The right to work from home is one of the key outstanding issues at the center of negotiations to end one of Canada’s largest strikes. 

More than 155,000 civil servants have been on strike since Wednesday to demand higher wages from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, the country’s largest employer. In addition to better pay and a right to work remotely, they’re also pushing for a ban on contracting out jobs and a requirement that seniority be respected during layoffs.

Entrenching the right to work-from-home could set an important precedent in Canada, for both public and private sectors, as workers call for more flexible arrangements while employers try to push back or impose hybrid requirements. Any return to something resembling the full-remote-work model seen during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic would have major ramifications on real estate in major cities, as well as downtown businesses. 

 “We have proposed to review, jointly with unions, the current telework directive,” Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board, said in an open letter on Monday. “The directive has not been re-assessed for a post-pandemic world, so a formal review would help ensure that our approach is modern, fair, and supportive” for our employees.

Last October, business groups warned that government departments were lagging “significantly” behind the private sector in bringing employees back to offices — particularly in the Ottawa-Gatineau area that is home tens of thousands of federal workers. 

The government said the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the country’s largest federal-worker union representing the Treasury Board and Canada Revenue Agency workers who are staging a nationwide strike, came to the table with more than 570 demands, and that it has managed agree “on most of them” during negotiations. 

Still, the union said despite some headway on remote work and wage increases, it’s “not there yet.” It threatened to escalate its demonstrations, particularly at ports, as a result.

The strike has resulted in a delay or pause in several government services. Impacts at key agencies include: 

  • Some Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada programs and services may be affected, including research centers, poultry and wine sector programs, as well as a youth employment program
  • There will be delays in processing some income tax and benefit returns at Canada Revenue Agency, particularly those filed by paper
  • At Employment and Social Development Canada and Service Canada, services will be partially or fully disrupted including the temporary foreign worker program, job banks and biometrics collection
  • Delays are expected for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada citizenship events, passport services, grants and contributions services, as well as immigration-related appointments and applications processing
  • Transport Canada’s regulatory work, aircraft services, issuance of licenses, certificates or registrations, and the complaints and recalls hotline are expected to be partially or fully disrupted
  • The public may also have trouble accessing some Government of Canada buildings where services are delivered