Alberta Politics
The Government of Alberta office district in downtown Edmonton in less socially distanced times — will these buildings soon be full of public employees again? (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Public service managers’ return-to-workplace guide outlines plan to return public employees to government offices

Posted on June 29, 2020, 1:21 am
7 mins

With talk that managers of Alberta’s public service are likely to be back in their offices next Monday preparing for the return of most of the rest of the government’s direct employees to their workplaces by July 20, the public service has prepared a 41-page “Government of Alberta Return to the Workplace Manager Guide” to steer the effort.

Alberta government employees have been working from home to avoid infection with COVID-19 since March on the advice of Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government is clearly anxious to capitalize on relatively low infection rates up to now in the province to give the appearance of decisive action to restart the economy by returning to normal government operations.

If the plan now being discussed in the Alberta Public Service to reopen government offices goes ahead as expected, the only exceptions would be employees who can’t return because of specific medical concerns.

While the guide does not state the dates for the planned return to work, it assures managers “we will follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

“In alignment with the Alberta Relaunch Strategy, GoA employees will return in a staggered approach,” the guide says. “Department plans have been created to meet each group’s unique needs and detail which employees will return in each phase.”

The guide promises “adequate safety will be ensured” by measures that include physical distancing, reminders about illness prevention, signage, and “adequate supplies of hand-sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and surgical masks” — with the not very reassuring note that a supply of masks will be provided only for “those positions that require it.”

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Clean workplaces will be “a joint responsibility,” the guide says, with employees “responsible for cleaning cubicles and office equipment and surfaces.” There will be no use of boardrooms, and no in-person meetings. Handshaking will be discouraged.

In the event of a COVID-19 infection in a reopened workplace, the guide instructs managers “not to send out or circulate notices to staff on a positive test occurrence at the worksite” on the grounds this would amount to publishing confidential medical information.

In the event an employee advises other employees they or a family member are positive for COVID-19, the manager is instructed to tell employees the information cannot be confirmed. In addition, the guide says, “Manager will not advise other staff of an Employee’s positive test for COVID-19 if they become aware of the Employee’s identity through (Ministry of Health) contact tracing.”

Amusingly, the guide includes a schematic diagram showing the bureaucratic process for getting a workplace sneeze guard approved and installed.

Given the recent surge in COVID-19 infections in Edmonton, a return to work by many employees on July 6 seems too early — especially in light of the catastrophic experience in U.S. jurisdictions that rushed to reopen. More community spread of COVID-19 seems probable as a result.

Since the plan involves employees being required to come into the office but to act as if they were still working at home, and since senior public officials have been informed civil service productivity has not declined during the lockdown, it’s not at all clear what the point is.

Meanwhile, at 11 a.m. this morning, Premier Jason Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews have scheduled a news conference to roll out their “plan for Alberta’s economic recovery.”

Yesterday, in an unusual Sunday press release, the government announced a program of $5,000 relaunch grants for small and medium-sized businesses to offset costs of setting up to operate during a pandemic.

As we have seen in other recent government news releases, this one featured supportive quotes from supposedly non-partisan business organizations including the Alberta Chambers of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.

Let not thy left thumb know what thy right thumb tweeteth!

It turns out, apparently, that leopards can change their spots!

Kenney speechwriter Paul Bunner (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This discovery seems to have been brought to the United Conservative Party’s attention between June 15 and June 28.

At any rate, it was on June 15 Environment Minister Jason Nixon tweeted sarcastically about Tides Canada’s decision to adopt the name MakeWay to differentiate itself from the U.S.-based Tides Foundation.

“A leopard never changes its spots,” Mr. Nixon said. “Tides can try to rebrand itself, but its goal will always be to ‘MakeWay’ for the destruction of Alberta’s most important industries. We see you …”

On June 28, however, Premier Kenney took issue with those who are demanding he fire his speechwriter for offensive comments written over several years, including claims abuses in residential schools were “a bogus genocide,” that “homosexuality is individually and socially destructive” and “AIDS gets more ink than it deserves,” and a suggestion many refugees are “barbarians inside the gates.” Paul Bunner’s statement about residential schools was published in 2013.

Mr. Bunner seems to have said nothing that would suggest his views have changed.

