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.


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.


  • 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.


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.”

UNE Convention postponed until 2021

 The UNE national executive has passed a motion to postpone its Triennial Convention originally scheduled for August 24-28, 2020 until 2021. As such, all registration deadlines and timelines related to convention business have been postponed to a date to be determined.

  • Timelines associated with Locals to elect their delegates are suspended
  • Convention Committee meetings scheduled for June 7-10 are also postponed
  • If you have already registered online, it has been registered. Registration will remain open, and new deadlines pertaining to registration will be posted at a future date
  • Members can still submit resolutions, as described by the governance documents of UNE

The decision to postpone was not easy, but given the factors outlined by the Public Health Agency of Canada, provincial and territorial emergency measures, and municipal directions, it was necessary to reorganize our logistics and our delegate expectations for their health and the safety of their families, along with UNE Staff, while preserving the integrity of our democratic institution.


Respectfully Submitted, and In Solidarity,

Kevin King

UNE National President



Phoenix: Recovery of salary overpayments during the COVID-19 pandemic

In our regular communication with the government, we have received the following notice regarding the recovery of salary overpayments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How will the recovery of salary overpayments be addressed during the Covid-19 pandemic?

In light of the current pandemic situation, the Pay Centre is temporarily suspending the overpayment recovery plans for all new overpayments that, effective March 23, 2020, meet the criteria for repayment under the “Recovery over an extended period as a result of the implementation of Phoenix” flexibilities provision outlined in the Directive on the Terms and Conditions of Employment. This operational measure will allow the Pay Centre to prioritize pay transactions to employees.

The Pay Centre will continue informing employees of any new overpayment. However, overpayments that fall under the flexibilities outlined in the Information Bulletin: Additional Flexibilities with regards to the recovery overpayments, Emergency Salary Advances and priority payments will be suspended until further notice.  This covers overpayments, emergency salary advances and priority payments received by employees due to issues arising as a direct result of Phoenix. An employee can still choose to repay their new overpayment in the manner that best meets their situation. Employees will need to advise the Pay Centre accordingly.

The recovery of overpayments will continue for the recovery of amounts owing arising from routine pay transactions, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • overpayments of less than 10% of an employee’s gross bi-weekly pay;
  • periods of leave without pay of 5 days or less;
  • overdrawn leave (vacation/sick) upon termination of employment (for reasons other than incapacity/illness and layoff);
  • cancellation of a leave with income averaging agreement by the employee, where the leave has been taken;
  • amounts advanced on behalf of employees for union dues;
  • maternity/parental allowance, where the employee has not fulfilled their obligation as set out in their collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment; and
  • amounts owed to public service health insurance plans, pension, supplementary death benefit or disability/long-term disability due to periods of leave without pay.

The recovery will also continue for overpayments associated with the termination of employment, end-of-term or casual contracts without further extension or renewal (from first available funds).

Note that the recovery plan will continue for employees who already have repayment plans in place as agreed upon. However, these plans can be modified should employees experience financial hardship; employees in such positions should contact the Client Contact Centre at 1-855-686-4729 or complete a Phoenix feedback form to request a more flexible arrangement.

Departments and agencies which are not serviced by the Pay Centre may also wish to temporarily suspend the collection of new overpayments covered by the flexibilities. They may also make available the option to modify repayment plans where employees may be experiencing hardship consistent with the Directive on the Terms and Conditions of Employment.


PA group: Summer leave request deadline extended due to COVID-19

PSAC has successfully negotiated an extension to May 15, 2020 for members of the PA group to submit summer leave requests in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PSAC and Treasury Board agreed to push back the deadline from April 15 in a memorandum of agreement signed this week. The employer’s deadline to respond to leave requests will also be extended to June 1.

However, employees who want to submit annual leave requests for the first two weeks of June must do so before April 15, and the employer will make every reasonable effort to respond before May 1.

The deadline may be extended depending on the duration of the pandemic.

