"In terms of hybrid, that hybrid work is important," Anand said.

"It is important to have flexibility, it is important to be able to hear from public servants and employees generally about what they need to cope in the workplace."

"So, the move from two to three days to three days, it is still within the range that was put down in the policy before I became Treasury Board president, and it's four days for managers – so hybrid still exists in that respect."

The president of the Treasury Board is urging managers to accommodate staff requesting exemptions to the new office mandate.

"We should focus our attention on accommodations and exemptions for public servants who need and require those exemptions," Anand said.

"I really have faith that we will do more with the telework options so that public servants feel continually supported. My view is that we got through the pandemic with the public servants supporting our country so well and we need to continue to support them."

Members of federal unions attended the Mayor's Breakfast hoping to meet with the Treasury Board president to discuss the new office requirements while the federal government is looking to reduce its office footprint by 50 per cent.

"We don't think she's provided any evidence that justifies bringing federal workers back into the office, especially when we've seen other jurisdictions like Australia, like B.C., just put telework rights in their contracts for federal public servants and then start to reduce their office footprint," Nathan Prier, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees ,said.

"So we think that the minister needs to explain to Canadians why she wants to waste, you know, upwards of $4 billion on buildings nobody needs to be in every year instead of using that money to convert those exact same buildings into housing, into childcare, get more people off the roads, reduce greenhouse gases."

The Public Service Alliance of Canada says 45,962 letters have been sent to Anand and all MPs to demand the government withdraw the new hybrid office mandate.

"Every worker’s job and situation are unique, and a cookie cutter approach to telework can’t be applied to Canada’s diverse public service," PSAC says on its website. "Overwhelming evidence proves that telework improves work-life balance and increases productivity for workers."

Anand spoke to business leaders at Ottawa City Hall the same day a new poll suggests nearly half of public sector union members say they support the federal return-to-office policy.

Angus Reid Institute says 59 per cent of Canadians support workers spending more time in-office and less time remotely. The survey finds 47 per cent of respondents carrying a union card in the public sector support the three days a week in the office mandate, compared to 41 per cent opposed.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada says the majority of its members are "not impressed with the policy."

"It is starting to affect their work life, their environment, their families and so it's time for them to step up and say that they're not impressed with no consultation from Treasury Board," Eva Henshaw, acting president of PIPSC, said.

"The members would like to see consultation done and decisions based on evidence and have a voice in their work environment and what they want to see for the future that will help retain and recruit new members to the public service."

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Natalie van Rooy

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