A large union representing nearly 240,000 workers across Canada has filed a grievance against the federal government’s mandatory vaccination policy in the workplace as other jurisdictions in the country have been lifting all COVID-19 restrictions.
“As the pandemic has evolved and the science has developed, we believe continuing to put unvaccinated employees on leave without pay is a harsh administrative measure that can be considered disciplinary and without just cause,” the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) said in a March 23 statement.
PSAC said the grievance has been filed on behalf of all members of the federal public service who have been subjected to that measure and compensation was requested for those who continue to be affected.
“PSAC continues to support vaccination as a critical public health measure to protect our workplaces and our communities,” the union said. “Yet as public health restrictions begin to lift across the country, it’s important to take a critical look at the federal government’s vaccination policy and how it is applied to PSAC members.”
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said last week that federal vaccine mandates are under review and two departments responsible for enforcing the measures confirmed this week that that is the case, both noting “science” will guide decisions about the future of mandates.
“The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat [TBS] is currently reviewing the policy and is engaging bargaining agents and other stakeholders,” wrote TBS in an email to The Epoch Times.
TBS is responsible for implementing the vaccine mandate for federal public servants and the RCMP.
The policy came into effect on Oct. 6 and TBS said it needs to be reviewed at a minimum every six months. The six month mark will be on April 6.
“Any decision made will be based on science and the advice of public health officials,” TBS wrote.
Transport Canada (TC) is responsible for implementing the federal vaccine mandate for travel on planes, trains, and some marine vessels. Its edicts also apply to borders, with unvaccinated travellers needing to be tested and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Vaccinated individuals, who are currently contracting COVID-19 at a high rate, are not subjected to these measures.
“Transport Canada continually reviews and adjusts its measures to respond to COVID-19 based on the latest science, and vaccination requirements are included in these reviews,” spokesperson Hicham Ayoun said in an email.
Neither TBS nor TC provided additional details on the review, such as when a decision is expected to be announced.
Public Health Advice
Tam was asked during a COVID-19 update on March 18 what advice she is providing the government regarding vaccine mandates, and she said it is limited in scope.
“I think our role is simply to provide the scientific information about the effectiveness of vaccines, for example, and so it is up to the employer and Treasury Board to make those decisions. So I think the advice from our perspective is a technical one,” she said.
Tam said the vaccines provide limited infection protection against the latest variants.
“What we know is that with the Omicron virus, having two doses, particularly after a short period of time, the protection against infection and potentially further transmission, it goes really low, and you will then need a third dose to provide some augmentation of the protection against transmission and infection. And that also diminishes over time,” she said.
“So all of that should be taken into account as the employer or the federal government looks at the policies going forwards.”
In light of Tam’s comments about the limited effectiveness of the vaccines against infection and transmission, it’s unclear what advice the federal departments are basing their decisions on in relation to the mandates.
Dany Richard, co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee, told Policy Options that the mandate review is a political “hot potato” due to the many factors involved, including the risk of appearing to be yielding to the demands of the recent trucker protests.
Richard also said some federal employees might oppose ending the mandate out of fear of sharing office space with unvaccinated colleagues.
While this is occurring within the administration, the Conservative Party has been steadily pushing for the lifting of federal mandates since the Freedom Convoy protests that began at the end of January and lasted three weeks.
A Conservative motion demanding the lifting of mandates was defeated in the House of Commons on March 24. It was the second time such a motion was voted down in recent weeks.
“The NDP-Liberal government is refusing to catch up to the science to end federal vaccine mandates,” Conservative MP Michael Barrett, who proposed the motion, wrote on Twitter.
“We won’t stop speaking up for federal workers to get their jobs back and for Canadians to be able to travel freely and contribute to our country’s recovery.”
Regarding the current epidemiological situation in the province of Quebec, public health data published on March 25 shows that among adults with a known vaccination status, 95 percent of cases over 28 days occurred among those who had received at least one vaccine dose, and that group accounts for 90.5 percent of that cohort.
Those who had received three doses (boosted) counted for 55.5 percent of the population and 67.1 percent of cases over 28 days.