Changes to 699 leave: PSAC to take further legal action

October 29, 2020

PSAC is filing a second policy grievance against Treasury Board for its most recent discriminatory changes to 699 leave that will force federal workers to exhaust all other leave – including sick leave and vacation leave – before they can request “other leave with pay” for COVID-19-related reasons.  

For the past eight months, federal public service workers have been giving their all to help Canadians grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. PSAC members have been unwavering in their dedication despite the physical risks for those doing front-line work, in additional to ongoing school and daycare closures, and the extra burden of taking care of vulnerable family members.  

In some cases, workers have been forced to use 699 leave when they simply could not work remotely because of child care or elder care responsibilities, including waiting in long lines for COVID-19 testing. 

Despite the modest use of 699 leave, in May Treasury Board changed the guidelines on 699 leave to restrict how public service workers use “other leave with pay” to fulfil childcare needs related to COVID-19. 

PSAC warned Treasury Board that tightening the guidelines would discriminate against marginalized groups, potentially lead to serious human rights violations and violate members’ collective agreements. Workers have a right to use 699 leave because we negotiated it into collective agreements; it cannot be taken away at the whim of managers. 

They didn’t listen.  

Shortly thereafter, PSAC filed a policy grievance against Treasury Board on the grounds that the revised policy disproportionately impacts women, people with disabilities and people with family obligations.  

New policy forces members to exhaust all other leave 

Even before PSAC’s first hearing date with the Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, Treasury Board doubled down on their restrictions around 699 leave, revising their policy to state that 699 leave could only be considered if workers have depleted all other paid leave available to them, even if they are suffering from COVID-19 symptoms or are unable to work because of child care or family obligations.  

PSAC will therefore be filing another policy grievance for the latest 699 leave policy changes that come into effect on November 9.  

Every day, parents are pulling their sick kids out of schools and daycares and will be forced to use up their vacation and sick leave. Workers caring for elderly relatives must make the impossible choice of putting their loved ones at risk if they go to work and bring COVID-19 home with them. These changes violate both members’ collective agreements and the Canadian Human Rights Act based on family status, sex and disability. The Canadian Human Rights Commission also plans to make submissions on behalf of federal public service workers.  

Without the availability of a vaccine, and with many parts of Canada experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, Treasury Board’s proposed changes are premature and do not reflect the current reality of this public health crisis and its mental health impacts on public service workers. 

PSAC is committed to ensuring that our members, and in particular, women, caregivers and those with disabilities, continue to have the necessary support and leave with pay they need during the pandemic. 

Source: http://psacunion.ca/changes-699-leave-psac-take-further-legal-action

Legal battle begins to protect use of 699 leave during the pandemic

October 16, 2020

PSAC’s legal challenge against Treasury Board’s regressive and discriminatory changes to 699 leave for federal public service workers is set to begin October 19.  

In June, PSAC filed a policy grievance after the government tightened its guidelines around when public service workers can use “Other Leave with Pay” (699 leave) to fulfill child care needs during the pandemic.  

The new policy fails to recognize that some parents may have to keep their children at home for legitimate reasons despite the availability of schools or child care. For example, some parents may choose to keep their children at home to protect members of their household who suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 symptoms.  

PSAC will meet with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board in order to determine the scope of the policy grievance and set dates for the hearing.  

PSAC made it clear that the new policy adversely impacts women who continue to bear a disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities including child care, eldercare and household operations. It could also result in discriminatory outcomes for people with disabilities and people with family obligations, violating both members’ collective agreements and the Canadian Human Rights Act based on family status, sex and disability. The Canadian Human Rights Commission has also notified the Board that it intends on making submissions on this issue. 

The proposed policy amendments would result in a patchwork of unfair outcomes for public service workers and give managers too much discretion in applying the policy.  

PSAC pushes back against the use of sick leave for COVID-19 

PSAC will also be contesting language in the policy that says employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who self-isolate would be required to use available sick leave instead of 699 leave if they are unable to work.  

