Trade unions in the public service are promising a “summer of dissatisfaction” with officials’ policies

OTTAWA — Public employee unions say they will file further grievances and legal challenges over new rules requiring federal employees to work at least three days a week in the office.

Trade unions are promising a “summer of discontent” over policies the federal government announced earlier this month.

Canadian Public Service Alliance president Chris Aylward said Wednesday the NDP supports unions and expects the party to pressure the Liberals on the issue.

However, he refrained from calling on the NDP to withdraw support for the minority government.

He said the NDP would be asking questions in the House of Commons “to get answers from the government as to why this decision was made without consulting any of the unions.”

The comments didn’t go as far as a letter sent by unions to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, dated the same day.

The letter calls on Singh to “take decisive action by using the mechanisms of power provided for in the Liberal-NDP Confidence and Supply Agreement to hold them accountable.” The agreement is a mechanism through which the NDP helps the minority Liberals stay in power.

Asked about the apparent difference in messaging, a PSAC spokesman said the focus is on NDP using the agreement to put pressure on the government, “not on breaking the agreement.”

Singh told reporters his party has “a lot of tools” to put pressure on the Liberals.

Aylward made his comments at a press conference on Parliament Hill alongside representatives from other public service unions.

They did not specify what type of activities they planned. They said they have either already filed legal complaints, such as unfair labor practice complaints and policy complaints, or plan to do so.

Aylward said PSAC was considering making a separate application to the Federal Court.

The new rules, which also stipulate that executives will have to be in the office at least four days a week, will come into force on September 9.

Treasury Board President Anita Anand said on Wednesday that the government has the authority to introduce changes and that hybrid work solutions are not included in collective agreements with trade unions.

“This is something that, throughout the negotiations, the Government of Canada retained the authority to determine the scope of the hybrid environment,” she told reporters.

Asked about Anand’s comments, Aylward said there was an agreement with the government “to sit down and talk to us and create joint panels in each individual department and agency so that we can do these assessments on a case-by-case basis.”

He said the government “broke that promise by simply announcing it last week.”

Previously, most federal employees were required to be in the office at least two days a week. These rules came into force in March 2023, two years after people started working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trade unions say there are already problems with existing hybrid working arrangements because there is not enough space for workers who struggle to find available desks and conference rooms. The federal government said in its last budget that it plans to cut its office portfolio by half.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2024.

Anja Karadeglija, Canadian Press

Public Service Alliance of Canada President Chris Aylward speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick