Today, the federal government announced its new mandatory vaccination policy for all federal public service workers. In doing so, they eschewed the meaningful consultation with the federal public sector unions they had promised, imposing this rushed policy in lieu of what should have been a nuanced framework.
Let us be clear: CIU fully supports ongoing vaccination efforts in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we strongly encourage our members to get vaccinated. Along with other preventative measures, vaccination campaigns across the country have played a crucial role in managing the most severe impacts of the pandemic and saved the lives of many Canadians.
That is why, earlier this year, CIU had urged the Government of Canada to adequately prioritize the vaccination of our members. Even though we processed unvaccinated travellers from around the world, we were told that no priority would be given to our members, and that we were safe to do our jobs unvaccinated. CIU then pressured provincial governments to move us up their vaccination priority list, which had varying degrees of success across different provinces and public health units.
Along with other essential workers, CIU occupies a unique position within the federal public service, with a large part of our membership having continued to work on the frontline since day one of the pandemic. We’ve ensured that our borders remained operational throughout, all the while being told that our workplaces were safe and that the preventative measures in place — which have never included vaccination — were adequate. Over time, our employer’s attitude toward risk has become more and more permissive. We have seen a consistent erosion of our preventative measures, and a downplaying of the risk of COVID transmission in the workplace:
- The employer resumed full-contact, hands-on use of force training at the height of the third wave.
- Full-contact CDT as part of student training continued at the peak of the third wave in some of Canada’s most infected areas.
- COVID-19 related work refusals have consistently been rejected, with ESDC labour ruling that there was no danger.
- Our members are consistently told that there is no need for additional PPE when dealing with COVID positive cases.
- Despite the pandemic still going strong in parts of the country, the employer has clawed back preventative measures such as platooning, remote work, virtual training, etc.
- Just two weeks ago, the employer refused to stop close contact training in Alberta because ‘there had not been any transmission in training’, deeming their preventative measures effective enough in the midst of a public health crisis.
- The request to limit the number of travellers in our baggage halls has been denied because Transport Canada ‘does not require it’.
- Our employer attempted to eliminate physically distancing in vehicles, claiming masking is effective enough.
- Vulnerable employees and employees living with vulnerable people who have been working from home have been pressured to return to work based on the employer’s list of preventative measures (which, again, never included vaccination).
- The employer has repeatedly cited low work-related transmission or outbreaks of COVID-19 to justify less stringent preventative measures.
It is difficult to reconcile the employer’s dismissal of sensible preventative measures with the now seemingly urgent need for all federal public service workers to be fully vaccinated or face the threat of being placed on leave without pay. Some of these very same employees were required to travel internationally without vaccine priority or interact with unvaccinated travellers and clients. To justify this policy as a means of protecting the health and safety of employees is especially hypocritical.
It bears repeating again — high vaccination rates are an important tool in the arsenal we have at our disposal against COVID-19, and we strongly urge our members who can get vaccinated to do so if they have not already. That being said, for the Government of Canada to rush through a mandatory vaccination policy on the basis of occupational health and safety, without proper consultation with the unions, and after indicating to our members for the past 20 months that COVID was not a concern in our workplaces, is extremely disingenuous.
We understand that some may find aspects of the current situation to be contentious, and we urge all of our members to maintain a respectful and professional attitude amongst themselves, as well as towards their union representatives.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada has already highlighted a full list of concerns and issues with this new policy. As made clear by PSAC in their statement, we will continue to represent unvaccinated members who have punitive action taken against them as a result of their vaccination status. Should you need assistance in this matter, please contact your Branch President.