This egregious change to the policy is discriminatory to public service workers and flies in the face of sound public health advice. Without the availability of a vaccine, and with many parts of Canada entering a second wave of the pandemic, Treasury Board’s proposed changes are premature and inconsistent with the current public health crisis.  

There is also no evidence that employees have abused 699 leave during the pandemic. In fact, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has reported that 699 leave in the federal public service has been used modestly and cost very little. And as departments adapted to working from home, the number of employees forced to use 699 leave dropped by 84 per cent from April to June.  

PSAC is committed to ensuring that our members, and in particular, women, caregivers and those with disabilities, continue to have the necessary support and leave with pay they need during the pandemic. 

Source: http://psacunion.ca/legal-battle-begins-protect-use-699-leave-during?_ga=2.93968989.1519805114.1603113136-1121130890.1580157739

Update on Meeting Restrictions in Ontario and Quebec

September 29, 2020

In the recent weeks we have seen parts of Canada descend into another wave of COVID-19 cases. Accordingly, the following information is provided to UNE Locals for guidance with assessing the possibility and viability of in-person meetings. Given the quickly evolving situation we also recommend checking with the public health unit in for the community in question if more specific information is required.

In Ontario, as of September 19, 2020, the new gathering limits are:

  • Indoor events or gatherings: 10 people maximum
  • Outdoor events or gatherings: 25 people maximum

For more information on changes to gathering limits: www.ontario.ca/page/reopening-ontario-stages#gathering-changes

In Quebec, Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, the Outaouais and the Chaudière-Appalaches regions have moved into code orange, with the following restrictions:

  • Private indoor or outdoor gatherings: 6 people maximum
  • Activities organized in a public setting: 25 people maximum

For more information: https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/health-issues/a-z/2019-coronavirus/progressive-regional-alert-and-intervention-system/

Starting Thursday, October 1, for a period of 28 days, the regions of Montreal, Quebec City, and the Chaudière-Appalaches regions will be moved into code red Level 4–Maximum Alert, with the following restrictions:

  • Private indoor or outdoor gatherings: prohibited
  • Activities organized in a public setting: Prohibited, except for places of worship and funerals

For more information: https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/health-issues/a-z/2019-coronavirus/progressive-regional-alert-and-intervention-system/level-4-maximum-alert-red/

As the move is towards more restrictions, Locals are encouraged to conduct activities virtually where possible.

Federal government must prioritize workers’ lives and rethink its strategy on activity-based workplaces

The federal Treasury Board’s activity-based working (ABW) strategy will prove to be problematic given public health directives to stop the spread of COVID-19. Without assigned seating, as conceptualized by ABW, thousands of workers will be forced to share desks and surfaces, thereby risking exposure. Yet, instead of slowing down its implementation, the government is speeding up the transition to AWB, which will have dangerous repercussions for the health and safety of PSAC members.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has demonstrated a dismissive attitude towards legitimate health and safety concerns by suggesting that workers clean their own desks and make reservations through an already failing reservation system.

ABW also presents special challenges for vulnerable workers and these must be addressed. Decisions on ABW made prior to the global pandemic must be reconsidered and the federal government should show the same adaptability that federal public service employees have shown throughout the last months.

PSAC supports safety protocols for workers to the same level of precaution as we would want at schools, with assigned seating being significantly safer than variable seating. Accelerating the shift to activity-based working will increase the risk to PSAC members, their family and their communities. 

PSAC is asking the employer to:

  • stop the proposal to accelerate activity-based working and prioritize assigned seating for the duration of the pandemic and beyond;
  • hire indeterminate, well-trained staff to clean and disinfect offices rather than relying on workers cleaning inconsistently without sufficient training;
  • apply an equity lens to managing the return to work of those employees who have been working from home especially given that women, racialized and Indigenous people and lower-income households have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19;
  • allow workers living with an immunocompromised individual to continue to work remotely to minimize the exposure within their household until a vaccine becomes available;
  • ensure all spaces are accessible;
  • establish alternatives for those with accessibility needs to assist with cleaning spaces.