However, the June 28 statement from Premier Kenney’s office noted that “peoples’ views have evolved over decades – and that includes Mr. Bunner.”

So there you have it. Leopards do change their spots — at least when it suits Mr. Kenney.

10 Comments to: Public service managers’ return-to-workplace guide outlines plan to return public employees to government offices

  1. Bob Raynard

    June 29th, 2020

    “…the government announced a program of $5,000 relaunch grants for small and medium-sized businesses to offset costs of setting up to operate during a pandemic.”

    but when asked if there would be any extra funding for schools to cover the extra expenses of operating during a pandemic, Adriana LaGrange has commented that there is enough money in their existing budgets to cover it.

    Reply
  2. Bob Raynard

    June 29th, 2020

    I expect the government has to require their workers to go back in order to save face. It doesn’t really fly to tell people to resume participating in the economy if, at the same time, they are telling their workers to continue staying at home.

    I think that is why they are doing it. I don’t think it is justifiable, though.

    Reply
  3. Bob Raynard

    June 29th, 2020

    “In the event of a COVID-19 infection in a reopened workplace, the guide instructs managers “not to send out or circulate notices to staff on a positive test occurrence at the worksite”

    This is incredible, and beyond stupid. All through this pandemic we have read reports about cases occurring in specific long term care facilities, specific business locations etc, now suddenly it would be violating confidential information to announce a case occurred in a provincial building? Step one of every new case of Covid has always been to tell close contacts of the infected person to get tested, and now they are specifically directing that not to happen with their own employees? Does the government want the disease to spread? Do they honestly believe that the infected person won’t just send their coworkers an email anyway?

    It looks to me like they are desperately trying to avoid the mass walk-off that would happen if a case was announced. Not only will it not work, it is also tainting the government with the stain of trying to cover the whole thing up. If I was an infected government worker, I would do my best to have a chance encounter with my minister and sing him Happy Birthday.

    Reply
    • Keith McClary

      June 29th, 2020

      Kenney said:
      “[China] will soon face a ‘great reckoning’ for its efforts to play down, obfuscate and cover up the dangers posed by the novel coronavirus”

      Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      June 30th, 2020

      I had a glance a the “Manager’s Guide” document. It seems mostly redundant advice on how to keep people from spreading the virus–which is well enough in itself.

      All the stuff about “the Manager will not tell staff” who’s got the virus seems either silly or Draconian–unless you know a couple of other things. First, the restriction really does follow provincial privacy law. My strictly limited experience (thank God) of serious illness and injury is that the boss is prevented by law from saying, “John Doe has COVID-19.”

      The company nurse (if any) is responsible for making health-related announcements–but withholding personal information like names. By provincial law, that’s between John and his doctor. That won’t prevent anyone from guessing (human nature being what it is). It doesn’t prevent John from telling his family and friends that “Hey, you better get tested–I just got a positive result.” But that’s John’s decision–not his employer’s.

      Test-and-trace may add a new dimension, but again, that will be above the boss’s pay grade.

      Reply
  4. Abs

    June 29th, 2020

    “Manager will not advise other staff of an Employee’s positive test for COVID-19 if they become aware of the Employee’s identity through (Ministry of Health) contact tracing.”

    So, the COVID-tracing phone app, if used by government employees, will refrain from notifying directly said government employees of exposure to contagion in the workplace? The app will instead use its contact tracers to notify government employees’ bosses to keep this info on the down-low? This seems wildly dystopian. What does the Chief Medical Officer of Health think? I realize she’s been busy reviewing plans to bring NHL players to the Edmonton Rockies Hub, where they will frolic beside glaciers, but this powerful app seems to be linked to employment history or something. Isn’t that just a bit beyond its mandate? Seriously, who would want to sign up for something that picks and chooses who it will tell what, that knows where you work, and that will leak personal health information to your boss? And how does it know who your boss is, without having information on employment through your SIN number? What in the name of sanity is going on in Babylon-berta?

