Canadian public service restarts return to office

By on 02/03/2022 | Updated on 02/03/2022
Federal building in Ontario
Photo: Federal building in Ontario

The Canadian federal government is resuming plans to bring thousands of public servants back into offices as it lifts COVID-19 restrictions.

Fresh guidelines outlining how departments and agencies should proceed have been issued by Canada’s Treasury Board, the employer of the Canadian federal public service. The plans were put on hold after the spread of the Omicron variant late last year. A phased return to shared physical working spaces is expected to begin immediately, though heads of departments will be free to decide when and how quickly they reintegrate staff.

Mona Fortier, the Treasury Board’s president, said departments will reintroduce staff to offices in incremental phases so that they can manage reintegration around residual COVID-19 restrictions, such as masking and social distancing. This approach will also give employees time to reorganise their work lives around childcare and other commitments.

“It is my expectation that organisations will continue to be agile and demonstrate flexibility as necessary in their planning to align to the evolving public health context,” she said in a statement.

Read more: Remote working: UK civil servants told to return to pre-COVID office arrangements

Global Government Forum ran a survey (open between 26 January and 19 February this year), which found that of 10 countries, Canada had the highest proportion of public servants working fully remotely at 69.5%. This compares to 48% of public servants working fully remotely across the 10 countries surveyed. As well as Canada, these were the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.

Risk, trust and redefining work

Canada’s provinces are at various stages of ending pandemic restrictions so reopening departments are being urged to monitor signs of local outbreaks and rising infections.

Michael Wernick, Canada’s former clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet, told Global Government Forum that the departure from government-wide remote working must be tailored to each individual workplace.

“The shorthand of ‘return to office’ misses the range of workplaces in which public servants work. There are thousands of premises. They may work in laboratories, call centres, border posts, penitentiaries, airports, or out in the field inspecting private sector facilities, or working with Indigenous communities,” he said.

“The public health rules in the community are set by the provinces and they are taking different paths. Each workplace is dealing with a different risk calculation.”

Read more: Shifting pair bonds: Canada’s former public service chief shares his top tips for working with ministers

This week, a memo circulated to all Ontario Public Service (OPS) staff by Michelle E. DiEmanuele, secretary of the province’s cabinet, said “thoughtful planning” was being invested by “leaders, employees, and bargaining agents” to establish preconditions for the future of work.

Wernick said it “makes sense to explore hybrid working models that balance employees’ aspirations for flexibility with managers’ needs to get the work done productively”. The move to hybrid working arrangements would come with familiar challenges, around performance and talent management for example, but also new ones including “how to select, attract and retain a diverse team of good staff in an increasingly competitive labour market”, he added.

In its survey, Global Government Forum found that 19.1% of Canadian government employees worked a hybrid arrangement of both remote and on-site working. Around 11.5% worked fully on-site.

Canadian federal government vaccination mandate continues

The Ontario Public Service will no longer require staff to provide proof of vaccination or undergo regular testing from 4 April, except for in “high-risk congregate settings”, as reported by Global News. However, the federal government’s guidance still requires public servants to be vaccinated, with unvaccinated federal workers placed on unpaid leave. Staff with approved exemptions will be screened from colleagues at work and will be required to take rapid tests regularly.

Wernick said the lifting of restrictions and the return to workplaces had been made possible by the high rate of vaccination among public servants and the wider population. At present, 86% of Canadians are double vaccinated, and half have received boosters.

Global Government Forum will be publishing the wider results of its survey, breaking down the proportion of remote, on-site, and hybrid workers in each of the 10 countries surveyed, next week. The survey focused on perceptions of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for public sector employees – look out for the analysis in the coming weeks. In total, the survey received 3,853 responses.

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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. No use for a name says:

    This vaccination requirement is corruption. Especially with Omicron, we can see it crystal clear that it does not prevent you from being sick nor does it prevent transmission. The data from big pharma is unreliable, please see the Canadiancovidcarealliance website, where these non government controlled doctors and researchers breakdown the data. The video is called, how the covid vaccines do more harm than good. And that was done at least 6 months ago, it would be even worst now. What is this totalitarianism in the governments nowadays for something that the recovery rate is 99.7%. Covid was mass hysteria and ended up being used as a means to bring in more control methods on the population. Digital ID is next. Heading towards china like social credit system. Wake up people.

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