Canada to put unvaccinated federal workers on unpaid leave

By on 07/10/2021 | Updated on 08/10/2021
Justin Trudeau has called the mandatory vaccine policy “a clean, clear requirement for anyone who works with the federal government”. Photo courtesy DoD via Flickr

Civil servants in Canada who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the month will be placed on unpaid leave, the government has announced.  

The vaccine mandate demands that government staff declare their vaccination status through an online portal by 29 October.

“Members of the public service who are not fully vaccinated, or do not disclose their vaccination status by October 29, will be placed on administrative leave without pay as early as November 15,” Canadian deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland said.

The mandate will be revised and potentially updated every six months and will remain as long as it is needed, one official told Reuters.

In addition to the mandate for the federal public service, all workers for train, plane and marine transport operators – which are federally regulated – must show they have been inoculated by 30 October, as will passengers over the age of 12.  

“These travel measures, along with mandatory vaccination for federal employees, are some of the strongest in the world,” prime minister Justin Trudeau said. “If you’ve done the right thing and gotten vaccinated, you deserve the freedom to be safe from COVID.”

The Canadian government set out its plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all federal government workers in August this year. The pledge has come back into focus following the Liberal Party’s re-election – though not by a majority – last month.

Union: no adequate consultation

Chris Aylward, national president of The Public Service Alliance of Canada representing 215,000 federal workers, said the union had not received adequate consultation about the decision, nor sufficient time to respond after receiving a draft proposal on 1 October.

“The way that this policy was announced leaves us basically with our hands up in the air saying, how is this going to be implemented?” Aylward told Reuters. “This was simply an opportunity for the prime minister… to tick off an election promise.”

In a previous statement to The Globe and Mail, Aylward said: “We absolutely support a vaccination policy for federal public service workers to protect the health and safety of our members and the Canadians they serve, but there was no meaningful consultation with unions on a policy that will actually work.”

Provinces act first

Canadian province Alberta, which is battling a fourth wave of infections, had already enforced proof of vaccination rules for public servants. The premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, told more than 25,000 public servants that they must show proof by 30 November, or else produce a negative PCR or rapid flow COVID-19 test result three days before every scheduled workday or shift.

“The message is clear. We value our public servants, and the important work that they do,” Kenney said. “That’s why we want to ensure that they are operating in safe workplaces, and that we are doing everything we can to protect the millions of Albertans, to whom they provide services.”

He added that the rules build on existing requirements for vaccination proof within Alberta’s broader public sector, including its health services, tertiary education, and government agencies, boards, and commissions.

Proof for thee, not MPs

Concern has been raised that what is being demanded of hundreds of thousands of federally regulated workers does not yet apply to Members of Parliament.

A vote in the House of Commons when parliament resumes in the autumn could change that, however. Speaking to Canada’s CBC News, Liberal MP Hedy Frya, said: “We cannot have two sets of rules. We are the ultimate public servants and I think we have to obey the rules.”

Canada is not the only country to impose vaccine mandates on government workers. The Biden administration has ordered all US federal employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 22 November. According to rules issued by the White House last week, feds who fail to comply with the vaccine mandate will be subject to an “enforcement process” that includes counselling, suspension, and ultimately dismissal. Italy, meanwhile, has made vaccine passports mandatory for its 1.2 million government and local authority employees and all private sector workers.  

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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