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Calls from Manitoba's top doctor for bosses to let employees work from home if possible are falling on a lot of deaf ears among civil service managers.

Although the COVID-19 crisis has steadily worsened over the past few weeks, the province is often not heeding its own health guidance, says Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, which represents more than 12,000 government workers.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin's messages have been loud and clear, urging employers to arrange for employees to work from home as much as they can to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, not everyone is getting the message, Gawronsky told the Free Press in an email.

"In many cases, provincial managers have enabled civil service workers to work fully or partially from home," she wrote.

"In other cases, some managers have refused to permit working from home, even where it is clearly possible to get the job done working remotely."

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, says the province is often not heeding its own health guidance. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free press files)

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, says the province is often not heeding its own health guidance. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free press files)

The union recognizes that some jobs don't lend themselves to working from home but, wherever possible, the province should follow its own advice and direct all civil service managers to maximize the practice, she said.

"Unfortunately, right now, there is significant inconsistency across the civil service in how this critical public-health advice is being followed, or in many cases, not followed."

The union has written to Central Services Minister Reg Helwer asking him to look into the matter and to make sure that a consistent approach is followed across the civil service.

A provincial government spokesperson who responded to questions from the Free Press failed to provide any clarity.

The spokesperson was asked why civil servants who could be working from home are not being allowed to do so, and also whether there are any guidelines in place for managers to follow or if permission is left up to the discretion of individual managers.

"Unfortunately, right now, there is significant inconsistency across the civil service in how this critical public–health advice is being followed, or in many cases, not followed."

"Working from home helps employees reduce their number of contacts, and public health has identified this as a key action all Manitobans need to take," the email said.

"Public servants have been directed to work from home if they can and have discussions with their supervisors about whether increased remote work is an option for them."

When asked if there are more civil servants working from home now during code-red restrictions than at the start of pandemic, the spokesperson offered only that "the most recent stats indicate about 3,400 staff are currently working from home."

The MGEU said many are now working remotely, as they were in the spring, but didn't have specific numbers.

"We’ve all had to adapt to changing public-health orders and new levels on the pandemic-response system," Gawronsky said.

"This has been challenging, to say the least, for everyone —those in managerial roles and on the front line each experiencing unique challenges."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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