Assessing the government’s response to the pandemic’s impact on our members

On May 10, 2021, PIPSC President Debi Daviau appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO) to discuss the government’s handling of the pandemic’s impact on its employees.

Tens of thousands of our dedicated PIPSC members have continued to faithfully serve Canadians since the start of the pandemic. Right now a small percentage of them still remain in their regular workplaces to provide critical services, but approximately 90% of our members are currently working from their home offices.

In general terms, we are reasonably satisfied with how the government has handled the crisis’ impact on its employees. There have been issues with individual departments or even local managers misinterpreting or simply ignoring Treasury Board directives, as well as inconsistencies in implementing safety protocols and around working from home. But overall we give the government a passing grade so far.

That said, existing collective agreements need to be modified or tweaked to ensure that public service managers have the ability to be flexible with employees while still respecting our contracts. Leave with pay (Code 699), duty to accommodate and hours of work are examples of issues that need to be reviewed in light of the pandemic.

At this stage our main concerns revolve around adapting to the new work reality and about giving employees the choice to work at home or in an office, whether a satellite location or their regular workplace.

This means ensuring proper employer support for home offices and telework. It also means a big change in the public service work culture. Because of the very serious impact the pandemic has had on mental health and work-life balance, it also means that the employer must develop new tools for ensuring the wellness of public service employees.

It is critical for the Treasury Board and individual departments and agencies to continue to consult and work closely with unions to ensure that all these points are being addressed. The government’s response to the pandemic and its treatment of federal workers has been commendable so far – let’s not change it now.