'Shocked' public service unions promise to fight new 3-day in-office mandate

OTTAWA — Unions representing public servants say they are blindsided and outraged by new rules forcing federal employees to work from the office at least three days a week.

The new requirements, which take effect Sept. 9, also stipulate executives will have to be in the office at least four days a week.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada says it will be filing an unfair labour practice complaint and looking into other legal options.

"PSAC members are incredibly frustrated and angered by this announcement," national president Chris Aylward said in a statement.

Previously, most federal public servants had to be in the office at least two days a week. Those rules were put in place March 2023, two years after public servants began working remotely due to the COVID−19 pandemic.

Nathan Prier, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, called the announcement a "disaster" and said the union would be fighting it.

"We are shocked at this decision which has been made in secret without consultation, and with no valid reason given," he said in a statement. "We will not be taking this lying down."

Stéphanie Montreuil, head of public affairs for the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said there was no indication the requirements would be changing.

"We’ve been led to believe that this government would be collaborating with unions and trying to work together. So obviously something that comes out of left field like this does not reflect those kinds of values."

The Treasury Board of Canada says the new rules are being put in place due to the benefits of interacting in person in a "consistent" way.  It also says the new requirement is meant to bring more fairness and consistency to how the hybrid work model is applied.

The unions said there are already problems with the existing hybrid work arrangements.

"In many offices our members are regularly forced to camp out in cafeterias or cram into awkward hallway meetings because of a shortage of available workspaces, and these problems will only continue to pile up," Aylward said.

Montreuil also said union members are reporting problems with finding available desks and meeting rooms.

Montreuil noted the federal government said in its recent budget it plans to cut its office portfolio in half.

"How are we simultaneously increasing the number of people that we want in the office for one more day per week?" she asked.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024.

Anja Karadeglija, The Canadian Press