To: All PIPSC Members at Environment & Climate Change Canada

Dear colleagues,

I hope that you are coping well with the unprecedented challenge posed by COVID-19, and are taking care of yourselves and your loved ones. It has been a struggle but we will get through it, by working together and supporting each other.

On March 2, 2020, I wrote to Management to provide guidance to employees 1) at work, 2) travel within Canada and 3) travel outside of Canada for meetings and conferences, or receiving international visitors. I submitted a similar request to PIPSC, to engage with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, for the same purpose.

Since then, a lot of work has been done. We are continuing to engage Management to advocate on behalf of all our members. On July 13, I submitted a consolidated brief summary of our requests, which is enclosed for your information. Your comments and advice are critical for me to advocate effectively on your behalf. I welcome your comments, questions and feedback.

Your health and safety are most important to us. In these challenging times, it is even more important to pay special attention to our mental health as well as to the mental health of others around us. Even though physical distancing is essential, I encourage you to maintain a “social connection” with your family, colleagues, and others around you.

I will continue to advocate for appropriate support that you need for your health and safety, as well as for achieving your professional goals including the protection of our environment, the preservation of our nature and keeping Canadians informed about changes that are taking place from daily weather to long term climate change.

Stay safe, stay well!


Waheed Khan

President, National Consultation Team




Consultation with Bargaining Agents


PIPSC Submission to ECCC Management



  • PIPSC is committed to working in collaboration and good faith with management and sister unions, to create and maintain a safe environment for all employees, prevent and reduce risks to employees and thus support the delivery of important services to Canadians, while following the guidance of Health Authorities to support the Government of Canada’s efforts to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
  • The provisions of the Collective Agreements, Terms & Conditions of Employment, Canada Labour Code and National Joint Council Directives must be respected by all parties.
  • COVID-19 has posed an unprecedented challenge, including significant risk to human lives, which calls for the application of precautionary principle, prudence, flexibility and cooperation:
    • Maintain harmonious and mutually beneficial relationships between the Employer, the employees and their Bargaining Agent
    • Consult with union representatives about contemplated changes in conditions of employment or working conditions not governed by Collective Agreements
    • Lead with empathy and communicate with care, compassion and support
    • Continuously adapt to “living with COVID-19” in Canada as long as it is needed
    • Incorporate wellness, accessibility, diversity and inclusion, recognizing the range of employees’ experiences based on their identities (e.g., accessibility needs, age, ethnicity, religion, gender, family status, health, sexual orientation, etc.)




Critical Services:

From the outset, the Department has invoked “Critical Services” and “Business Continuity” which are not well defined in collective agreements or elsewhere. However, collective agreements and other established guidelines provide necessary guidance to management and Bargaining Agents to deal with this unprecedented challenge in a collaborative and respectful manner.

For “essential services”, the department as an obligation to provide a list of designated positions in a bargaining unit, accompanied by the corresponding rationale and the location of work. We have requested a list of our members delivering critical services and Branch Business Continuity Plans from the start. We have received partial information only from Canadian Wildlife Services (thank you, ADM Sue Milburn-Hopwood).


  • As requested before, please provide us

1) A list of employees (by union) considered to provide “critical” services, with location of office, whether working on site or from home, with effective date, and

2) Business Continuity Plan for each Branch.


Employees who are required to work on site have been facing three key classes of additional hardships:


A) Safety and hygiene at workplace

Workplaces were not ready to fully implement Health Authorities’ guidelines such as adequate social/physical distances at all times and the provision of appropriate PPEs such as masks, face shields, gloves and hand sanitizers. While progress has been made in this regard, we hear from employees that the inventories of PPEs are not adequately maintained at all times in some workplaces and some employees report restricted access and permission, discouraging their use. Many jurisdictions have already mandated the use of PPEs in buildings and other gathering places. While the impacts have been limited due to a small number of employees working on site, it can grow as more employees will gradually come back to work sites. It is, therefore, important to put in place a more effective process for the safety of employees performing critical functions on site.


  • As requested before, please put in place a robust mechanism of maintaining inventories of PPEs, assigning responsibility for their regular replenishment and clear communication to employees to encourage the use of PPEs as considered appropriate by each employee, according to their individual needs/circumstances.


