PSAC has filed a policy grievance after the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) changed the guidelines to restrict how public service workers can use “Other Leave With Pay” (699) to fulfill child care needs related to COVID-19.
Last month, TBS issued a “policy statement” that changed the eligibility criteria to use 699 leave as various jurisdictions across the country begin to announce plans to relax physical isolation measures and reopen businesses, schools and daycares.
Under the new policy federal government employees would be restricted in their use of 699 leave for child care-related reasons when and where schools and child care centres re-open.
The new policy does not recognize that some parents may have to keep their children at home for legitimate reasons despite the availability of schools or child care. Examples include:
Some parents may determine that their child’s school or daycare is not yet a safe environment and/or has not implemented appropriate risk mitigation measures;
Other parents may choose to keep their children at home as they have household members who suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to harmful COVID-19 symptoms;
Some parents may choose to give other children in greater need an opportunity for in-class learning where spots are limited.
An email on May 10th from TBS to heads of human resources recognizes that some parents will have no choice but to keep their children at home due to an inability to secure alternative childcare arrangements, limited spaces at schools and other restrictions put in place by provincial health authorities. Under these conditions, a worker could use 699 leave for hours not worked, however it does not address the many other barriers that parents may continue to face.
PSAC made it clear to the Treasury Board Secretariat that the proposed policy amendments could result in a patchwork of unfair outcomes and an unreasonable application of management discretion. The policy grievance was filed when TBS ignored these concerns. PSAC intends to support the filing of individual grievances as a result of leave denial.
It is also expected that the application of this policy will have an adverse impact on women who continue to bear a disproportionate burden of childcare, eldercare and household responsibilities. It could also result in discriminatory outcomes for people with disabilities and people with family obligations.
PSAC is very disappointed in Treasury Board’s lack of flexibility given the thousands of PSAC members who continued to provide Canadians with critical services during this unprecedented time. Many of these members have done so while simultaneously caring for their children at home.