Unions representing more than 270,000 federal public service workers have filed a series of legal challenges to the federal government’s new mandate requiring its workers to report to the office three days per week.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees and the Association of Canadian Financial Officers are launching a united campaign to oppose the government’s return-to-work mandate.

According to a timeline on the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s website, the coronavirus pandemic forced the government to suspend onsite work at most federal worksites in March 2020. By January 2023, the TBS began phasing in a hybrid work model across the core public administration that saw employees work onsite at least two to three days per week, or 40 per cent to 60 per cent of their regular schedule.

Read: PSAC, government tentative agreement includes new protections around remote work, wage increases

Earlier this month, the TBS announced it would require public servants in the core public administration who are eligible for a hybrid work arrangement to work onsite a minimum of three days per week as of Sept. 9, 2024. To ensure leadership and effective support for their teams, it also said it expects executives to be onsite a minimum of four days per week as of the same date.

PSAC said it launched an internal survey to more than 50,000 of its members, which found a vast majority (85 per cent) strongly oppose the three-day in-office mandate. Indeed, 90 per cent of respondents said they’re prepared to take action against the government and nearly half are prepared to give PSAC a strike mandate in the next round of bargaining over the government’s approach to telework.

Respondents also said the government’s increased in-office mandate would harm their ability to balance work and personal responsibilities (90 per cent), their mental well-being (85 per cent), job satisfaction (81 per cent) and productivity and efficiency (78 per cent).

Read: Federal workers striking over remote working, wages

In a statement on the PSAC’s website, the union called the government’s hybrid work mandate, a violation of “the hard-won rights of employees” and said it “fundamentally breaks the trust of workers and unions in this government.”

“The decision to force workers back into ill-equipped and poorly maintained offices is purely political and puts the services Canadians depend on at risk,” said Chris Aylward, the PSAC’s national president, in a press release. “The Liberal government props itself up as a friend of public service workers, yet, at every turn, they continue to ram through backroom decisions without any consultation that impact the well-being of workers and their families.”

In the federal budget, the government said it planned to sell off half of its federal buildings, which will only put more strain on office space for workers, said the PSAC. “This isn’t just about an extra day in the office for workers,” Aylward added.

“This misguided decision sets up workers to fail, pushing them into physical offices that don’t have enough workspaces, where they don’t have the right equipment to do their jobs effectively, only to spend their days on virtual calls with their co-workers who work all across the country.”

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