B) Extra expenses

Right from the start, transit services were reduced and commute by transit was considered to raise the risk of contracting COVID-19 virus. This forced most employees to use personal transportation to report at worksites, incurring extra expenses on transportation and parking. The Department started a partial reimbursement of expenses for some employees doing shift work on site. While a step in the right direction, the support was not sufficient, was not uniform and some employees considered it unfair and arbitrary. In contrast to the approach of the Department, other Departments/Agencies adopted a more reasonable approach to the reimbursement of expenses, demonstrating an appropriate level of empathy, care, compassion and support. We raised this issue and were advised that management would look into this. For your convenience, we are copying below how Canada Revenue Agency supports its employees performing critical functions:

Under normal circumstances, employees are responsible to get to their permanent workplace by their own means and at their own cost. However, due to the situation, the employee can seek pre-approval from their manager to use another mode of transportation and claim the incurred transportation costs (parking, taxi, Uber, mileage). According to section 3.13.1 of the Travel Directive, the manager must pre-authorize the mode of transportation based on reasonability of costs, duration, convenience, safety and practicality.



  • As requested before, please reimburse transportation costs (parking, taxi, Uber, mileage) to all employees performing critical functions on site from the beginning of the COVID-19 work environment and put in place an appropriate approval mechanism going forward.


C) Hardship imposed by Pay Issues:

Since the introduction of Phoenix against the advice of the Bargaining Agents, all employees have endured various degrees of hardship, which has been lately recognized by the employer, as proved by the Phoenix settlement reached with bargaining Agents in 2019 and 2020. Shift-workers have been the victims of Phoenix, suffering disproportionately compared to other employees, because of the nature of their work. In this context, we have a number of times requested that a pay advisor knowledgeable about shift-work issues should be assigned to work on the pay issues of shift-workers. While management has often been sympathetic, our request has not been implemented, because of shortage of resources in the departmental pay liaison office.


However, it was recently brought to our attention that Departmental Pay Liaison Office has set up a project with dedicated resources to calculate overpayments made by Phoenix since 2016 by miscalculating pay on account of work performed on Designated Paid Holidays, and to recover the overpayments. It seems that every Meteorologist performing shift work/critical functions to enable the Department to deliver its mandate during COVID-19 will be impacted negatively by this announcement. This will also impact some employees who have retired during the past few years and believe that their accounts with the Department have long been balanced. It also seems like an appropriate occasion to put statutory freeze on recoveries that are the direct result of the failure of the employer’s systems and the issues have not been addressed for a long time.

Many employees have reported that they have never been informed that their claims for DPH were calculated incorrectly, particularly MTs who started work after 2016. Several employees have expressed anguish at the employer (as well as the union, by association) how we told them their legitimate requests to get help from dedicated pay advisors could not be accepted due to a shortage of resources by the Department but it was allocating resources to develop a project to recover funds on account of DPH overpayment. The timing of this announcement in the middle of COVID-19 adds to the stress that employees face. Several employees have reported mental health problems since this announcement, including lack of proper sleep and concentration.

On the positive side, we appreciate that management has assured us that any action to trigger to recover overpayments will not be initiated until:

  • all of a member's outstanding transactions have been addressed
  • the member has received 3 consecutive correct pay cheques; and,
  • the member has confirmed a recovery agreement (with reasonable repayment amounts and timeframes).

Many PIPSC staff have changed during this period and we are struggling with finding any information exchanged between PIPSC and the Department or TBS on this issue.


  • Please provide us copies of any correspondence with employees or PIPSC regarding:
    i), the interpretation of the Collective Agreement which is different than how Phoenix has been interpreting it since 2016,
    ii) informing employees that they were being over-paid by a certain amount, which they should set aside to pay back, and
    iii), informing employees periodically so that new employees were properly informed and understood the issue.
  • Please dedicate a pay advisor who is knowledgeable about shift-work, to help shift-workers assess their pay files and address their pay issues




Return to Workplaces/Worksites:

The Public service has demonstrated that most public servants can perform their work from a remote location. There is no end date in sight at this time for bringing COVID-19 under control through medications and vaccination. The increasing density in most workplaces, particularly whose retrofitted to Workplace 2.0 standard, means that there is insufficient space for most employees to work on site. A good strategy is needed.


Employees can be divided into three broad groups:

A), Employees who have specific circumstances (health reasons, family responsibilities/dependents):

While our requests to the Department to provide data on the usage of Leave with Pay Code 699 has not yet been acceded to, anecdotal evidence indicates that a relatively small number of employees have been using this flexibility.


