The vast majority of federal public service employees have gone above and beyond to serve Canadians during the pandemic, whether it’s on the front lines or working from home. In some cases, however, COVID-19 prevented employees from working due to lack of childcare, illness from the virus, or a lack of access to the resources needed to work remotely. For most it was a partial reduction in hours and for short periods. Fortunately, they had access to 699 leave in their collective agreement in order to access paid leave when circumstances outside their control prevented them from working.
A report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) confirms that 699 leave in the federal public service has been used modestly and cost very little.
The data shows that a large majority of public service employees were able to work at full capacity while approximately only a third were occasionally forced to use “699” leave. The report also illustrates the reluctant and careful use of 699 leave – as time progressed and the worst effects of the pandemic began to diminish, the use of 699 plummeted as well.
The PBO also confirmed that the cost of 699 leave was only about 1% of the salary expenditures for that period. For that small price, public services for Canadians were secured, and our struggling economy was bolstered by avoiding more layoffs and more CERB applications. The price of forcing layoffs and trying to rebuild the public service after the pandemic would have cost taxpayers tenfold - let alone the negative impact on our economy.
It should also be noted that the $439 million represented by the 1% of salary expenditures cannot even be compared to the hundreds of billions spent by the federal government to support private sector jobs. The government budgeted $83.6 billion alone for the federal wage subsidy to cover up to 75% of salaries for businesses impacted by the pandemic.
Lastly, we are pleased that the PBO report also acknowledges that granting paid leave to workers who found themselves in impossible situations is common practice at the provincial level and in other jurisdictions. It is not a situation unique to the federal public service.
From the beginning of the crisis, PSAC insisted on the ability for our members to use 699 leave, and together we’ve demonstrated the value of protecting and defending our collective agreement rights. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, millions of Canadians continue to depend on federal public service workers to deliver the support they need – and PSAC members continue to be there for them.