Saskatchewan's Crown corporations are planning how and when their employees who have been working from home will return to the office, but the province's chief medical health officer says it's still better for most people to work from home if possible for now.
Dr. Saqib Shahab said Thursday that "anything that can be done remotely or virtually is better than anything that has to be done in person. I think that basic recommendation will remain as long as there is a pandemic in the world."
Shahab called it a "marathon," projecting the province would potentially not be into the final phase of its reopening plan until June 2021.
"Where you can work from home that is a better option. Some sectors obviously you can't work from home and that's the essential industries that kept going but even then we learned a lot from how they were able to continue in a safe manner."
Shahab said people returning to the workplace need to continue practising physical distancing and good hygiene. He said employers could stagger shifts and lunch breaks to avoid people gathering.
"Right now because virus transmission is low we can be confident going back to work but there should be confident optimism, not complacency," Shahab said.
Premier Scott Moe said 87 per cent of Saskatchewan's workforce has continued to work, either at home or in their workplace, during the pandemic.
CBC contacted four of the major Crown corporations and the public service commission in the province and asked about their plans for returning to work.
SGI says 92 per cent of its workforce (1,900 people) has been working from home and does not have a date to return all employees to the workplace.
Starting next week claims centres, salvage centre sales counters, issuing counters and driver exam offices will reopen.
"We expect that the majority of employees who are able to productively work from home will be there potentially another month or two," said SGI spokesperson Tyler McMurchy.
He said SGI is working with employees who are facing challenges around child care during a return to work.
"Safety of our employees is critical to us and SGI is actively working to ensure strict safety protocols are in place for those returning. Until such a time that physical distancing is lifted, and we can all work safely together, we will continue with reduced employees on-site," McMurchy said.
SaskEnergy said 25 per cent of its workforce will be returning to the workplace this month. It said in the next phase, which has not had a date set, 50 per cent of the workforce will be in the office.
"Our plan will remain flexible. Should current conditions change, the plan will be adjusted as needed," said SaskEnergy spokesperson Casey MacLeod.
She said alternate work arrangements are being given to employees without child care.
SaskEnergy said it has taken the following safety measures:
- Controlled access to buildings.
- Signage sharing information and guidance on safety measures (including physical distancing).
- Floor markers in high traffic areas.
- Staggered start times.
- One-way staircases.
- Limit of two people per elevator.
- Half-capacity in washrooms.
- Enhanced cleaning procedures and schedules.
SaskPower said that as an essential service it has had a "significant number" of employees working at their regular locations since March.
"Return-to-workplace planning will be finalized and shared with our staff in the coming days," said SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry.
"All return-to-workplace activities will adhere to the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and follow public health orders regarding maintaining physical distancing. Training, signage and new protocols will be released to all employees before they return to ensure safety is maintained in the workplace."
SaskTel said in a statement, "we are in the process of analyzing and developing our phased-in return to work plan while continuing to safeguard the health of our customers and our employees."
"We do not have specific details available at this time."
Public Service Commission
Marie Coulthard with the Public Service Commission said government employees will return to the workplace in Phases 3 and 4 o fthe province's reopening plan in "careful and cautious ways."
"This will be a gradual process that will be tailored to each organization under the direction of the respective management teams while continuing to provide services to Saskatchewan people and addressing business needs, while still adhering to current public health orders," Coulthard said.
"Employees may be asked to either return to the workplace at different times or continue to work remotely for a short period to accommodate a gradual approach for a safe return."