  • Please continue to provide employees the flexibility to take advantage of Leave with Pay Code 699 till December 2020, so that they can stay safe and work as much as they can, till COVID-19 comes under control.
  • As requested from the beginning, please delegate the authority to approve to the same manager who approves leave in MyGCHR, as several Departments have done.


B), Employees who are able to, and willing to work from home/remote location: It has been clear for most employers that working from home or remote location will be the norm during the foreseeable future. The sooner the Department can accept and communicate this reality, the sooner will work normalize and both employees and the Department can make investments that can bear fruit in terms of Health & Safety, and productivity. Working from home also offer significant climate change and environmental benefits, consistent with the Government’s priority to lower GHG emissions and air-born pollutants, which should be recognized and communicated as part of Departmental messaging. The current environment of uncertainty, including reference to three weeks of notice to return to workplace, is increasing anxiety. We recommend:



  • The Department should undertake a determination by asking every Division to develop lists of employees who are able to, and willing to continue to work from home.
  • Inform those employees that they are not required to work on site at least till the end of the year, so that they can plan their work from home and their lives accordingly.
  • All outstanding telework requests (made prior to COVID19) should be accepted immediately. For those which cannot be accepted, management should provide the rationale in writing.
  • Please provide every employee a department-supplied smart phone so that they can be informed about any developments that might affect their health and safety, in a timely manner, by email/text message or phone call as appropriate.
  • Provide each employee the necessary office equipment, furniture and supplies to enable them to be fully productive. This could include picking equipment/furniture from the office.
  • Please extend the effective date of the guideline/notification to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, expand the eligibility of equipment (e.g., printer should be eligible) and increase the financial limit for employees who have approved ergonomic assessment.
  • Please establish a proactive and streamlined process, with centralized funding where needed, for ensuring employees have a safe and healthy workstation setup at home.
  • In consultation with Bargaining Agents, develop guidelines for the reimbursement of operational expenses incurred by employees for work. This could include reasonable expenses for internet, heating and cooling, commensurate with such services that are normally the responsibility of the employer when working at site.
  • Approve CRA Form T2200 Declaration of Conditions of Employment for employees who have been working from home so that they can deduct expenses allowed by CRA and not reimbursed by the Department.



C), Employees who are not able to work from home/remote location because of the nature of their work or their personal circumstances: The employer has a responsibility to provide a place of work to employees. For all such employees, we have the following recommendations:


  • The Department should undertake an assessment of each building to determine how much capacity it has, or will have after necessary retrofit has been undertaken to meet or exceed the guidelines of health authorities. The following factors must be considered:
    • Ensure a minimum standard of 2 meter distance between employees, particularly in washrooms, elevators, stairwells and other spaces of public interactions.
    • Adequate and regular supply of PPEs including face coverings, face shields, masks, hand sanitizers
    • Ensuring that the employer is considering all options for differing transportation needs during the pandemic, including coordination with local transit companies, where the volume of employees make it feasible.
    • The resumption of cafeteria, particularly for buildings that are located away from commercial establishments.
    • Clear guidelines on how open office, workspace 2.0 and desk reservation office setups will be handled.
    • One way movements in the buildings, hands free door handles,  regular and thorough cleaning of washrooms, offices and meeting rooms, equipment and furniture, kitchens, refrigerators, water fountains and electronic occupancy signs for washrooms.
    • Upgrading air flow heating/cooling systems to keep employees safe
    • Re-building local OHS committees so that inspections can be carried out regularly.
    • A thorough framework for the immediate notification of COVID-19 infections in the workplace. The current process has been slow and it will increase the risk of infections once more employees come to work. (It is worth noting that the Department has used confidentiality of personal information as the main reason for the delays in informing employees but the practice in Vancouver and Montreal has shown that the concerned employees were voluntarily disclosing personal information in order to save their colleagues from possible infection).
    • Stop any Workplace 2.0 retrofits and reconsider plans in light of the Department’s experience with COVID-19. Please share your plans with Bargaining Agents for input/comments.
    • Please review all plans from the point of view of accessibility for employees as well as clients, to ensuring that any retrofitted buildings are welcoming, inclusive and accessible by design. Our largest building (PVM) or example, does not offer accessible parking to clients who come for meetings while the TB Trust Branch in the same building occupying a very small portion offers 2-3 parking spots for persons with disability.
    • Incorporate lessons learned from Place Bonaventure and apply it to the new location at Rene Levesque and other 24/7 locations. Please share your plans with Bargaining Agents for input/comments