    Reply
  5. Rodney Feland

    June 29th, 2020

    How assinine! When the covid crisis was growing back in February and March, the GOA was ridiculously slow at addressing employee concerns. Public service members were begging to be able to work from home. Contracts and agreements already had provisions in place to allow this to happen. Managers and directors deliberately dragged their feet (or could get no consistent direction from this government). Decisions about who could and who could not work from home were all over the nap, with no rhyme or reason. Favoured individuals got approval while others did not. Some were expected to keep working “with the public” with no barriers or restictions in place, and this was very slow to change. Consideration for lunch and break rooms, restrictions on meeting space, open office spaces, etc. was an after thought. Another big issue is access to the workplaces. Many buildings have a common bottlenecks where workers have to access elevators to realistically move to and from work. So safe distancing in the elevators is almost impossible and the backlog in hallways, foyers and lobbys compounds the social distancing issue.
    It was because members brought these concerns forward through various avenues, especially via health and safety processes, that things got addressed. That is because they have a legal right to participate in worksite occupational health & safety, the right to know what hazards are in the work place, and the right to refuse dangerous work without reprisal. A suggestion that you may have to supply your own masks, when the employer is resonsible for providing PPEs? A suggestion that they will be denied the right to know because it might be inconvenient or embarrassing? Once again, ignore the law because of an “image problem”. No wonder there are so many “issues managers”. Who the hell is directing this circus? Donald Trump?

    Reply
  6. David Bridger

    June 29th, 2020

    This may just be part of Premier Kennedy’s war against the public service employees.

    Let them get the covid-19 virus and eliminate them through illness, then no need for further fights against the public employees. A permanent solution.

    Reply
  7. Guest99

    June 29th, 2020

    Termination meetings are much easier to conduct in person than via skype I’m guessing.

    Reply
  8. Murphy

    June 29th, 2020

    Where were the “catastrohpic experiences” in the US after “reopening”? Florida has had a grand total of 3200 Chupacabra “deaths”, from their population of 21-odd million. Canada has alleged over 8000 deaths from 38 million. What exactly constitutes a “catastrophic” Chupacabra event, given the greater mortality in Canada despite our warm embrace of virtually all manner of Chupacabra prophylaxis?
    No need for data in the time of the Great Trembling.
    So many fascinating aspects of the Chupacbara terror in Alberta. There remain single fatal “victims” in the 20-29, 30-39 and 40-49 cohorts in the province. Strangely, both of the U-40 folks succumbed in the first month, and despite five thousand more positive tests for the bug, nobody else from those cohorts has died.
    Sweden, the most sinister haters of the infirm on the planet, have a .66% infection rate in the country, as opposed to Canada’s .27% rate. Given that the hospitalization case rate in Alberta is 4.6, if we open right up we could expect the “catastrophic” total of hospitalizations to be 100 across 8000 acute care beds in Alberta. Armageddon.
    The evidence that Chupacabra, in Alberta, is far less dangerous than seasonal influenza, continues to build. Figures vary between 101 and 116 deaths in long term care homes, but the number is about 76% of “fatalities”. 90% of fatalities are over age 70.
    So the goal posts are whirling around like square dancers, given that originally the WHO and Imperial College told us that the bug was a killer of unprecedented lethality, and then that was switched to the notion that the bug was not particularly letahal but could spread to others simply by thinking about it, and now that that aspect has proven to be equally false, we no longer focus on any aspect of the potential for severe outcomes and only concern ourselves with the enforcement of the accompanying rituals.
    There is of course, no scientific basis for the rituals. I await with baited breath the randomized controlled trials that support the masks, given that there are many previous studies that showed no benefit from perpetual Halloween.
    It provided me with no end of amusement to see that John Rendon, who gave us the Great Kuwaiti Incubator Infanticide hoax, was postulating on 500% “psychological effect” from Chupacabra back in January. That was back when the WHO declared a Global Health Emergency with 150 cases outside China.
    https://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1118-10.htm

    Here’s a snippet of Rendon’s prescient Tweet:
    “What should be known about contagions, is first, the psychological size of the contagion will be at least 5x greater than the contagion itself, thus timely, truthful and transparent reporting is essential-which is a challenge for Boys in #Beijing”

    It rolls Sinophobia into the Chupacabra terror campaign, which is of course, only one aspect of the New Arrangement being engineered as the clapped-out European banking empire thrashes about in it’s death throes as their four-hundred-year party comes to an end.

    Can’t wait to see how the boys and girls with Ayn Rand and Glen Beck books-on-tape set up their New Deal for Alberta!

    Reply

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