Canada Post is reducing its hours, installing clear barriers at post office counters and introducing other COVID-19-related measures, moves that come as some postal workers criticize how the Crown corporation is responding to the pandemic.

Canada Post said Tuesday its offices will open an hour later and close an hour earlier to clean, restock and “provide some relief to employees.” The first hour of opening will be dedicated to customers at higher risk, including seniors and people with compromised immune systems.

The postal service has also suspended on-time guarantees for all parcel services until further notice, and said it is trying to keep all its offices open, although some smaller ones may have to close.

But a mail carrier in Halifax said she’s frustrated with what she calls a lack of clear communication around how employees should be keeping safe on the job.

“I need to know there are protocols in place where I can feel that my employer worries about my safety and is doing what they can,” said Samantha Bambrick, a temporary postal employee in Halifax who did not report for work Tuesday, citing safety concerns.

“I am scared to go to work. It’s not safe right now.”

She said she and others have so far received no guidance around what to do with mail coming from St. John’s, where 13 Canada Post employees were put on self-isolation after one tested positive for COVID-19.

Samantha Bambrick is a mail carrier in Halifax. (Submitted by Samantha Bambrick)

Jon Hamilton, a spokesperson for Canada Post, said Tuesday that virus transmission on mail is deemed a “very low” possibility and the postal service is following the advice of public health officials when it comes to the St. John’s mail processing plant.

“At this time it’s a very low risk and not a cause for concern, so we’re now cleaning that facility, doing a deep clean so we can make sure that it’s safe for employees before they return.”

Public Health Canada’s website says coronaviruses generally do not survive on surfaces and the risk of spread from products shipped over a period of days is “very low.”

Studies cited by the World Health Organization suggest coronaviruses may persist on surfaces for a few hours or even a few days, depending on the type of surface, temperature and humidity in the environment.

Uptick in regular cleaning?

Nadine Kays, a letter carrier in Halifax and a grievance officer with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, told CBC’s The Current on Monday that the union is calling for more spaces to get a deep cleaning.

“I think the biggest ask on the floor is that the depots and the plants and the retail outlets all get a deep cleaning. People are looking for our trucks to be cleaned daily and that the equipment coming in and out is cleaned,” Kays said.

Hamilton said the deep cleaning is only happening where there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19 or if there are people who may have been exposed to the virus.

He said the measures are based on guidelines from public health officials, and employees with concerns should raise them with their team leaders. Hamilton also noted that sometimes cleaning happens at night, so employees may not see it directly.

The union that represents postal workers is asking for more deep cleaning of depots, retail stores and vehicles. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

As more businesses close, it’s becoming harder for postal workers to find somewhere to wash their hands, particularly in rural areas. Both Canada Post and the union hope the federal government gets employees more supplies like hand sanitizer.

“Given that we’re providing an essential service, we need support to allow us to get quicker access to supplies and make sure we’re replenishing,” Hamilton said.

Bambrick said two weeks ago she was given a bottle of sanitizing wipes, but no direction on how best to use them or if she should be wearing gloves. Bambrick also said there has been little clarity around how workers should socially distance in the depots, noting the aisles where she works are less than two metres apart.

Hamilton said Canada Post is providing updates through team leaders and has launched a website for employees to view updates and get the latest information.

Hold period suspended

The measures Canada Post announced Tuesday include asking customers not to come into offices if they are feeling ill. It has also suspended the normal 15-day hold period and parcels left at an office for pickup will not be returned to the sender until further notice.

Those who do visit a post office are asked to keep two metres apart. Canada Post said it will install signs and floor decals in larger offices, while smaller offices will be limited to the number of customers allowed inside.

Offices will still accept cash, but customers are urged whenever possible to use tap on their debit and credit cards.

For home delivery, Canada Post said it has implemented a knock, drop and go approach. This change eliminates the need for signatures at the door.

Any item which requires proof of age, identification or customs payments will be sent directly to a retail post office for pickup. Customers will receive a delivery notice card in the mail and there is no restriction on when they can pick up their item.

A news release said franchise-operated post offices will “follow the measures put in place by franchise operators.”

Concern around flyers

Some postal workers in Canada have questioned why flyers are still being delivered, and Bambrick said the focus should be on “essential mail” and safety, not on making money.

Canada Post will follow the advice of health experts, Hamilton said, adding that flyers are important to Canadian businesses trying to maintain operations during the pandemic.

“The mail you’re talking about is highly valuable, especially at a local basis to them. At this point what we’re delivering is essential for a variety of reasons.”