Ottawa considers shutting down Service Canada centres as workers refuse to work

The Globe and Mail

A closed Service Canada location, in Toronto is photographed, on Thurs., March 26, 2020.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The federal authorities is contemplating a shutdown of its nationwide community of Service Canada centres the place residents can apply in particular person for employment insurance coverage, Outdated Age Safety, pension advantages and passports, The Globe and Mail has realized.

On Wednesday, practically 60 per cent of the 317 centres have been closed, mentioned Mike Maka, a spokesman for Ahmed Hussein, the Minister of Households, Youngsters and Social Growth who oversees the division. All however 10 of the 101 centres in Ontario have been closed, in addition to most of these in Alberta, British Columbia, and practically half of the 80 areas in Quebec, in line with the Service Canada web site.

That might result in a complete shutdown within the coming days as most of the closings are attributable to workers not exhibiting up for work, mentioned sources aware of the state of affairs whom The Globe just isn’t figuring out as a result of they weren’t approved to talk about the matter. Requested a couple of attainable shutdown, Mr. Maka declined to remark, saying: “The centres have been closed for quite a lot of causes.“ He added: “Service Canada endeavours to offer the very best accessible companies for Canadians, and takes under consideration issues like absenteeism in addition to climate to ensure the protection of workers is paramount and that we’re nonetheless capable of present the companies we have to Canadians.”

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Job losses have exploded previously two weeks amid a widespread shutdown of the economic system to sluggish the unfold of the virus, overwhelming the federal government as unprecedented numbers of individuals – virtually a million final week alone – filed for unemployment advantages. Residents have complained the web site hasn’t labored or they’ll’t get by after ready for hours on the phone. Canadians who don’t have on-line entry at house have in lots of circumstances misplaced entry to the web as their native libraries are shut.

Consequently, many have gone out of frustration to Service Canada centres regardless of warnings to remain house and away from others. In some circumstances they’ve braved lineups to file functions in particular person, in line with reviews.

Crystal Warner, government vice chairman with the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union, which represents 17,000 Service Canada workers together with about 3,360 who employees the centres, mentioned many workers are calling in sick or refusing to work “as a result of they’re not feeling secure [and] they’re not secure.”

The federal government has inspired Canadians to use for companies accessible by the centres on-line, by phone, or by mail as a substitute, asking these with signs of COVID-19 to self-isolate and keep away.

It has posted workers by the doorways to centres to restrict the variety of folks inside to maintain them aside and restrict the unfold of the virus. The centres nonetheless get about 11,000 guests a day whereas about 95 per cent of EI claimants apply on-line in regular instances.

Ms. Warner mentioned tempers have boiled over and employees, who she mentioned are among the many lowest paid staff in authorities, have borne the brunt of it. Prior to now 10 days there was a combat between shoppers at a Service Canada centre in east-end Toronto, and police have been referred to as in to areas in Kingston, Longueuil, Que., and Nanaimo, B.C., after annoyed candidates grew to become aggressive and violent, she mentioned.

In different cases, she mentioned residents have coughed intentionally on employees, whereas others shoved previous them to enter. “In some unspecified time in the future plenty of our staff acquired so scared to come back in to work they referred to as in sick.” The union has requested Ottawa to do extra to guard staff and requested that visits be by appointment solely. “We don’t need to shut our doorways as a result of we don’t need to affect essentially the most weak in society,” she mentioned.

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The union has additionally inspired members to invoke their proper to refuse harmful work underneath the Canada Labour Code; About 10 did so in Halifax two weeks in the past; three Edmonton workplaces closed Tuesday after workers adopted go well with.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the delays and frustrations newly unemployed Canadians are experiencing making use of for advantages, and mentioned “public servants are working across the clock whereas coping with unprecedented demand and the entire identical private stress everybody else is dealing with.” He mentioned a web-based software portal will launch “as rapidly as attainable.”

The federal government is shuffling 1,300 public servants, many from Passport Canada, into roles processing claims and taking calls. By Tuesday, it had processed 143,000 claims previously eight days, a minority of the 500,000 that utilized final week. Mr. Trudeau additionally introduced a brand new “Canada emergency response profit” that may present $1,800 after tax to affected Canadians, changing two earlier advantages.

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