STAFF for provincial government ministers are being told they can no longer work from home, despite public health officials raising concerns about fast-spreading coronavirus variants in Manitoba.
A member of the non-unionized staff working at the legislature shared the Feb. 12 memo, telling them to return to their offices.
"Everyone has been provided a workspace that allows for social distancing," said the memo from Jackie Maxted, director of human resources for Premier Brian Pallister’s executive council.
"There are no work-from-home arrangements unless someone in your household is sick or you have been identified as a close contact by public health," the memo said.
On Nov. 9, when critical code-red pandemic restrictions were put in place for the Winnipeg metropolitan region, the clerk of the executive council, David McLaughlin, and the clerk of the legislative assembly, Patricia Chaychuk, sent a joint memo advising those who worked at the legislature to work from home when possible.
It said all offices within the building were being assessed for maximum occupancy to ensure there was safe physical distancing. "The Legislative Assembly reduced the number of MLAs participating in daily sittings to 25 per cent of the legislative chamber’s capacity and legislative committees are now occurring virtually," the memo said.
"Messaging to the public has been clear that we need to reduce our contacts to help reduce the spread of COVID-19," the Nov. 9 memo said. "As such, if you have staff in the building that can perform their work from home, where practical, please support them to do so."
While some code red pandemic response measures have been relaxed, the chief provincial public health officer Monday announced contact tracing and self-isolation requirements are being beefed up because of the threat posed by virus variants.
Pallister’s press secretary said the memo was sent to prepare workers who are returning to the legislature ahead of the session, reconvening March 3.
"With the legislature returning to session shortly, the memo in question was sent to political staff in minister’s offices which outlines provisions in place to ensure a safe and COVID-compliance workspace in those offices," Olivia Billson said by email Monday.
Critics accused the premier and his executive council of applying a double standard.
"How it is that an MLA can assist in a session remotely but some of Mr. Pallister’s advisers can’t do so?" NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said.
"Public health is telling us we’re at a time when we need to step up our vigilance to prevent the risk of variants spreading here in Manitoba but you’ve got the premier telling his own staff — those closest to him — to act against that advice. To me, that’s a double standard. Public health is telling all of Manitoba one thing but the premier is telling his people to say another," Kinew said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said it’s another example of "do as I say, not as I do" coming from the premier’s executive council. It approved of the clerk of the executive council, David McLaughlin, working from home in Ottawa in December while travel was not advised, Lamont said. "They didn’t have any problem with that," he said.
"Everyone is expected to show up for work yet the public health orders say work from home if you can," said Lamont. "It’s reasonable for people to object to this."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.