Quebec civil servants prepare for gradual return to the office

·3 min read
Civil servants across Quebec are set to start gradual returning to the office on Nov. 15. Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel says the province will be trying out a new hybrid work model. (Jacques Boissinot/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Civil servants across Quebec are set to start gradual returning to the office on Nov. 15. Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel says the province will be trying out a new hybrid work model. (Jacques Boissinot/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Quebec's civil servants expect to begin a gradual return to the office next Monday, after the provincial government announced its plan to slowly open workplaces back up.

Beginning Nov. 15, workers in the public sector will start a new hybrid model of work — working from home three times a week and working in the office twice a week.

"The epidemiological situation finally allows us to begin the gradual return to the workplace," said Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel.

LeBel said the province is aiming to have about half of Quebec's civil employees working in the office two days a week by Jan. 14, 2022. By the end of January, the goal is to have 100 per cent of these employees working in the hybrid model.

Bringing government workers back gradually will allow offices to adapt to public health measures, LeBel said, although the plan may change depending on how the COVID-19 situation evolves.

Apart from teachers and health workers, most public servants have been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020. A return to work was proposed — and then delayed — several times.

Still, LeBel says she has no plan to bring all personnel back to government offices full time.

"Working from home for employees whose jobs are well-suited for this is here to stay," LeBel said in a statement.

"I am convinced that this way of doing things will allow a better balance between work and professional life and that it will make [working for] the government more attractive."

Last week, Quebec said employers no longer have to prioritize working from home, though it said they should still allow it.

'Is it really the right time?'

Line Lamarre, the president of the Syndicat des professionnels du gouvernement du Quebec (SPGQ) said she is surprised — and a little worried — about the government's decision.

"Is it really the right time to do this, right before the holidays?" she said to Radio-Canada.

'We are a little taken aback. We're surprised how quickly they want to do this."

Lamarre said she was not informed of the decision in advance and it leaves managers very little time to prepare, especially to set up workspaces and decide which employees will come to the office on which day.

She said she's worried about the reaction from her union members, which account for more than 20,000 workers in the public sector. While she says a number of them will be happy to return to the office, she expects some will be surprised to find they're now sharing workspaces with other colleagues, which was not the case before the pandemic.

Christian Daigle, head of the SFPQ, the union that represents public and para-public service workers in the province, says he's not opposed to the gradual return to the workplace.

However, the union, which represents 30,000 members, is asking employers to enforce the highest standards of health and safety.

"The government of Quebec will also have to be flexible in the application of the hybrid model," Daigle said, "if it does not wish to accentuate the labour shortage it is currently experiencing."

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