A tentative agreement with “new protections around remote work” reached between the federal government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada could set a precedent for working from home in the country, experts say.
PSAC and the Treasury Board came to an agreement early Monday, putting an end to a nationwide strike for over 120,000 union employees after nearly two weeks of picketing.
As of Monday morning, Treasury Board workers were required to go back on the job, PSAC announced in a statement. Canada Revenue Agency workers are negotiating their own deal and remain on strike.
According to PSAC, the deal provides “significant new protections around remote work” — which was one of the main sticking points in the labour dispute.
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said at a news conference in Ottawa on Monday that the agreement supports “fairness, equity and modernization” when it comes to remote work.
Alexandra Samuel, a digital workplace expert, said details of what was exactly agreed upon will shape the future of remote and hybrid work, not just within the federal government, but for the whole country.
“The most important part of this agreement is the idea that we are returning to a model where individual teams, individual managers, individual departments will be able to have specific agreements rather than a single one-size-fits-all policy across the government,” she told Motorcycle accident toronto today.
In December, Fortier announced that public service workers will spend two to three days per week in the office starting in January, to be fully implemented by April.
As it stands, that flexibility remains for public servants to continue, where applicable, having the option of working up to three days from home per week.
What is the remote work agreement?
Under the tentative agreement, managers will be required to assess remote work requests on an individual case-by-case basis — not by group — and then provide written responses.
This will “allow members and PSAC to hold the employer accountable to equitable and fair decision-making on remote work,” the union said.
This could inspire other unions who are currently negotiating their own deals to ask for similar provisions, said Christina Santini, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“It can be a concern if it sets a precedent and … (puts) pressure on other employers to do the same who don’t necessarily have the capacity to do the same,” she said.
Some jobs are more efficiently done in person, so it is important to treat this on a case-by-case basis, Santini said, adding she would like to see more clarity on the number of federal workers who will be heading back to the office so that it can inform business decisions.
PSAC ends strike as union reaches tentative deal with Treasury Board
PSAC had been pushing for more transparency around remote work policies with the ability to negotiate remote work written into its collective agreement.
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While the full details of the tentative deal have yet to be released, the language around remote work is not part of the collective agreement but is instead stated in a separate letter of intent.
This means the union won’t be able to voice any grievances, Samuel said.
As stated in a letter of intent outside the collective agreement, a joint review will update the Directive on Telework that was agreed upon during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the federal government.
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An additional mechanism with departmental panels will also help address individual employee concerns, such as around cultural or management issues, Fortier said.
This does raise hopes of a more equitable and fairer approach and increased transparency around who’s getting remote work opportunities and why, Samuel said.
“We want this to be the new normal, frankly, in lots of organizations,” she said.
Samuel said the panel on telework may provide a “hugely useful template for other organizations who want to bring employees back to the office.”
However, much still remains to be seen how all of this will be implemented.
Samuel said she would like to see some guidelines at the government level and departmental level about the circumstances in which it makes sense to have a team or an individual work remotely.
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