Saturday, March 14, 2020

The AJC, together with other bargaining agents, is continuing to participate in weekly meetings with senior officials to discuss government-wide issues. We have also reached out to our provincial counterparts to find out what their employers are doing, and what actions courts are taking in response to CoViD-19.

This is a fluid situation, and we are continuing to monitor changes and advocate for members by consulting with the employer on issues including prevention, response, business continuity, individual circumstances, sick leave and other forms of paid leave, as well as employment insurance (EI). You can read our first communique on CoViD-19 from March 11, 2019 here.

Meeting with TBS on March 12

We had a teleconference with the Treasury Board (TBS) on Thursday, March 12 where we asked TBS to direct management to facilitate widespread teleworking, emphasizing the importance of social distancing and social isolation to "flatten the curve" and mitigate the risks association with a widespread viral outbreak. The Government of Canada has an opportunity to play a leadership role in acting quickly and setting an example for other employers.

TBS has confirmed that our message was heard, and that all staff who self-isolate as a result of government travel or as a result of that criteria set out by a public health authority will be granted paid leave if teleworking is not possible.  

TBS also issued a directive late Friday to all federal departments and agencies, which will allow employees to work from home, if possible, for the foreseeable future amidst the CoViD-19 virus pandemic, as long as their job allows it. Employees will also not be required to provide a medical certificate if they declare that they must self-isolate, unless a manager has a bona-fide reason to question the employee's declaration.

All members are asked to get in touch with their regional GC rep if they are having difficulty getting their manager to follow the recommendation as we are closely monitoring implementation together with departmental HR.  

Letter from Bargaining Agents to TBS

The federal government bargaining agents (BAs) sent a letter to TBS on Friday, emphasizing the points made above.

The BAs called on TBS to make it clear to all departments and agencies that employees be encouraged to proactively self isolate, predominantly by working from home. We urged TBS to clarify that employees who self-isolate according to public health guidelines and who are not able to telework will be granted leave with pay and will not be forced to use personal leave, sick leave or leave without pay if they are not able to telework. We also asked that all employees who are able to do this be encouraged to do so, and that teleconference and other virtual meeting options be provided.

PPSC responds to the closure of public schools in Ontario and Quebec

PPSC responded quickly to the announcement that the Ontario Government decided to close all public schools across the province from March 14 to April 5, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Quebec Government's decision to close all daycares, schools, CEGEPs and universities for at least two weeks.  PPSC recommended that managers afford their employees with maximum flexibilities, including the ability to telework. If telework is not an option or can not be performed on a full-time basis, the use of "other paid leave" can be used during this period. The Quebec government announced Friday that all daycares, schools, CEGEPS and universities in the province will be closed for at least two weeks as a precaution against the spread of CoViD-19.

We also expect a national message from Kathleen Roussel, the DPP, on Monday.

We understand that courthouses are finally moving into action and working to streamline and eliminate many court appearances. For example, the Tax Court of Canada just announced that it will be closed for the next two weeks.

DoJ provides guidance on CoViD-19

DoJ released guidance on CoViD-19 for staff and managers on Saturday. All discretionary work travel is cancelled, but domestic travel for core business may still be required to meet specific operational requirements. When employees are directed to self-isolate by local health authorities, working from home is encouraged whenever possible. Where not possible, employees will be granted leave with pay.

Employees are also encouraged to work from home given school and daycare closures. Where it is not possible for an employee to work from home in these circumstances, they will also be granted leave with pay. Employees are asked to reach out to their managers with any questions, and to let them know when they will be away from the office and why.

In line with the President of the Treasury Board's public messaging, we are urging DoJ to be as flexible as possible in leveraging their authorities around existing telework and alternative work arrangements in line with operational requirements and circumstances. While this is not a blanket telework policy for everyone, telework is to be encouraged as is operationally possible. If you are not required to be in court or in the office for a specific operational reason, you should be at home.

If you are having trouble getting telework or leave with pay approved you should contact your regional GC rep as soon as possible.

AJC protects our staff and contributes to public health

AJC is leading by example in protecting our employees and contributing to public health by inviting our staff to telework, conducting meetings remotely, and regularly disinfecting our workspace. Our office will remain open, and we expect minimal interruption to operations. It is possible that there may be service delays in the event of staff illness.  

