With just a few weeks remaining until federal public servants are to return to the office, more workers have been granted 12-month extensions.
According to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, call centre employees working for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will receive a year-long exemption, joining call centre workers for Employment and Social Development Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency and those working for the Pay Centre, who were granted exemptions in February.
“In these cases, departments have indicated that certain functions in call centres and the Pay Centre may provide a better level of service to Canadians in a full-time telework environment,” said Barb Couperus, a Treasury Board spokesperson. “The 12-month extension will give departments the opportunity to assess and validate this approach.”
Couperus said public service adjudicators for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada were also being given approval to continue primarily teleworking for the next 12 months while the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada continued to “assess the business value and service benefits of an expanded virtual tribunal,” noting that some hearings would continue to take place in-person with adjudicators in the office.
Employees who report to one of the IRB’s Toronto offices and are not already working rotationally on site have been granted extensions to fall 2023, Couperus said, as that office is being decommissioned in preparation for a planned move to new office space.
“Employees will comply with the direction of hybrid work upon taking occupancy of the new building later this fall,” she said.
Couperus said exemptions were made following consultation with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
In December, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, also the MP for Ottawa-Vanier, announced a “one size fits all” hybrid work model requiring public servants to work at least two to three days a week in the office, or between 40 to 60 per cent of their regular schedule, beginning March 31.
Unions have argued that the decision to force workers back to the office was made prematurely, with the exemptions solidifying their opinions.
Marc Brière, national president of the Union of Taxation Employees, which represents 36,000 Canada Revenue Agency employees, said last month the most likely reason call-centre employees had been exempted from returning to the office was a lack of space, especially given how many new hires were welcomed to the agency during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alex Silas, Public Service Alliance of Canada regional executive vice-president for the national capital region, had said the exemptions represented “piecemeal and stop-gap attempts and solutions,” adding that the return-to-office plan was done “in a hasty way for no real good reason.”
Couperus said the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat remained in regular contact with departments and agencies to discuss any further extensions to return-to-office orders.
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