Union calls on Sask. to allow more Crown staff to work from home

·3 min read

The Saskatchewan government recommends that people work from home as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU) says the province is not following its own recommendations.

The union says its bargaining unit is waiting for the province to implement a remote work policy.

Barry Nowoselsky, chairperson of SGEU's PS/GE bargaining unit, said the province put the process on hold when the provincial election was called.

"We've since been told that it's going to be rolled out in December," said Nowoselsky.

"I don't understand why it would take to December to roll that policy out. But even having the policy doesn't cut it, if they're not going to allow people to access it."

Following complaints from union leaders, Premier Scott Moe announced this week that the provincial government will revisit its position on Saskatchewan Crown workers and public servants working from home.

Working-from-home part of strategy to fight COVID-19

To date, there have been 5,804 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province.

Models released on Thursday suggest that Saskatchewan could reduce its COVID-19 numbers to 76 new cases per day in six months if 60 per cent of residents use masks, half the population works from home, people visit restaurants and bars at 25 per cent of historic levels, only 20 per cent of Saskatchewanians engage in weekly private gatherings, weekly social gatherings are limited to five people and residents visit the grocery store only once per week.

'No consistency,' union says

Some managers in government have sent people home to work, Nowoselsky said, but there is no consistency.

"I get calls every day in regards to this issue," said Nowoselsky.

He said he understands that some employees need to work in the offices. Others, however, could work remotely.

"There is not one-size-fits-all," said Nowoselsky.

"We're calling on the government to take steps now and give a clear direction to the Public Service Commission and to the ministries."

Government staff working from home during first COVID-19 wave

Many SGEU members worked from home when COVID-19 first hit earlier this year, according to the union.

Nowoselsky said he has only received good feedback from the province about the productivity of government employees who worked from home at that time.

"Now, even with the numbers up, we see resistance from the employer to send people home to work," said Nowoselsky.

"It absolutely makes no sense."

He said he has not been able to receive information from the Public Service Commission of Saskatchewan about how many workers in government ministries and agencies currently work from home.

Consideration to increase work-from-home arrangements

Cam Swan, deputy minister to the premier and cabinet secretary, said in a written statement Wednesday that executive government and crown corporations were considering an increase in work-from-home arrangements and rotations.

"As always, the focus will be to maximize the health and safety of employees and citizens while continuing to provide the services Saskatchewan people need," said Swan.

"The extent of these operational adjustments will be determined within each organization."

According to the statement, some safety protocols and measures have already been put in place to support staff.

"Operational decisions such as workplace rotations and remote work arrangements are in place in some workplaces, and are based on a number of factors such as the type of work being performed and location, among other things," said Swan.

The government will continue to implement changes as needed, he said.