Public servants’ remote-work deal could impact private sector, expert says


The remote-work protections in the tentative agreement between Canada’s largest public sector union and the federal government could ripple into the private sector, one expert says.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) says the strike-ending deal, reached April 30, includes wage increases of 12.6 per cent compounded over four years, and a one-time, pensionable lump-sum payment of $2,500.

The federal government also agreed to review remote work policies pertaining to public service workers on a case-by-case basis. Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all policy to federal workers, it would remove the onus on management to decide whether a federal employee can work remotely. Under the deal, the union’s 120,000 workers will be able to say what works best for them, without needing to file a grievance.

According to a news release, PSAC has “negotiated language in a letter of agreement that requires managers to assess remote work requests individually, not by group, and provide written responses that will allow members and PSAC to hold the employer accountable to equitable and fair decision-making on remote work.”

But the precise framework of individual arrangements for remote work remains unclear.

Matthias Spitzmuller, associate professor of Organization Behaviour at Smith School of Business, says there’s remote work policy needs much more attention.

“There has to be more specific guidelines that also dictates what constitutes a work arrangement for which remote work would indeed be desirable and viable,” Spitzmuller told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “So far, it’s at the manager’s discretion, on a case-by-case basis.”

Policy amendments would permit remote work with a letter of intent outlining the benefits or individual necessities of particular employees.

PSAC national president Chris Aylward says the tentative agreement is a big step forward.

“During a period of record-high inflation and soaring corporate profits, workers were told to accept less – but our members came together and fought for better,” PSAC national president Chris Aylward said in a release. “This agreement delivers important gains for our members that will set the bar for all workers in Canada.”

Spitzmuller points out this is the first time remote work became a point of discussion in public servant union negotiations, and suggests perceptions of work are changing.

“It also reflects a general consensus that moving out of the pandemic we’re not just going back to how work was before,” he said.

“This is going to be a lasting change in the way in which work is going to be perceived and enacted, not only in the public sector but I believe more broadly in Canada.”

Looking ahead, Spitzmuller believes private-sector workers should anticipate changes, too.

“This is an agreement that I think has got broader significance not just only in the public sector. We’re going to see this becoming part of work arrangements with private employers small and large across the country.”

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