City of Toronto hopes to set an example for other employers by ordering thousands of employees working remotely during the pandemic to return to city workplaces, at least part-time, starting January 4 .
Mayor John Tory told reporters on Tuesday he was concerned about the economic impacts of empty office towers and other workplaces in downtown Toronto and believed staff could return to work safely at least three days per week.
All city buildings, such as City Hall and suburban civic centers, will reopen, including kiosks for members of the public and in-person meetings with accommodations for remote public participation.
The announcement came as new COVID-19 infections in the city continue to rise after a prolonged decline, and amid uncertainty over the Omicron variant of the virus, which health experts say could be more infectious than the now dominant Delta strain.
Global health experts are rushing for data on this issue as well as the protection offered by current COVID-19 vaccines against the Omicron variant.
City public health chief Dr. Eileen de Villa endorsed the plan while urging Torontonians to maintain antivirus safeguards, including keeping in-person social circles small.
Conservative and City Manager Chris Murray told the press conference they needed to give workers enough notice – about a quarter of the city’s roughly 32,000 active employees have switched to remote work – of a comeback mandatory at work sites, but that the plan will be adjusted if health officials warn of any emerging safety risks.
Tory defended the move to move before everything was known about Omicron.
“We had to have a plan and a plan needs a date,” to bring city departments and workplaces back to normal operations before the pandemic, Tory said.
“We will continue to implement the plan carefully and responsibly, but we will monitor every day… At no time will we do anything that is contrary to the best interests of the health of our own employees, but we have here a dividend that is paid by the fact that we have almost 100 percent of them vaccinated.
Murray said work was underway to ensure virus protection in city workplaces, including distancing and the availability of disinfectants.
Tory said he’s working with the Toronto Region Board of Trade and large employers on efforts to get employees back to the workplace safely. The mayor has repeatedly sounded the alarm bells about the economic health of downtown and Toronto as a whole, if people don’t start flocking to downtown again.
Dave Mitchell, president of CUPE Local 79 representing more than 20,000 of the city’s internal workers, said in a statement that the Jan. 4 date “for the city’s new hybrid work schedule looks ambitious, given the increase in COVID cases in Ontario.
“We expect the city to be responsive to any changes in public health guidelines. “
The union is happy that the city is developing a long-term plan to give workers more flexibility, but has not seen any details on the “hybrid model” and expects it to consider both l equity and seniority of staff, he added.
De Villa said “it’s a matter of when, not if” the Omicron variant found in travelers returning to Ottawa is detected in Torontonians.
But “we have a lot of assets in our favor,” including the city’s high vaccination rate and residents determined to follow public health measures.
“That doesn’t mean we have to rest on our laurels. On the contrary, we must continue to be vigilant in all of these respects… by practicing these public health measures – masking, physical distancing, limiting your interactions to those who are vaccinated and keeping your social circle small if possible, ”said de Villa.
The city’s return to work plan makes sense, she said, given that public health officials and city leaders “are in constant communication, we are monitoring the situation regularly” and will not hesitate. not to recommend changes if necessary.
In the same way it is taking the lead in ordering employees to return to their workplaces, the city was among the first large employers to announce that these employees had to prove that they had received at least two COVID vaccines. -19 or that they risked suspension without pay, followed by dismissal. .
The city announced on Friday that it was pushing back the termination date to the week of January 2, starting December 13, given new health recommendations regarding the time between the first and second shot.
The TTC has also extended the deadline for its employees from December 30 to January 27.
Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.