MONTREAL — Public sector workers will begin gradually returning to their offices in September, the Quebec government said Wednesday, as health officials reported 126 new cases of COVID-19.
The goal is to have about 50 per cent of employees working in person three or four days a week in government offices by Oct. 7, Treasury Board Chair Sonia LeBel told reporters.
"Even if the situation is better than it was and we are very optimistic for the future, we still have to deal with the fact that the virus is still present in our communities, so we are privileging a progressive return to work starting in mid-September," LeBel said.
All government employees should be back in offices by Nov. 15, working under a hybrid model that would allow them to spend one or two days a week working remotely, she added.
The merits of the hybrid model, LeBel said, have been proven during the pandemic. "We think that this is something that has both advantages for the government and for the employees."
LeBel, however, said the plan could change if the public health situation does not continue to improve.
A union representing 29,100 government workers welcomed the announcement but said employees, not the government, should determine when and how often workers return to the office.
"It's a step in the right direction," Line Lamarre, president of Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec, said in a news release. "However, we believe our members are sufficiently professional to determine for themselves when their presence at the office is required."
The union said the government's back-to-work plan "lacks flexibility."
Speaking at the same news conference, Labour Minister Jean Boulet said the government is recommending that private sector employers develop similar plans to return to offices this fall.
Boulet said while employers have the right to require their employees return to offices, he said he hopes they discuss the issue with their workers to ensure a "harmonious back to work for all the people in Quebec, in compliance with the hybrid formula that we strongly recommend."
He suggested that employers should assume their employees who have been working from home want to continue working remotely some of the time. With the entire province at the lowest pandemic-alert level, Boulet said remote work is not obligatory in Quebec but remains strongly recommended.
Meanwhile, the 126 new COVID-19 infections reported Wednesday represent the highest daily case count since June 19. Health officials also reported three more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Officials said hospitalizations dropped by five, to 117, and 35 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.
They said 102,799 doses of vaccine were administered Tuesday, and Quebec’s public health institute said 81.2 per cent of residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine and 28.6 per cent of all residents are adequately vaccinated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press