The core public service, as well as air travel and rail employees, must all be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 29, according to Canada’s new mandatory vaccine policy.
The federal government announced Wednesday that public servants must attest they’re fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 29 or be put on unpaid administrative leave.
Meanwhile, the government is working with employers of airport businesses, airline and rail companies to develop their own mandatory vaccine policies by the end of the month. About 82 per cent of eligible Canadians have received a double dose of Health Canada-approved vaccines, says Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
In August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government intended to require federal employees and workers in federally regulated industries to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, marking a shift in the federal government’s position on vaccine mandates.
The new policy will affect more than 267,000 core public service and Royal Canadian Mounted Police workers, said officials, and will apply even to those who work from home and outside of the country. They’ll have to provide an attestation of their vaccine status online. The attestations will be tracked and audited by departments and managers can ask for proof of vaccination at any time.
But the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents more than 160,000 federal workers, says the government didn’t properly consult with bargaining agents or incorporate any feedback from unions. “We see that this is being rushed, without meaningful consultation,” says Chris Aylward, PSAC’s national president.
The union has questions about how the government plans to protect workers’ private health information and how it will keep unvaccinated contract workers and visitors out of federal workspaces, he says. “And of course, human rights, members’ human rights must be protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, including the duty to accommodate.”
The Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Workers will have to provide an attestation of their vaccine status online. The attestations will be tracked and audited by departments and managers can ask for proof of vaccination at any time. Employees who provide false attestations will be punished with disciplinary action, including firings.
People who’ve had only one dose will be given 10 weeks to get their next one before they are put on unpaid leave. They won’t be allowed back at work until they’re either vaccinated or the policy is no longer in effect. Employees put on unpaid leave will generally not qualify for employment insurance benefits, say officials.
Aylward says options should be explored to accommodate unvaccinated workers. “What about if this work can be done remotely? What about reassignment of duties? None of that was explored.”
But the government has opted for a blunt approach. “It’s very straightforward. If you want to continue to work for the public service of Canada, you’re going to need to be fully vaccinated,” says Prime Minister Trudeau.
Accommodations will be made for people who are unable to receive a vaccine on grounds protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which includes religious and health reasons for not having a full slate of vaccines. But Prime Minister Trudeau says exemptions will be difficult and onerous to obtain and simply having a personal conviction that vaccines are “bad” won’t be sufficient.
The policy will be reviewed every six months as it’s closely tied to public health measures during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Stephane Aubry, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, says his union is concerned about how those accommodations will play out.
While his union isn’t planning to challenge the new policy, they may have to file grievances on a case-by-case basis. “This is a concern for us because it’s pressure on the employees and we will defend our members as much as we can.”
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers wrote to members that it will represent them through the grievance process if they choose not to get a coronavirus vaccine, but warned the process could take two or three years and there’s no court precedent that could predict the outcome.
Other federally regulated workplaces like Crown corporations and government agencies will be asked to mirror the public service mandatory vaccine policy for their employees. The acting chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre will also issue a directive requiring vaccination for the Canadian Armed Forces.