Enabling Services to support Virtual Work:

The Department has introduced a number of tools to help employees work from remote locations. Given the increasing use of virtual fora to conduct business, we provide the following recommendations:


  • MS 365 including Teams that has been temporarily made available should be added as a permanent tool going forward, after the temporary phase provided by Shared Services Canada comes to an end.
  • While WebEx and MS Teams are useful tools for meetings, most Departments, external and international organizations are increasingly using Zoom, which has significantly improved its security features. This puts employees in a dilemma when they are invited to meetings held by Zoom by departments (e.g., Public Services & Procurement Canada) or international organizations (e.g., UNFCCC). Please allow the use of Zoom for unclassified meetings.
  • Replace laptops for every employee who is still using a laptop that is older than 5 years
  • Provide every employee a Departmental smart phone so that they can be notified by management and colleagues more efficiently and more effectively. Currently, many employees rely on their personal phones.
  • Put on hold any pending changes such as the move to GCDocs and the move of files from current drives to GCDocs. For smaller Branches that have undertaken the move, employees have faced many problems and glitches in the system. For larger Branches particularly those which have large amounts of data (e.g., STB, MSC), the move will require a lot more effort and improved internet connections.
  • Maintain the current, larger size of email box till the proposed transition to a new email system, to minimize disruptions.



Supporting employees:

We understand that staffing actions are largely on hold and ADM level permission is required for critical staffing actions. However, the Department employs a number of term employees who are qualified and have proven expertise, often have security clearances and understand Departmental files. In many cases, their terms are ending during COVID-19, leaving them without jobs because of halted or reduced staffing in the public service. The Government of Canada is going through great lengths to help Canadians keep or retain jobs.


A number of current employees are in pre-qualified pools and are waiting for managers to give them job offers. In several cases, members of employment equity groups are also in these pools which provides the Department an opportunity to support their career progression, noting that often employment equity groups members are disproportionately clustered at lower levels.


Most if not all professional conferences and training courses have been shifted to virtual forums, reducing the costs of attendance since travel is no longer required.


Meeting the accessibility and ergonomic requirements of employees has been a challenge recognized by the public service. The process has continued to be cumbersome and protracted, with multiple approval points within the Department as well as often outside the Department. Consequently, progress on creating a welcoming environment by default has been escaping realization, even though the benefits are well recognized.



  • Please extend the terms of all term employees whose terms are coming to an end. Where the work was of limited duration and has ended, senior managers should be asked to match them with other positions which might require work.
  • Encourage and promote the uptake of employees who are in pre-qualified pools, particularly where there is also the opportunity to achieve the objective of promoting employment equity.
  • Since travel and accommodation are no longer required, please allow the approval of conference attendance and training by delegated managers, without requirements of quarterly travel and conference attendance plans.
  • Please put a priority on encouraging employees to seek ergonomic equipment and accessibility support by instituting a simpler process for approval and implementation.


Departmental Working Groups:

On June 22, the Deputy Ministers announced that four working groups have been set up to provide advice and guidance related to laboratory work, field work, special operations, and the office environment. We have recently received more information about these working groups and their membership. In support of these WGs, we have provided a number of recommendations:


  • Each WG should have an employee representative of an OHS committee, a member from Mental Health team, a Diversity & Inclusion member, and a member from the Respect Bureau to bring their perspectives to the development of guidelines and standard operating procedures.
  • We recommend that the Department should have an Ombudsperson who is available to all employees to be contacted, should in the opinion of an employee, a process is not being followed, which can put employees at risk. While we encourage employees to raise issues with their managers, we recognize that the fear of reprisal exists and employees may be reluctant to report if they see something that requires to be fixed.
  • The draft guidelines/SOP or Presentations should be shared with the Bargaining Agents and provided at least one week for comments/input.
  • When new guidelines are implemented, a loop-back process should be included so that regular and timely feedback is provided to improve or adjust these guidelines based on experience.
  • Since many employees work under local (Provincial/Territorial/Municipal) jurisdictions, a central depository of local regulations and guidance should be maintained and updated regularly.