There will be more footsteps than usual pounding the pavement in downtown Victoria this week as several hundred federal workers return to the office in the downtown core.
The new mandate is welcome news to the local business community, including Downtown Victoria Business Association CEO Jeff Bray.
“It means a lot both from an economic standpoint but also from a morale standpoint, any time your business is a little busier, especially in January and February, that’s really welcome both for the owners and for the staff,” said Bray.
Federal workers across the country begin their mandated transition back to the office this week and will be required to spend at least two or three days a week there by the end of March.
There are roughly 4,000 federal workers across Greater Victoria and 16,000 across B.C., but their union isn’t happy with what it says is an abrupt decision with no purpose.
“A lot of folks have or had to look at reevaluating and trying to change their child care, elder care, how they get to work, some people have given up cars, bus routes have changed significantly,” said Jamey Mills, regional executive vice president for PSAC BC.
According to an internal survey on the change, 60 per cent of PSAC members have been working remotely, 86 per cent oppose the mandate, and 87 per cent say they want work-from-home to be part of their collective agreement.
The union is currently bargaining with the employer and wants the mandate paused until an agreement is reached.
“Telework is one of our bargaining demands, so we don’t think this should be sorted out by some kind of dictum. This should be negotiated at the bargaining table,” said Mills.
Labour experts say that’s something we’ll likely see a lot more of as employers and their workers battle over a return to the office.
“This is going to be a top-of-mind bargaining issue, maybe not quite as important as wages and benefits, but I would put it right behind there,” said Ken Thornicroft, a professor of law and employment relations at the University of Victoria.
For those in the non-unionized private sector, though, there may not be a lot of room to negotiate.
“As a matter of law, it seems to me employers are perfectly within their rights to require employees to return to work,” he said.
“With private sector employers, if they want you back at work, you probably only have two choices and that’s to return to work or look for another job.”