Canada’s hybrid work plan stokes discontent among public servants

By on 09/08/2022 | Updated on 09/08/2022
A man sits with frustrated expression at his keyboard

The Canadian federal government has continued to face backlash for its bid to bring public servants back into shared workspaces, with employees swapping views and information online in shared opposition to the plan.

Last week, public service unions in Canada criticised the federal government’s plan to bring employees back into offices on a hybrid basis, calling its advice incoherent and a risk to workers’ health and safety.

Now, growing tensions between federal agents and the administration have spurred an outpouring of frustration on internet forums such as Reddit, where communities have taken to posting memes ridiculing the government’s hybrid work strategy.

One meme on the ‘r/CanadaPublicServants’ unofficial subreddit for employees and former employees of the Canadian federal public service took aim at a Health Canada manager’s proposal that public servants returning to their desks would help keep a nearby franchise of global sandwich chain Subway in business.

Such reactions have coincided with federal unions highlighting evidence showing that a majority of their members favour full-time remote-working.

Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) said that studies carried out by PIPSC of its membership showed that 60% “would prefer to stay in a work from home situation”, while 25% preferred a hybrid model. Only 10% meanwhile said they would like to come back to the office full time.

Carr recently criticised the government’s decision to devolve responsibilities around hybrid work to departments, saying the plan showed no clear coordination across government and made it very difficult for the union to advise its 60,000 members.

Read more: Canadian public service unions blast government’s hybrid work advice

Her criticism came with those of other Canadian public service unions, who criticised the government’s hybrid work advice after clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the Cabinet Janice Charette sent a letter to deputy ministers saying she expected employees to work from offices part-time over the summer to test drive the new work model.

Gathering signatures

Other internet commentators have since posted information outlining how each agency intends to approach the push to resume office work.

A self-titled ‘Weekly Megathread’ on the subject was last updated on 7 August on Reddit, showing an “unofficial and crowdsourced list of news from departments” about how they intended to achieve a hybrid workplace.

Another link posted in the community chat urged public servants to sign a letter demanding that senior leaders “let each of us, in discussion with our respective managers, choose the work configuration that best suits our work objectives”.

In 2020, the total number of public servants employed by the Government of Canada stood at around 319,601. The letter, posted under ‘GOC [Government of Canada] Together’, has so far gained 3954 signatures. It stated:

“We believe that the hybrid model is not the great compromise you claim. Rather, we believe that it will paradoxically compromise our autonomy, efficiency and in particular, our pursuit of fairness and equity in the workplace.”

As hospitals across the country struggle to manage its seventh wave of COVID-19, further concerns have come from the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) about the risk the government’s hybrid work strategy poses workers’ health and safety.

Greg Phillips, president of CAPE (which represents 20,000 workers), said that government owed it to public servants to “show [them] the rationale” of its return-to-office [RTO] strategy, adding that “mass confusion” and distrust had been sown as a result of its insistence that the plan be implemented now.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. FSC says:

    I for one am fine with returning to the workplace on occasion. I understand it is ludicrous for the taxpayers to lease buildings that sit empty. However, my main source of frustration is with how the buildings are being revamped into hoteling floor plans. It isn’t the change that is taking place as much as what it consists of. Entire buildings full of useable furniture are being emptied and then refurnished on the taxpayer’s dollar. It is not only a huge needless expense but also a huge carbon footprint for no real gain. The old cubicle system would work just fine until the furniture is due for an update, to regular wear and tear. On one hand our government is telling us climate change is important and we all need to make changes, and on the other hand they are using up resources like they are infinite.

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