All federal bargaining agents are collaborating to get the government to address these issues on ABW. PSAC will keep working to protect the health and safety of its members throughout this pandemic and as many of us gradually return to work, in some capacity.

Quick Update on UNE Operations

Five months into pandemic life, UNE continues to ensure members are well represented. Though staff are working from home, it’s union business as usual – as much as possible. Staff have access to electronic resources from their home offices and continue to make progress on important work. The UNE office remains closed to visitors at this time.

Convention has been tentatively rescheduled for July 2021. Announcements regarding delegate registration will go out in January as the landscape becomes more clear. A Convention call-out will be re-issued.

Locals are encouraged to hold general meetings virtually or in a physical location where distancing protocols are sufficient. Meeting minutes and election results should be forwarded to our membership section.

The UNE National Executive has been meeting by teleconference regularly throughout the last five months. The next step will be a full virtual meeting to be held October 6-7. The group will have a full agenda including reports from standing committees.

Last but not least, PSAC has reached tentative agreements for all Treasury Board groups and ratification votes will take place between August 24 and September 29. The Parks Canada bargaining team heads back to the table August 24, 2020. Other separate employer groups have continued with their bargaining schedules.

Gaps remain in government’s return to workplace plan

June 26, 2020

This week, the government released its guidelines for federal public service workers to return to the office as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease across the country. The plan doesn’t outline when employees will be asked to return to the workplace, instead leaving it up to each department to gradually transition their staff based on a series of conditions that must first be met.

Treasury Board has implemented a number of PSAC’s recommendations, including a clear acknowledgement that collective agreements will be respected, recognition that improving access to mental health support is necessary, and that health and safety committees and unions will be consulted.

The guidelines also acknowledge that many workers won’t be able to return to the office until they have access to important services like child care and schools for their children. Further, they recognize other important preconditions like the availability of PPE; the ability to prepare and maintain a clean and safe physical space; and the coordination mechanisms needed to plan, supervise and monitor the transition.

PSAC has some concerns with the current guidelines:

  • Since department heads will oversee the return to workplaces, there is a risk that the guidelines will not be followed consistently across the federal public service. Local managers should not be allowed to create unequal working conditions between departments.
  • We want to make sure that appropriate scientific experts are determining whether worksites are safe and what personal protective equipment is required – not local managers
  • We expect workers to get at least two weeks’ notice before they’re asked to return to the workplace.
  • There was little about consulting employment equity committees on issues related to return to the workplace for designated groups, including people with disabilities. We urged the government to commit to a process that takes into account COVID-19’s impact on diverse groups such as women, racialized workers, LGBTQ2+ workers, Indigenous workers and those with disabilities.

Until there is a vaccine, keeping both our members and the public safe means allowing employees to work remotely for as long as needed, and ensuring workplaces have all the appropriate safety measures in place should they return to the workplace.

New telework policy?

As he announced the new guidelines, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said that one lesson learned from the pandemic is that it’s possible and perhaps practical for some public servants to work from home permanently. He added that the government has started reflecting on the number of offices and office spaces that they want over the next few years.

COVID-19 has created an opportunity to rethink telework in the federal public service, but changes to our members’ working conditions must be negotiated with our union in full consultation with the membership.

Source: PSAC

PSAC calls for more measures to support workers facing child care challenges

The Canadian economy is slowly reopening but many individuals, especially women, will be unable to return to the paid workforce due to the lack of affordable and accessible child care. There has always been a serious shortage of licensed child care services but COVID-19 has made it impossible for child care centres to function at full capacity.

Child care scarcity

It is expected that, as a result of safety concerns, the number of child care places available per program will be reduced for a period of time. For example, the government of Quebec is phasing the reopening of child care reducing the number of spaces to 30 per cent of normal capacity. Screening children and parents when they arrive, monitoring children’s health throughout the day, and the required cleaning of toys and other surfaces can’t be done without limiting the number of children in the care of staff.

