Canada lifts COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal staff as unions press for reimbursement of lost wages

By on 16/06/2022 | Updated on 21/06/2022
A Canadian flag flies outside of parliament
The government said its decision came as part of “a review of the current public health situation, notably the evolution of the virus and vaccination rates in Canada”.

Canada’s federal government has said rules requiring its staff to show proof of COVID vaccination will officially end on 20 June.

Since October last year, the mandate has made vaccination a condition of employment, meaning public servants who were not fully vaccinated or did not disclose their vaccination status were placed on administrative leave without pay. 

The switch in policy will apply to employees from all departments, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canada’s Crown corporations, which implemented their own vaccine requirements. Staff placed on leave without pay will be allowed to return to work.

Accommodation requests that have not begun to be processed will be shelved, though the government said “verification and audits currently underway” will continue. Accommodations, if granted, exempt an individual from mandatory vaccination on certain grounds.

Read now: Canada to put unvaccinated federal workers on unpaid leave

In a statement, the government said its decision came as part of “a review of the current public health situation, notably the evolution of the virus and vaccination rates in Canada”. It added that “layered public health measures in the workplace, such as staying home when sick, improving ventilation, wearing a mask and practising hand hygiene”, would remain protocol to combat the spread of the virus.

It warned that “the possibility of future resurgence of cases or a new variant of concern” remained, and that it would continue to “monitor domestic and international scientific evidence” to assess the need for new public health measures, including new vaccination mandates.

Lingering grievances

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) – a union of 60,000 members representing scientists and professionals employed at the federal and certain provincial and territorial levels of government – said that it welcomed the news.

In May 2022, PIPSC and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) filed grievances in conjunction with Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) against the mandatory vaccination policy on behalf of members placed on leave without pay for more than six months.

Read more: Canadian unions move against ‘unreasonable’ public service vaccine mandate

The unions asked that the federal labour relations tribunal force government to allow suspended unvaccinated employees to work from home, and reimburse them for lost wages. “Those grievances remain in effect until we have further details,” PIPSC said following the government’s latest announcement.

The federal government said that as of 30 May this year just over 2,000 federal employees (less than 2% of the total workforce), were on administrative leave without pay. Within the Core Public Administration, which includes the RCMP, it said 1,659 exemption requests were made on religious grounds, 654 on medical grounds, and 285 for other reasons.

A Global Government Forum survey conducted at the start of this year found that Canadian public servants were split on whether they agreed or disagreed with COVID-19 vaccine mandates, with 47.6% for and 47.5% against. 

Read more: Were governments right to introduce COVID-19 vaccine mandates? 

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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