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Ottawa shuts Service Canada centres after employees refuse to work

From the Globe and Mail

The federal government is shutting the doors to all of its 317 Service Canada Centres – where people can apply in person for employment insurance, Old Age Security, pension benefits and passports – on Friday after employees en masse refused to work.

The government bent to pressure Thursday evening from the Canadian Employment and Immigration

Many had called in sick or refused to work because they didn’t feel safe during the coronavirus pandemic, despite safe distancing measures put in place that kept the centres open, said Crystal Warner, executive vice-president with the union.

The centres were crowded and efforts to control the traffic resulted in long lines outside and sometimes irate visitors, she said. In recent days, so many missed work that 187 centres closed on Thursday – almost 60 per cent of the network.

Under the new measures, staff will still come to work at the centres but the front doors will be locked. People who show up will be redirected to Service Canada’s website and phone number. Staff will help them remotely by appointment, except in rare circumstances where applicants have accessibility issues. In those cases, they can come in to meet staff in sanitized rooms, at a safe distance.

Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said Canadians will still be able to access their benefits online and over the phone. “This will allow more Canadians to get the support they need, while better protecting both them and our staff,” he said in a statement.

Job losses across Canada have exploded in the past two weeks amid a widespread shutdown of the economy to slow the spread of the virus. That overwhelmed the government as almost one million people last week alone filed for unemployment benefits.

The government encouraged Canadians to apply for services available through the centres online, by telephone or by mail instead, asking those with symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate and stay away.

It gave protective gloves to employees and posted workers by the doors to limit the number of people inside.

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