Safety concerns

Many parents are concerned for the safety and health of their children and worry about child care safety—especially those who have no choice but to use unregulated and unlicensed service providers.  The fact that provincial and territorial governments are not issuing uniform safety guidelines for child care is contributing to parents’ lack of confidence in child care.

Source: http://psacunion.ca/psac-calls-more-measures-support-workers-facing

Workers need greater access to affordable childcare

The Public Service Alliance of Canada continues to advocate strongly for accessible, affordable, safe and high quality child care. COVID-19 has only reinforced the importance and challenges related to child care that existed pre-pandemic.

The government simply must do better. PSAC envisions a future where licensed child care: 

  • is accessible and affordable for parents provides high quality early childhood education and care;
  • is inclusive and provides culturally relevant programs;
  • ensures that early childhood education staff earn decent wages and are better supported;
  • is flexible and comprehensive so that mothers in particular can choose to be in the paid labour force are able to return to work; and

The government must: 

  • expand the availability of safe, licensed, and emergency child care to parents of preschool and/or school-age children who are required to work through the pandemic, and provide this child care free of charge;
  • build federal support for the child care sector into the government’s pandemic response plan to ensure licensed child care programs will be available when the health crisis ends;
  • make child care universal, accessible, affordable, inclusive and high quality; and
  • ensure that federal workers continue to be able to use 699 leave when they cannot access safe and proper child care for their children.

Help save early learning and child care centres

Join PSAC and add your name to prevent the collapse of the early learning and child care sector due to the spread of COVID-19. The government must develop a plan to both sustain the sector and, to build a child care sector that provides for the needs of children and their parents – a child care sector that we can all be proud of.

This is what a successful return-to-workplace plan looks like

PSAC is working hard to make sure the federal government takes every necessary precaution to ensure that the return to federal offices and workspaces across the country is safe for employees, their families, and the general public.

PSAC insists that the health, safety, wellness, and privacy rights of public service workers must be at the centre of the return to workplace plan and that it reflect the fact that, until a COVID-19 vaccine is created, the virus poses an ongoing threat to the physical and mental health of workers.

PSAC also takes the position that:

  • All return-to-workplace provisions must be in line with collective agreements and legal obligations.
  • Since specific equity groups have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the plan must be created with a strong equity and human rights lens.
  • The overall plan and any specific measure must adhere to direction from public health authorities and assessments from professional experts in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Additionally, PSAC is urging the following measures:

Conditions for returning to the workplace

  • Provide clear guidelines for determining who will be selected to return to workspaces and who will continue to work from home. Decisions should not be left to the discretion of management to avoid discrimination.
  • Provide employees who are returning to the workplace with a reasonable notice period of at least two weeks to allow them to manage the transition and to do so gradually.
  • Allow workers living with an immunocompromised individual to continue to work remotely to minimize exposure within their household until a vaccine becomes available.
  • Continue our members’ access to “Other Leave with Pay” (699) to accommodate various circumstances including, but not limited to, child care responsibilities that are related to COVID-19, including if parents are unable to or choose not to send their children back to school or daycare.
  • Acknowledge that productivity will be negatively affected by the pandemic and that employees’ performance evaluations should not consequently be negatively affected.
  • Allow for genuine consultation and negotiation with bargaining agents on any reorganization of work. Especially in the event that changes would trigger Work Force Adjustment obligations.

Public transit and shared spaces

  • Consider how returning to offices or workspaces increases a worker’s risk of exposure to the virus as it may require them to drop children off at school or childcare, ride a bus or train, use a public washroom or ride an elevator.
  • Include a strategy to ensure workers can remain at a 2-metre physical distance from others, including in shared spaces, but still have access to necessities such as washrooms, elevators, microwaves and fridges.
  • Address how an employer will proceed when 2-metre physical distancing is not possible in elevators, entrance ways, stairwells, washrooms, and routes to and from public transit.
  • Consider the impact on workers who cannot take public transit because of risk of exposure, and therefore support accommodations like additional or reduced-price parking available for those who can drive to the work site.
  • Ensure that employers implement health and safety strategies such as staggered scheduling, controlling or restricting access to common spaces, more frequent cleaning/disinfecting of the workplace, preparing and training for emergency situations, as well as training and communication on COVID-related health and safety procedures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

