Canada mandates COVID-19 vaccination for all federal workers

By on 16/08/2021 | Updated on 16/08/2021
Under a new federal directive, central government workers in Canada must be vaccinated against COVID-19 within six weeks

All federal government workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September, according to an announcement made by the government of Canada on Friday.

A further vaccine mandate will follow for those working in air, rail, and marine transportation, which are federally regulated, “as soon as possible in the autumn and no later than the end of October”, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said.

Any workers who are unable to be vaccinated will face alternative measures, such as testing and screening, it added.

The government said in a statement that, as the country’s largest employer, it must show leadership in protecting public servants and the communities where they live and work.

Certain travellers, including all commercial air travellers, passengers on interprovincial trains, and passengers on large marine vessels with overnight accommodation – such as cruise ships – will also be required to show proof of vaccination or comply with alternative measures.  

Details on how the mandate will be implemented will be finalised following discussions with agents and transportation sector operators, it said. It is also keen for non-federally regulated sectors to put in place their own worker vaccination strategies.

An economic shot in the arm

The government hopes that the move will help Canada reach the high levels of vaccination needed to sustain a recovery from COVID-19.

More than 71% of eligible people in Canada are fully vaccinated, and more than 82% have had their first shot. However, more than six million eligible people in Canada are still unvaccinated, the government said.

More than 1.2 million people work in the federal public service and federally regulated industries, including federal Crown corporations. Together, they comprise 8% of the Canadian workforce.

In total, there have been more than 5,000 cases of COVID-19 among federal workers since the pandemic began, according to the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Consensus among ministers and unions

Dominic LeBlanc, president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, said: “We know vaccinations are the best way to help protect our fellow Canadians from COVID-19 variants of concern. We are encouraged by the many federal employees who have already been vaccinated, and hope that vaccination rates will continue to climb as the Government of Canada moves ahead on its vaccination strategy.” 

The Public Sector Alliance of Canada, the largest union representing federal workers, said that it supports the vaccine mandate for its members. However, it added that any plan to collect or verify the vaccination or medical status of its members must respect their legal right to privacy.

“We expect the government to continue consulting with unions on the implementation of their vaccination requirements to safeguard our members’ right to privacy and ensure that their human rights are respected,” it said, in a statement.

But a political fight looms

Just two days after the vaccination announcement, however, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau scheduled a snap general election for 20 September – a few days before the vaccination deadline for federal staff. Shortening the Parliament’s life by two years, Trudeau aims to capitalise on the country’s relative success in combating COVID-19 to win a majority; currently running a minority administration, Trudeau is dependent on the votes of opposition parties to get his legislation through Parliament.

The opposition Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, has championed vaccines but opposes mandatory vaccination – raising the possibility that reluctant civil servants may seek to delay getting vaccinated until close to the deadline, in the hope that O’Toole is elected and scraps the new rule.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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