Federal government must prioritize workers’ lives and rethink its strategy on activity-based workplaces

The federal Treasury Board’s activity-based working (ABW) strategy will prove to be problematic given public health directives to stop the spread of COVID-19. Without assigned seating, as conceptualized by ABW, thousands of workers will be forced to share desks and surfaces, thereby risking exposure. Yet, instead of slowing down its implementation, the government is speeding up the transition to AWB, which will have dangerous repercussions for the health and safety of PSAC members.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has demonstrated a dismissive attitude towards legitimate health and safety concerns by suggesting that workers clean their own desks and make reservations through an already failing reservation system.

ABW also presents special challenges for vulnerable workers and these must be addressed. Decisions on ABW made prior to the global pandemic must be reconsidered and the federal government should show the same adaptability that federal public service employees have shown throughout the last months.

PSAC supports safety protocols for workers to the same level of precaution as we would want at schools, with assigned seating being significantly safer than variable seating. Accelerating the shift to activity-based working will increase the risk to PSAC members, their family and their communities. 

PSAC is asking the employer to:

  • stop the proposal to accelerate activity-based working and prioritize assigned seating for the duration of the pandemic and beyond;
  • hire indeterminate, well-trained staff to clean and disinfect offices rather than relying on workers cleaning inconsistently without sufficient training;
  • apply an equity lens to managing the return to work of those employees who have been working from home especially given that women, racialized and Indigenous people and lower-income households have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19;
  • allow workers living with an immunocompromised individual to continue to work remotely to minimize the exposure within their household until a vaccine becomes available;
  • ensure all spaces are accessible;
  • establish alternatives for those with accessibility needs to assist with cleaning spaces.

All federal bargaining agents are collaborating to get the government to address these issues on ABW. PSAC will keep working to protect the health and safety of its members throughout this pandemic and as many of us gradually return to work, in some capacity.


August 27, 2020