Calling for a clear definition of “critical” federal government services

As the government has moved to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Treasury Board has repeated that some “critical” services must be delivered from the workplace. 

Government employers and media are using the term “essential” alongside “critical.” This has created confusion for members looking to understand how their managers are making decisions and how it will impact working conditions. 

Telework directives have not been applied universally or at the same speed across departments and agencies in the public service. This is extremely worrying for many since this will impact their health and safety, family life and overall well-being. Along with putting the greater community at risk.

PIPSC and other federal unions have asked the Treasury Board to clarify the definitions of the terms “critical services” and “critical staff.”

We’ve asked for clarification on how managers are to make staffing decisions based on these designations. The Treasury Board has agreed to address this in their upcoming directives. We will share this information with you as soon as it is available.

“Essential” and “critical” are not the same thing

The term essential service is used to describe the employees that must continue their work in the context of collective bargaining and potential labour disruptions. If a worker has been designated as essential in the past, it has no part in determining whether they must work from home or the workplace during this global pandemic.

What if I disagree with my manager’s decision to continue working in the workplace?

Some members have reported that they have been asked to continue their operations from their workplace but they think they could easily do the work from home. In other cases, members have been asked to go into the workplace to continue work they don’t think is necessary for critical government operations.

In these cases, if you cannot reach a resolution with your manager or supervisor please fill out our help form to be directed to our Labour Relations team.


If you are asked to physically go into work and feel that the appropriate precautions aren’t being taken by the employer, you have the right to refuse dangerous work. The nature of the pandemic is different across regions and workplaces so the risk varies and some members provide essential services. Each case must be assessed individually, please contact us now for assistance with this evaluation: