Why didn’t ACFO negotiate the right to telework in the last round of contract negotiations?

Remote work was a top priority for several bargaining agents during contract negotiations, including ACFO. However, we, along with all other federal BAs, were unable to negotiate remote work into the collective agreement (CA), since TBS did not have the political mandate to add remote work provisions to the CA. We were, however, the first to reach an agreement with the employer, and reached a Letter of Agreement (LoA) with TBS agreeing to work together on an approach for hybrid work.

Why is ACFO pushing back so strongly against the additional in-office day compared to when the initial two days a week was announced?

We were certainly disappointed when the government announced the two-day minimum mandate back in December 2022, as our position was and is purposeful presence in the office and not arbitrary days present in the office per week. We weren’t meaningfully consulted on this initial mandate, but the employer still retained the right to impose this mandate. However, we also weren’t consulted on the May changes to the mandate, which in this case violated the Letter of Agreement (LoA) that had been prepared with TBS following the initial two-day mandate.

We pride ourselves on the positive, collaborative approach we take to working with the employer. However, our professionalism should not be seen as a sign of weakness, which led to a significant tone shift compared to usual. The mandate announced in May was the final straw in a pattern the employer has shown of disrespect, a lack of meaningful consultations, and of bad faith negotiations with bargaining agents. Two days per week, while not ideal, was manageable for most – however, three days was unacceptable, and we heard this loud and clear from the CT Community.

Finally, we also reached our limit on the employer’s repeated failure to engage in meaningful consultation under Division 3 of the Act. Since the outset of the pandemic, the government has increasingly acted as if there were an exemption for consultation when it politically suits them, but it is not up to them when the Act applies. They are the legal requirements of the legislation, and are behaving as if they are above the law in this regard.

What rationale has OCHRO provided for the additional day in the office?

None. The repeated rationale we have received from the employer is, “To maximize the benefits of presence in the workplace and to bring greater fairness and consistency to the application of hybrid work for our employees.”

However, OCHRO has yet to provide any evidence whatsoever as to how a blanket three-day in-office mandate will achieve this goal, and we believe this is because they don’t have the evidence. If they had the evidence, they would have shared it with us.

Instead, we believe the real reason is political and to support downtown businesses in Ottawa and Gatineau.

Who at OCHRO made this decision?

TBS President Anita Anand has stated that this was “a public service decision”. However, it’s unclear at what level of senior management this decision was made, as no one has taken responsibility.

What is the likelihood of OCHRO reversing this policy? Could it be reversed before it comes into effect?

While the employer has the right to bring employees back to the office, the actions we’re taking to fight this decision are intended to apply pressure on the employer to revisit the decision and consult properly with bargaining agents so that we can collaborate on the best hybrid setup possible. This is most likely to occur if the public service bands together and as many employees as possible take collective action.

Therefore, it all depends on you and how willing you are to push back. That being said, there are no guarantees that any action taken will result in OCHRO reversing course.

Is there any indication that employees might need to eventually return four days a week like EXs or even full-time?

As it currently stands, the employer does not have the space to accommodate four or five days a week for all employees. While we can’t say for certain, there’s no indication this can or will happen any time soon.

When Anita Anand encouraged managers to provide “flexibility”, to what flexibility is she referring?

It’s unclear exactly what Anita Anand meant in this case. No criteria were shared about what qualifies as “flexible”.

While we support flexibility, this flies in the face of OCHRO’s decision to impose a three-day in-office requirement on all core federal public servants.

Will this impact the way positions are staffed, i.e. mainly NCR positions?

The impact that the new policy will have on staffing is unknown at this time, but it is unlikely that the new blanket mandate will allow for the flexibility to hire Canadians outside the NCR. This is a missed opportunity to tap into the skills and talents of Canadians and to provide good jobs to support our communities across Canada.

Is TBS aware about how this will affect recruitment and retention in the public service?

Recruitment and retention have been ongoing issues for the CT Community and the federal public service more broadly. Since this mandate certainly won’t have a positive impact, we imagine recruitment and retention weren’t considerations, especially considering EXs will be required to return four days per week. It’s extremely frustrating that the many rational and logical reasons for remote work are being ignored.

Telework agreements

Is my current telework agreement still in effect?

Unless you’re informed otherwise, your current telework agreement is still in effect. However, most telework agreements are subject to change at any point at the discretion of the Employer. If you are informed that telework agreement is no longer valid or will be changed, please contact Labour Relations.

Will my telework agreement still be in effect if the expiration date is later than September 9?

Implementation of the Direction will take place on September 9, 2024, for departments that have not yet implemented a minimum of three days per week of in-office requirement. If your current telework agreement is less than three days per week in-office, it will no longer be in effect after September 9, 2024.

If I’m being asked to sign a revised telework agreement agreeing to work in the office at least three days a week, what should I do?

Please contact Labour Relations with a copy of the proposed telework agreement so that we can verify the language in the agreement is appropriate.

If telework is an employer right to manage, can my manager override the Direction or choose not to enforce it?

While we agree that managers should have the flexibility not to enforce the minimum in-office work, the employer is TBS, and TBS has the authority to impose a minimum in-office mandate to all managers.

Is ACFO seeking the abolishment of in-office work completely, or simply going back to two days a week?

ACFO’s position is that attendance in the office has value, yet should be purposeful, so we will not be advocating for 100% remote work for all employees. What we are seeking is for TBS to return to the two-day model while we are able to collaborate with the employer and with other bargaining agents on the best hybrid work model that suits as many employees as possible.

Can regional employees reporting to the NCR negotiate an exemption and obtain a new telework agreement?

No. The Direction applies equally to all employees and departments regardless of whether the employee reports to a different location or region than their own. This is an excellent example of why ACFO’s position is for purposeful presence in the office.  

Am I able to request to work from home full-time under the duty to accommodate?

The Duty to Accommodate is a legal requirement that applies to the Employer at all times, so a request for accommodation can be made at any point. If you believe you may require accommodation, please contact Labour Relations.

Compliance with the new Direction

Did employees not respecting the two-day in-office requirement lead to the new policy?

This was not the reason we were given from TBS. However, it’s important to note that if you should be in the office, be in the office, and compliance with the rules presently in place can only have a neutral or positive effect on any difference in outcomes and for being perceived as capable professionals.

What will happen if I refuse to return to the office? What recourse can I expect?

The employer currently has the right to require you to report to the workplace, and while we fight against these measures, we recommend the strategy of work now, grieve later, even when it comes to work-to-rule measures. For example, if you are ordered to work from home after reporting to the office due to a lack of available desks, rather than refusing to go home because the employer cannot force you to work from home, you should instead go home, work from home, then grieve the action later. But when in doubt, contact Labour Relations.

Can the employer punish everyone if we collectively refuse to return to the office?

Yes, as this would be considered an illegal strike. This could result in discipline, dismissal, or even jailtime for organizers.

How will the employer measure our compliance with the new in-office requirements?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring compliance, there are different ways to potentially measure it:

  1. Security card swipes to access your building;
  2. Pinging your laptop to check if you’re using the employer network;
  3. Whether or not you’ve reserved a desk and checking in on Archibus;
  4. Voluntary disclosure; and/or
  5. Your manager physically verifying that you are in the office.

However, all these verification methods are imperfect. For example, many buildings have security card swipe-ins, but not swipe-outs. Also, checking if you’re online doesn’t necessarily verify that you’re working, since you could be at an in-person meeting or on break.

The bottom line is that if you’re supposed to be in the office, be in the office, and if you’re being confronted by your manager about not working when you were indeed working, please contact Labour Relations.

What happens if I go to the office and there is no desk available? Should I go home?

While there isn’t much precedent from a case law perspective on this issue, nothing in your collective agreement or under legislation allows for the employer to require you to work from your home, other than some CTs working from home under a telework agreement, which is voluntary. A voluntary agreement requires two parties to agree.

You should tell your manager that you are ready and willing to work and ask what they would like you to do. They are then required to find you an alternate work location. When you go home to work, you are doing so voluntarily, so if you are ordered to return to your home to work from home, contact Labour Relations about filing a grievance.

What should I do if I have occupational health or safety concerns with my workplace? Do I have to report to the office?

You can learn more about occupational health and safety and how to report your concerns in our article here.

Can I request a dedicated desk or locker?

We’re unaware of any employees other than those working from the office full-time who may request a dedicate desk or locker, as this is at the employer’s discretion.

That being said, if your working conditions are unsafe, such as if you are being asked to carry an amount of equipment that you cannot carry, or if an unassigned desk isn’t clean, isn’t working properly, or doesn’t fit your ergonomic needs, it’s important to report these occupational health and safety issues. You can learn more about how to do so here.

Can I request an ergonomic assessment?

The employer has an obligation under the Canada Labour Code to provide ergonomic support to all employees in the office. This obligation is to provide equipment consistent with ergonomic principles, but not a specific chair or set-up and does not apply to home offices.

In cases where equipment is required for medical reasons because of a disability or medical condition, the employer has a duty to accommodate the functional limitations of the employee. The duty to accommodate can in some cases requires the employer to provide specific equipment to you at home and at the office for medical reasons. If you have questions about a request for accommodation, please contact Labour Relations

Are there any employees and/or departments under ACFO that are exempt from the new Direction?

The Direction applies equally to all employees and departments, as one of its stated objectives is to establish a consistent approach to hybrid work across the core federal public service. The Direction will not impact the employer’s Duty to Accommodate. If you believe you require accommodation, please contact Labour Relations

What should I do if I see my coworkers or executives not complying with the Direction?

While the Direction applies equally to all employees, there might be exceptions in cases where employees have accommodations. If you witness unfair application of the Direction, please contact Labour Relations.

Taking action and strategies

What is ACFO doing to prevent the three-day in-office requirement rollout come September?

We are doing everything we can and within our power to fight against this arbitrary mandate. The actions we have taken thus far include:

  1. Filing an unfair labour practice complaint under the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act for violating Division 3, which requires them to consult with bargaining agents regardless of whether or not the issue falls under the collective agreement;
  2. Filing a policy grievance with the FPSLREB for the failure to abide by the Letter of Agreement and to conduct a GBA plus analysis on the new Direction;
  3. Applying public political pressure and raising awareness, particularly via hashtag #RemoteWorks and the https://remote-works.ca/ (opens in new tab) website; and
  4. Exercising all our rights at our disposal during meetings with the employer.

How long will it take for the policy grievance and ULO complaint to be heard?

It will take several months for this process to unfold.

What will come of the policy grievance and ULO complaint if it is successful?

It will likely result in a declaration that the employer breached the Letter of Agreement and their obligations under the Act, and that they must go back and consult with bargaining agents. While this will be embarrassing for TBS to be reprimanded, it’s unlikely it will result in a change of position by the government, as while consulting with bargaining agents remains an obligation, taking our recommendations is not.

What can I do to prevent the three-day in-office rollout?

While there will be additional measures we’ll be taking in the coming weeks and months, the immediate actions you can take include:

  1. Report to the office on the days you are required to for the full day and comply with the measures in place to remove any argument about non-compliance for increasing in-office days
  2. Completing our template to write a letter to your MP, Minister Anand, and Prime Minister Trudeau (opens in new tab)
  3. Share your compelling story about how this mandate affects you and/or your family (opens in new tab)
  4. Complete our survey on the return to the office by June 17
  5. Participate in future collective job action organized by ACFO in collaboration with other bargaining agents (to be announced) should further escalation be required

Will any of these actions result in any real change?

While the employer has the right to bring employees back to the office, these actions are intended to apply pressure on the employer to revisit the decision and consult properly with bargaining agents so that we can collaborate on the best hybrid setup possible. This is most likely to occur if the public service bands together and as many employees as possible take collective action.

Could taking any of these proposed actions result in discipline?

In any actions that we at ACFO take or encourage you to take, we want to ensure that we’re maximizing impact but minimize the risk to you. We want any ire from the employer directed at us, not you. Therefore, when we ask you to take any specific actions, we will make sure to share specific instructions with you crafted by our Labour Relations team on how to proceed to ensure that any risk is minimized and that you are informed of any risk involved.

Can we go on strike?

No. In order to strike, you must be in a legal strike position under the collective bargaining cycle. Going on strike would be considered illegal and could result in discipline, dismissal, or even jailtime.

Is ACFO collaborating with other unions on anything related to RTO?

Yes, we are working closely with other public service bargaining agents, particularly PSAC, PIPSC, and CAPE. We speak with them regularly to discuss strategy and next steps. The more unions are involved, the more impact our actions can have and the more it reduces our risk of the actions we take.

Why didn’t ACFO participate in CAPE’s May 23 rally outside the mayor’s breakfast?

May 23 was the day of ACFO’s Spring Tune Up, an employer-funded event through the Joint Career Development Program, which could not be jeopardized. While we supported the rally, had the rally been on a different day, we would have actively participated.

Is ACFO collaborating with suburban / rural businesses related to RTO?

While we haven’t worked with businesses outside the downtown core at this time, we’re still working with other unions on developing our strategy for how to address the mandate and this is certainly something that will be discussed.

Has ACFO looked into researching the benefits of remote work for the taxpayer, environmental factors of an increase of in-office time, benchmarking of other accounting / audit workforces, etc.?

While we’re fighting for the benefits of remote work for the CT Community, what will most likely result in change is by applying public pressure and highlighting the benefits to the employer and to the taxpayer.

While we’re looking into research on the effects of multiple factors stemming from RTO and their impact, all the potential strategies we could pursue involve logic and reason, but it’s unclear whether these arguments will have an effect when logic and reason wasn’t involved in TBS’s decision on RTO.

In addition, with benchmarking and research, examples can be cherry-picked for our case, but the employer can also cherry-pick cases that work in their favour.

Is ACFO boycotting National Public Service Week (NPSW) events and activities?

Yes, you can read more about that decision here.

Should I boycott downtown businesses in the NCR?

If you choose to, you could bring your lunches from home and carpool if you can (avoid driving up parking / OC Transpo sales) whenever possible. This is a strategy we’ve been actively discussing, but revitalizing the downtown core is not the responsibility of the federal public service.

Can I post #RemoteWorks materials (posters, bumper stickers) around my workplace?

With permission of your supervisor and in particular on bulletins boards and spaces reserved for the use of unions, you may post these materials.

If you are denied permission, please contact Labour Relations.

What if we all report to the office five days a week? Will that have an effect on exposing the lack of space?

The employer is aware that they do not have enough space to accommodate employees five days a week. While we don’t have any immediate plans to ask employees to go back five days a week, this could possibly be a tactic and risk taken should we need to escalate. Like the other tactics discussed in this FAQ, it would have to be a coordinated effort across all bargaining agents.

Did ACFO also withdraw from consultations with TBS on the implementation of the Direction like other unions have?

Yes, for the following reasons:

  1. We will not consult on the impacts of the Direction that the employer unilaterally imposed that are both the subject of a ULP and policy grievance from ACFO.
  2. Meaningful consultations need to occur before decisions are made, and we will not participate in post decision consultation when the time for consultation was before its implementation, not after.
  3. The employer cannot pick and choose when consultation occurs.
  4. Failing to consult with bargaining agents in advance is insulting and in bad faith.
  5. This a transparent attempt to cure the defects of the original decision. 

Dany has urged leaders of the other NJC bargaining agents to do the same.