A range of employers across Canada are starting to deal with some worker shortages as a result of a small percentage of employees not meeting deadlines for getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Air Canada suspended more than 800 employees for not being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, in line with federal rules. The vast majority of the airline’s 27,000 cabin crew, customer service agents and others have received both shots, said Michael Rousseau, its president and chief executive officer, in a conference call with investors.
“Our employees have done their part, with now over 96 per cent fully vaccinated. The employees who are not vaccinated or do not have a medical or other permitted exemption have been put on unpaid leave.”
The layoffs are “across the company” rather than concentrated in any particular job, said spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick in an email. The proportions align with those at WestJet Airlines Ltd., where fewer than four per cent of workers — less than 300 out of 7,300 — are unvaccinated, the company said in an email.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this summer that Ottawa would require federally-regulated employers, including air, rail and shipping companies, to establish mandatory vaccination policies for employees.
Employers across the Greater Toronto Area are also starting to deal with the fallout of vaccine mandates for employees. Nearly 100 bus trips were cancelled in the Toronto and Hamilton areas on Monday as the Metrolinx began to place staff unvaccinated against the coronavirus on unpaid leave.
A spokesperson for the provincial transit agency said 89 bus trips were cancelled as the deadline to get vaccinated or provide a medical exemption came due. Train cancellations were also possible, she said, and disruptions were “likely'” to continue throughout the week as the agency adjusts to the shortage of roughly three per cent of a total 4,600 staff.
“It’s a very small number . . . but enough to have an impact,” said Anne Marie Aikins in an emailed statement. As of Monday afternoon, 150 staff were on unpaid leave. Some 97 per cent of employees had shared their vaccination status as of Friday, while 95 per cent reported being fully vaccinated, 2.6 per cent were partially vaccinated and two per cent were unvaccinated.
The Toronto Transit Commission also recently said it will have service reductions related to its looming coronavirus vaccine mandate for workers. TTC employees who aren’t vaccinated or haven’t declared their vaccination status by Nov. 20 will be placed on unpaid leave. The agency said some routes will see “varying levels” of service changes as it works to backfill job openings.
The union representing transit workers has pushed back against the policy, arguing there should be an option for unvaccinated people to get regularly tested — currently an option for workers in Ontario’s schools and hospitals. “TTC management needs to stop using ATU Local 113 members as scapegoats to reduce public transit service and blaming workers for the cuts they themselves are implementing,” said Carlos Santos, the union president, in a statement last week.
Meanwhile, the City of Toronto said Monday it’s assessing “anticipated service level impacts” from staff suspensions as it reached a major deadline in its own vaccination mandate. City workers had until Saturday to get vaccinated against the virus or be placed on leave as of Monday. In September, nearly 90 per cent of Toronto public service employees were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
This week, that percentage jumped to 94 per cent, according to the City, while four per cent had received one shot. One per cent of staff reported not being vaccinated and about two per cent hadn’t disclosed their vaccination status. Possible job losses are to follow for those who remain unvaccinated by Dec. 13. The City said it’s focused on keeping critical services running and promised “no impact” to emergency responses from police, fire or paramedic services.
Meanwhile, British Columbia hospitals are postponing some surgeries due to staffing shortages created by unvaccinated health-care workers who have been put on unpaid leave, said Adrian Dix, the province’s health minister.
Dix said Monday that 3,325 health-care workers across the province haven’t been immunized against the coronavirus and are in violation of the government’s proof-of-vaccination policy, which took effect last month. Of the 127,448 health-care workers in B.C., 122,059 are fully vaccinated, while 2,064 have had one vaccine dose, added Dix.
The staffing shortages will result in reductions of operating services in hospitals in the Interior and Fraser health authorities, while added demand for health care has forced surgery postponements in many other parts of the province, he told a news conference.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, said officials have been speaking with health-care workers in one-on-one meetings about their vaccination concerns, but some remain adamantly opposed to the vaccines.
“Some people are quite dogmatic against vaccines, which is unfortunate,” she said, adding vaccines are considered a lifesaver during pandemics. “If people are in our health-care system and not recognizing the importance of vaccination, then this is probably not the right profession for them, to be frank.”