Take Ser­vice Canada claims on­line: PM

Calgary Herald - - PANDEMIC - LAURA OS­MAN

OT­TAWA • Ser­vice Canada em­ploy­ees can and should be work­ing from home, de­spite the grow­ing de­mand gen­er­ated by fi­nan­cial-aid ap­pli­ca­tions, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said Fri­day.

The fed­eral govern­ment has an­nounced the clo­sure of 317 phys­i­cal Ser­vice Canada cen­tres to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“As part of the ini­tia­tive of en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to stay home and work from home, this is some­thing that we re­al­ize we can and should be do­ing,” Trudeau said.

The govern­ment has made “sig­nif­i­cant ef­forts” over the last sev­eral years to make sure that all ser­vices avail­able at Ser­vice Canada cen­tres are also avail­able on­line, he said.

“We want to make sure that Ser­vice Canada em­ploy­ees are con­tin­u­ing to work ex­tremely hard to serve Cana­di­ans, to re­spond to their needs, and that’s why things are go­ing to be done on­line and through the phone.”

The Lib­er­als say the move, an­nounced late Thurs­day night, should not af­fect most un­em­ployed work­ers who seek em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance ben­e­fits since the vast ma­jor­ity of ap­pli­ca­tions are done on­line.

Trudeau added that spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions will be given to “par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble” peo­ple who have dif­fi­culty ac­cess­ing those ser­vices.

The net­work of Ser­vice Canada cen­tres, along with al­most 250 more out­reach cen­tres, re­ceived about 8.4 mil­lion vis­its dur­ing the 12-month pe­riod be­tween April 2018 and March 2019. The fig­ure, noted in a re­cently posted eval­u­a­tion of fed­eral ser­vices, in­cluded over 1.9 mil­lion peo­ple walk­ing in to use a self-ser­vice kiosk.

The de­mand on Ser­vice Canada has in­creased in re­cent days, with more than one mil­lion new ap­pli­ca­tions for EI ben­e­fits ar­riv­ing in just over a week as busi­nesses close due to health con­cerns.

Ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 work­ers were al­ready re­de­ployed to as­sist with EI ap­pli­ca­tions. Any Covid-19-re­lated ap­pli­ca­tions that came in be­fore the new emer­gency ben­e­fit was an­nounced will be moved over to the new pro­gram, so peo­ple don’t have to fol­low up with Ser­vice Canada.

Trea­sury Board Pres­i­dent Jean-yves Du­c­los said the clo­sure de­ci­sion fol­lowed con­cerns about an un­safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for em­ploy­ees. “We’ve had in­ci­dences where em­ploy­ees of Ser­vice Canada saw their health and safety at risk.”

The union rep­re­sent­ing Ser­vice Canada em­ploy­ees sup­ported the move to shut down phys­i­cal cen­tres.

“This mea­sure will pro­tect the pub­lic and its mem­bers from con­tract­ing COVID-19, and will not neg­a­tively im­pact the abil­ity of vul­ner­a­ble Cana­di­ans to re­ceive the sup­port they need at this crit­i­cal time,” said Chris Ayl­ward, PSAC na­tional pres­i­dent.

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