CRA Announcement: On-site presence in a hybrid model


Sisters, Brothers and Friends,

Yesterday, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) announced how the new on-site presence directive will be rolled out in a hybrid work model.

The policy was first announced unexpectedly and in a cavalier manner by Treasury Board and then by CRA just before Christmas and without any consultation with your union.

Clearly, this decision was ill-advised and premature.

It appears to have been made more to satisfy the demands of the various Chambers of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, municipal politicians, and certain federal government departments rather than to promote inclusiveness, diversity, fairness and better collaboration among employees as stated by Treasury Board President Mona Fortier at the time of the initial announcement.

It was obvious that the Agency was not ready to bring a majority of its employees on site. And it is clear that it is still not ready to do so for several reasons. First, there is not enough room for everyone. We already knew that and told the employer. So, we are not at all surprised by the exemptions and extensions that were announced yesterday.

Instead of proceeding in this manner, why didn't the employer decide to rescind its policy and instead agree to bargaining with us on telework and remote work provisions at the bargaining table as we have been asking them to do on your behalf for over a year.

There is another interesting element to this announcement. The employer is giving exemptions or extensions to certain groups of people for recruitment and retention purposes.

To be clear, the CRA will give exemptions to certain groups of employees when it suits its interests or when it is forced to do so. But if it's not the case, too bad for the other employees for whom there is enough room or who are not considered at risk of jumping ship.

In other words, the Agency will now have two classes of employees: those who are exempt versus those who will not be exempt.

How is this fair and equitable?

And let's not forget all our members who have to go to work on-site every day because of the tasks they perform. I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their dedication, their understanding in this matter and for their solidarity towards their colleagues who should be able to choose to continue working remotely or to go on-site because of the duties of their position.

The Union of Taxation Employees' position is clear: if your work can be done 100% of the time and in an effective manner from home, your employer, the Canada Revenue Agency, should allow you to continue working remotely. Period.

If the employer wants to bring employees on-site occasionally for certain team meetings or training, we understand that.

And, of course, if an employee's duties require them to be on-site on a regular basis, it is understandable that the employer would ask them to come in for face-to-face work.

Finally, the CRA should accommodate any member who prefers to work on-site.

Of course, for those of you who will be forced to come to work on-site even though you have clearly demonstrated over the past three years that you can perform your duties very efficiently from home, 40% of the time spent on-site is better than 60% as stated in the original announcement.

But it is still 40% too much time!crowded transit

The truth is that the Canada Revenue Agency, which prides itself on being one of the top 100 employers in Canada, has decided to impose this new direction instead of respecting your wish that its bargaining team sit down and discuss with our negotiating team the addition of telework and remote work provisions in your next collective agreement.

This new announcement also comes shortly after strike votes were called across the country. As you know, negotiations have stalled, and the recommendations contained in the Public Interest Commission (PIC) report that we just received have done nothing to help the parties break the impasse and restart talks. In its report, the PIC emphasizes that "the logjam must be broken first – either by a decision of the parties to re-evaluate or by the introduction of some pressure into the system " for talks to resume.

The only pressure in the system that can make things happen is for our union to get a strong strike mandate from our members.

This may not be the case, but it's a safe bet that Treasury Board and the Canada Revenue Agency have decided to release this announcement now in an attempt to calm the anger of many of you in the midst of strike votes. Indeed, many of our members have made it clear that they will be voting to give us a strike mandate because of the employer's new directive.

I ask you not to be swayed or misled by the employer's attempt to lessen your frustration with this policy that has been forced upon you against your will and to vote for a strong strike mandate. Furthermore, no one knows what will happen to this policy over the next year. There is no guarantee that the exceptions and extensions announced yesterday will be renewed.

The best way to fight this directive is for you to vote in large numbers to give us a strong strike mandate to force the employer back to the bargaining table to discuss the inclusion of telework and remote work provisions in your next collective agreement.

While we strongly disagree with this directive, we agreed to participate in consultations with the employer on this issue and provided feedback. As a result of the consultation, the CRA has retained one of our suggestions, to include a fixed and flex day option as one of the recommended models.

Many of you have let us know how opposed you are to this new directive and have asked us to do everything we can to fight it.

The bargaining agent, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), of which UTE is a part as its largest Component, has already filed an Unfair Labour Practice complaint (failure to comply with the freeze on terms and conditions of employment) and a policy grievance against this CRA policy with the Labour Relations Board.

The Alliance has also encouraged its members who feel that the policy has been unfairly applied to them and who feel wronged to file individual grievances. We believe that it is premature at this time to do so until you have been instructed by your immediate supervisor to return on-site and have actually been affected by the employer's actions. Please be advised that the time limit for filing a grievance under these circumstances is 25 working days following the order received from your immediate supervisor.

I want to be extremely clear that our union will support its members who feel wronged by this policy and who wish to file individual grievances for valid reasons when they are directly affected.

It is important to note in detail the challenges you will face upon returning to the workplace.

Therefore, if you have significant problems with the policy and wish to challenge the employer's decision, or if you are denied accommodation in the return to the workplace, we urge you to contact one of your local representatives as soon as possible. If there are any expenses or financial losses associated with the policy, be sure to mention them to your union representative.

Your local representative will discuss your case with you and document the details and reasons for your objection. In accordance with our standard practice, your local representative will determine whether or not the union will support a grievance based on the merits of your case. If your Local representative requires assistance, he/she will be able to rely on the services of his/her Regional Vice President (RVP) and the UTE National Office Labour Relations Officers who will be available to provide advice and guidance to your Local representative and to assist him/her in developing appropriate grievance language.

You should be aware, however, that filing a grievance will not stop or delay the employer's actions, and we anticipate that the employer will continue to enforce its policy pending resolution of your grievance.

In the meantime, we will continue to work with the employer to ensure that its policy is respected and properly enforced by its managers and to ensure your health and safety wherever you work.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you for the excellent work you do every day and for your continued support of your union.

We are proud of the work you do for Canadians, and we will continue to be there for you to uphold your rights and defend your interests.

In solidarity,

Marc Brière's signature

Marc Brière
National President
Union of Taxation Employees