DATE: March 24, 2020 TIME: 1:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Conference call
Doug Gaetz (UTE)
|Guests||Nandini Srikantiah||Doug Mason|
This meeting was chaired by the Employer Co-Chair, Mr. Dan Couture.
EMPLOYER CO-CHAIR REMARKS
The Employer Co-Chair, Mr. Dan Couture, opened the meeting by thanking members for their hard work during these challenging times and emphasized that the health and safety of all employees is the Agency’s top priority. Mr. Couture then provided members with a summary of the actions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was shared that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) continues to monitor the direction provided by the Government of Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to ensure that employees have the most up to date information. The Government of Canada, as a result of direction received from the PHAC, directed the population to self-isolate or telework where possible. Consequently, the CRA advised employees that effective March 15, 2020, until April 5, 2020, only critical service employees would be required to continue to work, remotely where possible. Many buildings have been vacated since then and call centres are operating at reduced capacity. For critical service employees, IT support teams have been working hard to enable employees to work remotely. It was mentioned that the CRA is grateful for their support.
Members received confirmation that regular communications were shared beginning on January 27, 2020. A COVID-19 banner was added to InfoZone’s main page with a link to a dedicated COVID-19 page that includes all communications sent to employees, FAQs, Employee Assistance Program information, important links to PHAC and more. Messages from the Commissioner have been added to the Canada.ca website so that CRA employees can remain attuned to any developments while at home. In addition to national messaging, up to date information is being posted on MG Hub and APEX to ensure managers are equipped to support their employees. Managers have been asked to track presumptive cases (as confirmed by a health professional) and confirmed cases of COVID-19 (as confirmed by a health professional) and work refusals using an on-line form that was developed and launched on March 19, 2020.
Members were also informed that a CRA task force was created with key players from the Finance and Administration Branch (FAB), Human Resources Branch (HRB), Information Technology Branch (ITB) and Public Affairs Branch (PAB). On March 12, 2020, the Incident Management Committee (IMC), chaired by the Deputy Commissioner, was formally activated to coordinate the CRA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, both from the perspective of ensuring business continuity and supporting the workforce. The IMC and the CRA task force have been meeting daily to discuss next steps as this situation evolves.
It was confirmed that the National OHS Section is reviewing a number of key elements including first aid and AED coverage in open buildings, Health and Safety Committee (HSC) representation, concerns with active workplace violence cases and questions related to the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks.
Members received confirmation that the CRA plans to continue to send frequent messaging to all employees and to adjust the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) as needed and as the COVID-19 pandemic situation changes. Members were reminded to continue to apply the general precautions including washing hands, social/physical distancing and coughing or sneezing into sleeves.
Update from the Finance and Administration Branch
Employer representatives from FAB provided members with an update on the BCP, the status of open buildings and cleaning schedules. Mr. Hugo Pagé, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, FAB, shared that the CRA is putting significant efforts to ensure the safety and security of employees. He noted that there is a robust plan in place with respect to the BCP and it is being updated as the situation evolves. There has been an increase in cleaning services in buildings and measures were put in place to ensure social/physical distancing for those who continue to work in physical CRA locations. Mr. Pagé expressed that he is impressed with all of the work being done including the efforts of those delivering critical services.
Ms. Dana-Lynne Hills, Director General, Security and Internal Affairs Directorate, FAB, confirmed that the CRA had an existing BCP, however significant efforts went into working with all branches and other stakeholders to update the plan. The main considerations were to determine what absolutely needs to be done at this time while reducing the footprint and employee presence. Also, it was confirmed that the BCP was shared in advance with stakeholders including both national unions. ITB has been working hard on getting resources for IT equipment and bandwidth for those working remotely. The BCP team is meeting weekly and the next meeting is scheduled for March 26, 2020, to discuss the medium and long term posture after April 5, 2020. The BCP team is also taking into consideration what the provinces are doing and realize that there are inconsistencies in each provinces approach.
Ms. Nandini Srikantiah, Director General, Real Property and Service Integration Directorate, FAB, confirmed that they are working with Security and the Program Branches to reduce the number of open buildings where critical services are being delivered, while ensuring capacity to serve Canadians. They are also looking at how many employees need to be physically in the office. As of March 20, 2020, 33 locations were open with 2,120 employees working physically in these locations. This is significantly reduced from a usual steady state of 102 buildings and approximately 44,000 employees and data of March 18 when 44 locations were open with 4,109 employees. It was shared that by reducing the number of buildings that are open, the CRA can redirect facility management resources to focus cleaning operations in open buildings. It was noted that cleaning companies are also facing reduced workforces. It is also recognized that there is a need to minimize employees physically reporting to work to meet provincial and local restrictions.
From a prevention perspective, it was shared that Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has added hand sanitizer dispensers in all government building common areas, including lease and Crown-owned buildings. In addition, soap dispensers are being monitored and refilled as required. Posters on general precautions such as hand washing were posted in common areas and bathrooms. Additional cleaning and disinfection measures have been implemented twice a day at all CRA sites and three to four times a day at high traffic areas such as call centres. Also, physical distancing measures have been enacted and employees working day shift or night shifts are being requested to sit further apart and/or leaving alternate cubicles vacant. Reported cases of COVID-19 are treated as a priority by PSPC. Once on location, the following is cleaned/disinfected: the workstation in question, a specified radius around that workstation, all common areas, high touch points, door knobs, hand rails, bathrooms and kitchens.
EMPLOYEE CO-CHAIR REMARKS
The Employee Co-Chair, Mr. Doug Gaetz, shared that the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation. He noted that improvements have been made over the past week and that management and the unions must continue to work together. Mr. Gaetz acknowledged that management is doing what they can during this difficult time, but he reiterated that, from a Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) perspective, it would be best if all buildings would close. Management confirmed that ITB is working to enable more employees to work from home.
