Open letter to the Hon. Mona Fortier from National President, David Neufeld

The Hon. Mona Fortier, M.P (Vanier)
President of the Treasury Board
Ottawa, ON

Dear Minister Fortier:

On December 15, 2022, the Treasury Board Secretariat informed departments and agencies that federal public service employees will be required to return to in-office work for a minimum of 2 to 3 days a week. The reported intent of this requirement is to ensure “consistency” across the federal public service. All departments have been directed to follow the same guidelines.

Under this new mandated hybrid work model, employees will be required to work on site at least 2-3 days each week, or 40–60 percent of their regular schedule. This new model will apply to all of the core public administration, and separate agencies have been encouraged to adopt a similar strategy. The Treasury Board is proposing a phased introduction of this new mandated hybrid model, beginning January 16, 2023, with full implementation targeted by March 31, 2023.

While USJE is glad to see that the Treasury Board has recognized the value of a hybrid work environment, USJE strongly objects to the lack of consultation with federal public service unions in regards to the development of this policy. Further, USJE is deeply concerned about a lack of flexibility in the application of this policy, regardless of the particular work circumstances or capacities of individual employees.  

  1. USJE has always supported a proactive and collaborative approach in defining the post-pandemic ‘new normal’ in regard to the options available for federal public service employees to work remotely, engage in tele-work and/or work directly on site. USJE also recognizes that the approaches taken by departments and agencies have varied widely when it comes to navigating the pandemic/post pandemic environment – depending on the nature of the department, agency, region, role that employees play as well as level of perceived or real risk of COVID 19.
  2. The broad application of a federal government-wide policy in regard to on-site work (constituting no less than 40 – 60 percent of their regular schedule) actively disregards crucial workplace considerations including: 
    • the actual value of in-person, on- site engagement in increasing productivity and performance; 
    • the degree to which the federal public service employee can be equally, if not more productive, doing the work off site;
    • the conditions of their on-site office spaces (should they exist) given the fact that there are many fewer dedicated office spaces in the federal public service, and many more open concept work spaces.  

Further, in the context of the highly valuable public safety work that most of USJE members undertake, this new policy disregards the fact that many federal workspaces are chaotic, constantly evolving environments that do not always create the conditions for the most productive work. 

  1. USJE implores the Treasury Board Any to take a nuanced, cautious and informed approach when determining the environments in which each federal public service employee works. This means conducting a robust assessment of what constitutes a productive, on-site working environment for all the categories of federal employees who are implicated by this policy.

USJE is also requesting a clear justification from management teams regarding the precise reasons to mandate an employee to return to the physical work place a minimum of 40 to 60 percent – in terms of what will be gained from a potentially increased presence at the work site itself.

This means immediately suspending the so-called ‘return to the work place’ mandate until there has been fulsome discussions with federal public service unions and a clear demonstration of the value of the policy.  

Federal public service unions have a deep understanding of what has worked well (and not so well) for the hundreds of thousands of federal public service employees who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. Throughout, federal public service employees represented by USJE demonstrated a remarkable capacity to adapt to unprecedented working conditions, while advancing public safety outcomes. 

Taking a balanced approach moving forward that recognizes the value of workplace flexibility while maintaining vigilance in regard to any risks to public safety is key to a healthy and energized workforce.

As a key labour partner, USJE believes that it is imperative that, as per previous Treasury Board direction, agencies and departments actively work with bargaining agents in a collaborative way to determine the appropriate work measures moving forward. 

Unfortunately, this newly announced Treasury Board directive will have the effect of creating undue stress and disruptions for tens of thousands of federal public service employees who have worked diligently to adapt to off site working arrangements through the height of the pandemic, sometimes with families at home, schools shut down amid much uncertainty.

USJE is a dynamic, data driven organization committed to strong public policy outcomes – and a well-trained and well-supported public safety federal workforce. USJE is eager to do the heavy lifting alongside senior managers of the 18 departments and agencies it represents in order to determine safe and viable post- pandemic transition plans that advance public safety – and that do not compromise the crucial work undertaken by federal public servants, or the wellbeing of these public servants themselves.


David Neufeld
National President, USJE