Canada’s Public Sector Unions Threaten Disruption Over Return to Office

This week, Chris Aylward, the national president of Canada’s largest public sector union, warned Canadians that they were facing “a summer of discontent.”

Return to office was a major issue during last year’s public service walkout.Credit…Ian Austen/The New York Times

Mr. Aylward, of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, had joined with leaders from three other public sector unions to announce that they had started a series of legal challenges over the federal government’s requirement that most of their members show up at their workplaces at least three days a week beginning in September. And they said that they would take “coordinated actions” leading to disruptions as a pressure tactic.

For most Canadians, the ability to work chiefly from home faded away along with the pandemic health threat some time ago. In January, Statistics Canada reported that 20 percent of people, including government employees, spend the majority of their work time at home. That’s well down from the 40 percent level at the height of the pandemic but nevertheless higher than the 7 percent level of 2019.

Return-to-office mandates remain a major source of contention within the federal public service. It was one of the key issues behind a 15-day strike just over a year ago. But that job action did not result in an agreement giving public servants the right to mostly work from home.

Many government employees, like prison and border guards, cannot work remotely, but the government now requires that everyone else show up at the workplace at least twice a week. Mr. Aylward and the other union leaders said during their news conference that many of their members struggle to find workspaces or equipment when they arrive. They all argued that adding another day would compound those issues.

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