Mr. Gaetz noted that all possible measures should be taken to protect the health and safety of those employees working on-site. Mr. Gaetz confirmed that while he was not aware of any confirmed COVID-19 cases, he noted that employees have expressed concern. Mr. Gaetz confirmed that UTE is taking a different direction with work refusals and is encouraging employees to first speak with their managers about other work arrangements. It was, however pointed out that employees still have the right to refuse work. Management confirmed that there is a CRA COVID-19 report form that managers can fill out and as of March 24, 2020, there were zero presumptive cases (as confirmed by a health authority), zero confirmed cases (as confirmed by a health authority) and zero work refusals.
It was mentioned that a joint NHSPC message will be drafted for HSCs that will outline their role during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Couture also confirmed that a message was sent to all employees from the Commissioner on March 23, 2020, that reiterated that the health and safety of all employees is CRA’s top priority.
Open question and answer session
The following questions were addressed:
Can the CRA confirm that all offices are stocked with hand sanitizers and wipes to clean desks?
PSPC is ensuring that all buildings have hand sanitizer and soap dispensers and these are being monitored. Wipes are in short supply due to the COVID-19 situation however, the CRA has lined up a supplier to supply wipes.
Can the CRA confirm that cleaning has been ramped up in all offices that are operating?
The CRA can confirm that cleaning has increased and is done twice a day and three to four times a day at CRA’s busiest sites.
Will there be cleaning before employees are returned to the office?
All CRA offices were cleaned once the buildings were vacated. FAB will look into cleaning CRA offices as part of a recovery plan before employees return to work. Consideration will be given on timing depending on the situation, as some buildings may open before others.
How many offices are currently open and how many employees are on‑site?
As of Friday, March 20, 2020, there were 2,120 employees working at CRA buildings. These numbers continue to drop and as of March 24, 2020, the unofficial number is approximately 1,750 employees. This is thanks to ITB employees who are handing out laptops and equipment to work from home. The majority is for call centre employees.
What are the procedures in place when an employee notifies the employer they have been tested for COVID-19 and are in self quarantine?
From a real property perspective, managers are to contact their local real property representative to arrange for appropriate cleaning measures in the workstation and common areas.
What is the situation in call centres currently?
The critical services list was recently updated and everything is being done to provide call centre employees with telephones and other necessary equipment to perform this important work from home. The CRA is making good progress on this front.
Why have not all of the buildings shut down and the remaining employees sent home on telework?
There are a large number of employees working from home now. The goal is to keep employees working in physical offices to a minimum while balancing the needs of Canadians.
What happens if the CRA cannot meet the Canada Labour Code (CLC), Part II?
At this time, the CRA will work to ensure that it meets the requirements of the CLC, Part II.
Will there be communication with ergonomic coaches and first aid responders on their role during the COVID-19 situation?
The National OHS Section is preparing a communication that will be shared with ergonomic coaches and first aid responders to clarify their role during this time.
With school closures being extended past April 3, 2020, in Quebec, will the use of 6990 be extended past this date?
The current direction is that parents who cannot find daycare or other arrangements can use code 6990.
Ms. Tracy Marcotte shared that most members would prefer that a specific timeframe be communicated on the next evaluation of the current BCP.
Mr. Allaudin Alibhai requested that management let the unions know if there is a work refusal. He also requested that management confirm how many critical services are working. Mr. Dan Couture confirmed that there was a commitment to share this information with both national union presidents once available.
Mr. Brian Oldford thanked everyone for their hard work and confirmed that daily calls are taking place with the call centres. He requested more laptops to allow people to work from home. Mr. Dan Couture mentioned that as of this morning, laptops were on their way to Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island offices to be dispatched.
Mr. Oldford also questioned whether federal or provincial direction should be followed? It was confirmed that from an OHS perspective, federal regulations should be followed. Mr. Oldford also questioned if someone has COVID-19, who do they confirm it with? Management confirmed that the employee should notify public health in their province who will advise them on next steps.
Mr. Alnashir Ravjiani requested clarification on how to address a situation where a non-government employee with COVID-19 is in a building where there are CRA employees, for example 25 Sheppard Avenue. Mr. Dan Couture confirmed that in this case, the building was closed and cleaned, but each situation needs to be reviewed and the risks assessed based on the information provided. Mr. Ravjiani questioned whether there are protocols to go back into buildings. There are protocols and these will be reviewed once a return date is in place.
Mr. Doug Mason confirmed that it would be beneficial for employees to have a fixed date for the BCP. Mr. Mason also questioned whether the Agency is still reviewing if the number of employees in the office could be reduced. Mr. Dan Couture confirmed that this is constantly being monitored.
Mr. Doug Gaetz requested that an after action report and post mortem take place when normal operations resume in order to prepare for future scenarios. Mr. Gaetz also requested that the minutes be finalized and circulated as soon as possible. He also noted that he appreciated the frequent communication with the National OHS Section.
Mr. Doug Gaetz reiterated the importance of maintaining good communications at all levels. Management, employees and ITB were thanked for all of their hard work as well as the Assistant Director of Occupational Health and Safety, Mr. David Walsh, for the daily touch points on COVID-19. Mr. Gaetz reiterated that they would continue to work together.
Mr. Dan Couture noted that he was in agreement with Mr. Gaetz’s closing comments as well as the action items identified during the meeting. The meeting was finalized with a reminder to all members that it is best to attempt to resolve issues at the local level before raising them to the national level.
April 29, 2020
April 30, 2020