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Any return to workplaces must be cautious, gradual, and flexible

Publish date: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 presidentsMessage

Dave Bulmer

As the daily increase of new COVID-19 cases across the province plateaus, the province has begun to embark on what they’re calling a staged approach to “reopen” the province.

With many of you working from home, that has left a lot of you wondering what that means for you and your work arrangements going forward.

Last week, I met with senior representatives from the Ontario Public Service (OPS) Employer to continue discussions about what a return to OPS workplaces might look like.

I stressed that the overarching concern for everyone—you, your Employer, and your union—is, and must be, health and safety.

With that in mind, AMAPCEO is advocating that any return to the workplace be cautious, gradual, and flexible, and that the Employer recognize that some employees will require health or family accommodation. We’re asking for specific changes to how your workplace may look or function, for flexibility as it relates to commuting, for mental health support, and for detailed contingency plans.

You can read some of the specifics that we raised with the OPS Employer below.

Our discussions with our Broader Public Sector (BPS) employers are ongoing, and we will keep you posted on our discussions with each employer over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, thank you for directing your questions and thoughts to our well-received Telephone Town Halls where a total of 6,500 of you joined us April 15 and May 7. If you missed those calls, recordings are available at amapceo.on.ca/townhall. We’ll be organizing another telephone town hall in early to mid-June.

I thank you again for your patience, professionalism, and hard work keeping our province’s public services as operational as possible. I’m thinking especially of those AMAPCEO members who have been required to go into the workplace throughout the pandemic, and those working long hours in the fight against COVID-19.

Remember: one week longer, one week stronger.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

Stronger together,
 

Dave Bulmer
President & CEO


In a call with the OPS Employer last week, AMAPCEO asked that the Employer consider a number of factors when developing their plan to return more employees to the workplace, including:

Context

Most OPS employees are currently telecommuting full-time, and the last ten weeks have proven what most of us already knew—it works. It should put to rest any managers’ lingering skepticism about the efficacy of remote work.

With that in mind, the OPS Employer should not rush a transition back to the workplace or tie it to the re-opening of any other employers or businesses.

Communication and consultation

AMAPCEO will continue to discuss working arrangements with the OPS Employer and will directly raise any widespread concerns. But we’re also encouraging the OPS Employer to engage you directly for your needs, concerns, thoughts, and ideas as they formulate their central plans.

We are also encouraging the Employer to convene local Joint Health & Safety Committees well before a return to the workplace to assess specific workplace hazards and concerns. We have offered to collaborate with the Employer on this.

Flexibility

The OPS Employer should continue offering expanded alternative work arrangements (including telecommuting and flexwork) to as many employees as possible.

Not only will this limit the number of people in a workplace at any given time to make physical distancing easier, it will provide much-needed flexibility for AMAPCEO members who have dependent care needs and concerns around commuting.

62% of AMAPCEO members are women, and women continue to make up a disproportionate percentage of primary caregivers. Depending on when the province reinstates childcare and eldercare services, many employees may not be able to transition back to the workplace.

Further, many AMAPCEO members commuted to and from work on public transit before the workplace closures. Given service cuts and the difficulty of physical distancing on trains, busses, and streetcars, a safe return to the workplace will also depend on how employees can safety commute to and from work. While the province should be looking at ways to make public transit safer for riders and encouraging active transportation (including cycling and walking), alternative work arrangements will help employees considerably.

For these factors, a transition back to the workplace is easier on some employees than others. The Employer may even consider asking for volunteers to return to the workplace.

Lastly, many AMAPCEO members will have valid reasons for not wanting to return to the workplace at all, including being from a higher-risk population, or because they are taking care of dependents. We insist that the Employer recognize this and accommodate people appropriately. The most obvious solution in many of these cases will be to continue a work-from-home arrangement.

Workplace changes

We are insistent that the OPS Employer implement a thorough review of each physical workplace and make adjustments in keeping with—or exceeding—public health guidelines to keep people safe and healthy. Each workplace must have physical distancing guidelines, which may require moving workstations further apart, removing some of them to allow for more space, and installing physical barriers. Phone and video calls should be held in lieu of face-to-face meetings. The Employer should also consider staggering schedules to restrict the number of people in the workplace at any given time.

The Employer must have high cleanliness standards and a strict cleaning schedule. They must provide disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer to employees and ensure that all shared and high-touch surfaces are wiped down after use.

‘Hotelling’ workplaces, such as the those at 315 Front Street West in Toronto, are of particular concern. AMAPCEO is advocating that hot desks in these workplaces be transitioned to assigned workstations.

Mental health support

The pandemic, its impact, and now, a gradual return to the workplace has caused many AMAPCEO members stress and anxiety. The OPS Employer must keep this in mind as they formulate their plans and ensure that adequate mental health support is available to employees throughout the transition.

Contingency plans

Before any major return to the workplace, the OPS Employer must develop a detailed plan on how to rapidly close workplaces, should that become necessary. This plan must also consider that no employee should have a technological barrier preventing them from working from home.

 

More about AMAPCEO and our Members: Established in 1992, AMAPCEO is a bargaining agent that represents 14,000 professional and supervisory public servants, most of whom work directly for the Government of Ontario in every ministry and in a number of agencies, boards and commissions; in 130 communities throughout Ontario and in 12 cities outside Canada. We also represent employees outside the Ontario Public Service in: the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario; Health Quality Ontario; the Ontario Arts Council; Public Health Ontario; the Waypoint Mental Health Centre in Penetanguishene; and in the former Offices of the Ontario Child Advocate and the French Language Services Commissioner (now part of the Ontario Ombudsman).