The union representing Service Canada Centre workers says a limited number of offices, where people can apply in-person for federal benefits like the CERB or OAS, will be reopening to the public for in-person services “in the next couple of days,” after being closed since the start of the pandemic.

Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, confirmed to CTV News the re-opening would start this week, with a goal of having five offices per province.

Warner says not all the services that are usually offered to the public will be available in-person and “they’ll continue to ask people to do things online where possible.”

All of the 318 of Service Canada Centres were closed on March 26 by Minister of Social Development Ahmed Hussen, citing safety issues for staff members and the need to follow public health advice due to COVID-19. Prior to the shutdown, Warner says the situation at Service Canada Centres “was so bad that employee safety was at risk,” leading to employees refusing to work.

Warner noted that as unemployment levels rose at the start of the pandemic, people coming into the office for services were increasingly agitated and hostile towards Service Canada employees. Incidents of employees being spat on, having items thrown at them, and having employees call the police to break up fist fights, had happened in March according to Warner.

With new measures being put in place to enhance worker safety, Warner believes that employees are “eager to go back to serve Canadians.”

“We had hills to die on with the respect to reopening. We needed Plexiglas, we need additional security, we needed distancing in place … We’ve managed to negotiate a yes to all of that with (the government) and these were things we were fighting for, for years,” said Warner.

Hussen’s office declined to comment on this story.

With files from the Canadian Press