COVID-19: Changes to the Public Service Health Care Plan

Due to COVID-19, PSAC has agreed with the employer to make some temporary amendments to the Public Service Health Care Plan, which will assist members in accessing the services that they need.

These changes include:

  • Extension of the Emergency Benefit while travelling to 60 days from 40

The following changes will be made up until April 24, 2020:

  • Any member can see a social worker and it will be covered under your psychological benefit (up to the regular annual maximum)
  • You do not need a doctor’s prescription to access physiotherapy or psychological services
  • Dispensing limit for maintenance medication will allow members to get their medication sooner, if required, and potentially get a supply for more than the 100 days’ limit which currently exists.

The full set of changes and further details can be seen here:

We will continue to work on this situation and will meet with the Employer to potentially make further amendments to Plan during the pandemic.

We are also planning a full set of negotiations for the Plan in the very near future.  We will update members as those negotiations get going.

COVID-19: Global Affairs members working 24/7 to help stranded Canadians

PSAC members at Global Affairs Canada have been working day and night to bring home Canadians stranded abroad because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The heart of their international effort is the Emergency Response Centre in Ottawa, featuring floor-to-ceiling world maps, televisions set to 24-hour news cycles and a cacophony of phone calls and clacking keyboards.

“For the last few months, we’ve had people in this room 24 hours a day, seven days a week responding to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Brent Robson, Director of Emergency Operations at Global Affairs. “People are rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done.”

Brent Robson, Director of Emergency Operations at Global Affairs Canada

The number of people working to repatriate Canadians has grown exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic, now totaling more than 250 staff, many of them volunteers from other parts of the department putting in extra hours after their day.

“All the other people on my team are volunteers and this is their first time diving in to this operation,” said Katryna Johnston, a PSAC member working as the Chief of Operations for the Americas. It’s her team’s job to organize commercial and emergency flights to evacuate stranded Canadians.

“They’re doing an amazing job, and they’ve been able to have so many successes,” she added just moments before a collective cheer rang out in the Centre when a flight full of Canadians lifted off from Lima, Peru.

Katryna Johnston, Chief of Operations for the Americas

Five temporary call centres have been set up to take calls from Canadians, even spilling out into the lobby of the Global Affairs headquarters in Ottawa, where workstations have been meticulously set up 8 to 10 feet apart.

Diego Matteo, a PSAC member and senior operations officer at Global Affairs, has been training new volunteers for the call centres across Ottawa, and even some remote workers who are lending a hand.

“We have as many people working at noon as we do at midnight,” he said. “[PSAC members] are the face of the department, dealing with people who are in crisis, who are destitute, who have medical problems or who are stuck and have run out of money.”

As international borders tighten up to slow the spread of the virus, it’s getting harder to arrange travel for those stranded abroad. But whether they’re booking emergency flights or processing government loans for travelers who need to stay put, Global Affairs staff will continue to be a lifeline during the pandemic.

“We’re all just really here to help Canadians,” said Johnston.


Passport members called on for assistance to Canadians during COVID-19

Service Canada has announced that in person SCC offices will be shut down effective March 27, 2020 for the safety of all.

The employer has indicated a need for Passport employees to assist with critical work. The UNE has been part of many discussions in order to ensure our members safety while being able to assist Canadians in need.

We understand that employment insurance volumes have exploded. Along with the critical work already being done, the shift will now be to primarily serve Canadians who need critical assistance by a new E-Service online form. This will allow staff to receive e-service requests and call clients back to assist them with getting onto the system for benefits. For Passport members asked to assist, we have been advised that training will be provided and the work can be performed at home.

The UNE does not normally want members to perform work outside their job description or in other programs. However, we know that Canadians are relying on certain services and that many members want to assist in the safest way possible. The closing of Service Canada offices means that members can help in a safer way.

We will continue to monitor the situation with your input and will expect that after the emergency has passed, Passport members will return to only performing work within their own program and job description. The employer has confirmed this request is for these exceptional times only.

Please continue to report any issues that you may have through the local and to your regions.