General health & safety, sanitation and workers’ needs

  • Provide a robust sanitation plan and risk assessment of federal government workspaces.
  • Include a plan to track cases of COVID-19 in the public service, including procedures that must be followed after a worker tests positive.
  • Address Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs and align these needs with the recommendations of provincial and territorial health agencies who have called for the use of masks and gloves, especially when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Outline support for teleworkers in terms of ergonomic support, mental health, and appropriate working equipment.
  • Provide managers and Occupational Health & Safety Committees with additional situation-specific training to deal with the range of mental health problems that are likely to result, or have already, due to COVID-19.
  • Provide sufficient medical research and an assessment by a technical professional to determine how ventilation systems can contribute to virus transmission.
  • Include a plan to ensure all sanitation and ventilation systems are in ongoing compliance with the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR).
  • Consider slowing the pace of the conversion to Activity-Based Working. All work arrangements should be considered and evaluated in the context of COVID-19.

Child care

  • Provide clear guidelines on how to accommodate employees who may have to continue to provide childcare while also working due to COVID-19.
  • Allow parents to use “Other Leave with Pay” (699) to fulfill childcare needs related to COVID-19, including if some parents may be forced to keep their children home despite some schools and childcare facilities re-opening.
  • Include plans to negotiate with PSAC at the bargaining table so that its childcare proposal can be implemented as part of collective agreements.

Domestic and family violence

  • Provide an outline for the steps that will be taken to ensure employees are supported and feel protected from violence at home; whether they return to the workplace or continue to work from home.
  • Include a plan to finalize an agreement with PSAC on domestic violence leave.

Employment equity and human rights

  • Include a management approach that recognizes the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on specific groups, such as people with disabilities, women, racialized and Indigenous people.
  • Incorporate guidelines that will ensure that human rights, privacy rights and employment equity obligations are being met by the employer.
  • Include plans to consult with the NJC Joint Employment Equity Committee and departmental employment equity committees on changes to any practices, processes and policies that can potentially effect workers (telework, technological changes, workspaces, etc.) due to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on equity groups.

Privacy

  • Stipulate that any disaggregated information (age, gender, race etc.) collected that may be relevant for collective bargaining will be provided to PSAC so that we can determine any disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our members.
  • Ensure that any health or employment data collected by an employer observes privacy obligations and is stored in a secure manner.

PSAC is demanding that the government continue meaningful consultation with federal unions throughout the development and implementation of a return-to-workplace plan.

Until an acceptable overall plan is developed, PSAC strongly recommends that our members continue to work from home where possible.

We will provide further updates on the development of a plan as more information becomes available.

Source: http://psacunion.ca/what-successful-return-workplace-plan-looks

Postponement of PSAC Convention and Timelines

UNE National President Kevin King attended the PSAC National Board of Directors meeting this past week where motions were passed to suspend the PSAC National Convention, PSAC Regional Conventions and all associated timelines.

Canadian health directives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have banned public gatherings, closed many workplaces and enforced the self-isolation. The uncertainty and changing landscape of regulations were the ultimate factors in the decision to postpone until the picture becomes clearer.

All conventions will be postponed by a calendar year; Regional Conventions scheduled in 2020 will be rescheduled to 2021 and the PSAC 2021 Convention will be scheduled for 2022.

Finally, the Board also passed a motion that timelines related to Component Conventions will be suspended. For UNE members, this was an important decision so that resolutions and elections at our postponed Convention will line up with PSAC. Should the suspensions require further extensions, that will be evaluated by the Board at a future date.

“This is the most democratic decision that could have been reached in this strange time,” said King. “We explored many alternatives, but in the end, postponing conventions and suspending timelines takes into account the safety and well-being of all members and their families.”