B.C.’s top bureaucrat says the government is embracing remote work in a bid to recruit and retain talent as it struggles to fill jobs.
Shannon Salter, deputy minister to the premier, sent a memo last week that “strongly encouraged” ministries to approve flexible work arrangements for employees who want them. It also included new guidelines outlining how those decisions should be made.
The memo also said new job postings will no longer be anchored to a single office or location and that employees are only required to live in a community where their ministry has an office.
Unions say that marks a major change in government’s approach to remote work after contract negotiations where the province resisted, including a right to work remotely in collective agreements.
Salter said the policy aims to bring diversity to the public service, and attract and keep employees who see in-person work as a dealbreaker.
The result could alter the nature of work for thousands of government workers and put more well-paying jobs in smaller communities—and change Victoria’s downtown, where many businesses rely on government workers’ business.
“Like other employers, we are experiencing a labour shortage at the B.C. public service,” Salter said Monday, without providing specific figures. “We’re looking for creative ways to ensure we continue to be the employer of choice.”
Few government employees worked remotely before 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands of workers to move from big buildings in downtown Victoria to kitchen tables and home offices.
Some of those employees have since gone back to the office, but many others liked the change. The B.C. Finance Ministry estimates as many as 17,500 employees are still working remotely at least two days a week.
“It’s always been about life-work balance,” said Stephanie Smith, the president of the BC General Employees’ Union. Some workers prefer to skip the commute. Others can’t afford housing in Victoria or Vancouver.
“It’s about affordability, to be perfectly honest as well,” Smith said. “We’re seeing people move further and further and further away from where they actually work—members commuting from Chilliwack to Vancouver.”
Smith said remote work was a “huge issue” when the BCGEU and government bargained last year. Members wanted the right to work remotely in the contract, but Smith said the employer wouldn’t budge.
Employees currently need to get approval to work remotely. If they want to work remotely for more than two days a week, they need approval from either an assistant deputy minister or a designate, which is not always granted.
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