Hybrid Return-to-Work Plan

PSAC opposed to the government’s hybrid work plan implementation

What is the Government’s Hybrid Work Plan?

In December 2022, the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board announced their plan to transition workers to a hybrid work system. This plan was expected to commence on March 31, 2023, with a mandatory policy for federal public servants to return to their offices at least 2-3 days a week or equivalent to 40-60% of their schedule.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada has publicly stated its intention to challenge this, implying that the implementation of such a plan is illegal, as there are ongoing negotiations that have yet to be resolved in bargaining. By implementing such a plan, the union is filing a “statutory freeze complaint”. With over 80% of its members in agreement, they seek to challenge the hybrid return-to-work plan, claiming it has failed to prioritize more pressing bargaining concerns, such as:

  • The need for work-life balance;
  • The inability to produce fair wages;
  • Protections against harassment and discrimination in the workplace; and
  • Accommodation in the workplace and other significant topics of discussion in labour relations.

The union began advocating remote work in the spring of 2022 when the Canada Revenue Agency announced that changes were being considered. As of December 20, 2022, the union decided to proceed with this challenge when breaking off their mediation with CRA on the first day. As this new policy becomes mandatory, PSAC advocates that by its next collective agreement, a remote work program would have already been implemented. Since they believe there was no consideration for the ongoing bargaining, they plan on collectively challenging the hybrid return-to-work plan before it is implemented. The plan advocates for a hybrid program, considering the challenges the pandemic has created for federal public servants and allowing there to be a reasonable expectation that they return to the office partially.

The Statutory Freeze Complaint

It is important to note that a statutory freeze does not prohibit the employer from making normal business changes or operating as usual (i.e. implementing reasonable workplace policies). The purpose of filing a statutory freeze complaint against the Treasury Board and such agencies is to emphasize that there are ongoing negotiations with 80% of federal public service workers. The statutory freeze provision can put a “freeze” on changing the wages, working conditions and conditions of employment during bargaining.

The Treasury Board (as employer) will argue that such changes are entirely within their management rights and that the imposition of a hybrid work system is a reasonable exercise of that power. The significance is that prior to the pandemic, employees were not guaranteed any right to work from home. There is no question that the pandemic altered the landscape, but it may not be reasonable to suggest that management does not have the right to require its employees to attend the workplace. This may be viewed as an arbitrary intrusion upon legitimate management rights.