What are the symptoms of CoViD-19?

CoViD-19 is a new coronavirus strain that is spreading around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently characterized CoViD-19 as a global pandemic. Like influenza, coronavirus is a respiratory illness that is spread through small droplets from the nose or mouth. However, CoViD-19 causes more severe illness than flu, and there are not yet a vaccine or effective treatments for it.

The symptoms of CoViD-19 include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

If you develop these symptoms you should follow the advice of your local public health authority on when to seek medical assistance or contact public health. You can find more information on CoViD-19 here.

What are the employers occupational health and safety responsibilities?

Employers are responsible under Part II of the Canada Labour Code for protecting the health and safety of employees at work. If there is a risk of exposure to coronavirus for employees while working, employers must identify and assess the risk, as well as implement proper controls through their Hazard Prevention Program.

What are my rights as an employee?

Employees have three basic rights under Part II of the Canada Labour Code:
- the right to know
the right to participate, and
the right to refuse dangerous work

Employees have the right to refuse dangerous work as long as they have reasonable cause to believe that it presents a danger to themselves or another employee. There are restrictions on the right to refuse work for some employees.

Danger is defined as any hazard, condition or activity that could reasonably be expected to be an imminent or serious threat to the life or health of a person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be corrected or the activity altered.
An employee wishing to exercise the right to refuse dangerous work must immediately report the dangerous situation to the employer, who must investigate. You can find more information on the right to refuse dangerous work here.

There is little legal guidance in the context of a global pandemic of this nature to guide the use of this tool, but at the very least it may buy some time in addressing situations involving imminent or serious risks to the health of our members. These situations might include inadequate disinfection or cleaning practices, or exposure to a floor or building in which a worker with CoViD-19 is or was present.

If you have any concerns about an imminent or serious danger, contact your regional occupational health and safety (OSH) committee representative, and/or your regional GC rep.

Reminder - Help prevent the spread of CoViD-19

Although you have surely heard this already, we remind you that to help prevent the spread of CoViD-19 you can:

- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or with hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, and not your hands
- Stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others
- Call ahead if you are ill and must visit a health care professional, or tell them when you arrive that you have a respiratory illness

What is self-monitoring and self-isolating?

Delaying the spread of infection can reduce the burden on Canada's healthcare system and lower the impact on vulnerable members of our community.

We all have a role to play by voluntarily self-monitoring and self-isolating where appropriate. In the context of March break, where members may be travelling and in contact with large numbers of people in public spaces, the following information on self-monitoring and self-isolating is important.

Self-monitoring involves noticing any symptoms of CoViD-19 within 14 days after a possible exposure, and avoiding public transportation, as well as crowded public spaces where you cannot easily separate from others if you become ill. If you develop symptoms, you should self-isolate immediately and contact your public health unit and health care provider.

Self-isolating involves staying home when you have symptoms of CoViD-19, not using public transport, and not going to work, school, grocery stores or other public places. You should wear a mask if possible, avoid contact with others in your home, and keep as much distance as possible from them. You should also limit any visitors to your home. Your healthcare provider or public health unit will tell you when it is safe to leave your home. The federal government has recently recommended against all non-essential international travel, and some provinces, including, British Columbia, are strongly recommending self-isolation following international travel.

If you receive confirmation of a CoViD-19 diagnosis you should notify your supervisor as soon as possible.

Where can I find reliable information on coronavirus in Canada?

Your regional OSH committee are the decision points for these measures and are expected to communicate on their steps. Your OSH rep and/or your regional GC rep are your points of contact.

You can find more information on Canada's response to Covid-19 here:

- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Canada's response -[/url]

- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Travel advice -[/url]

The Government of Canada's coronavirus information line (1-833-784-4397) is also available from 7:00 a.m. to midnight (EST), seven days a week.

You can also find local public health information on coronavirus from your provincial or municipal government websites. These provide information on how to prepare for a pandemic, how to self-monitor or self-isolate, and what to do if you experience symptoms of coronavirus.

In summary, where and when possible, please work from home and contact us if your managers aren't being cooperative.