Canadian unions move against ‘unreasonable’ public service vaccine mandate

By on 23/05/2022 | Updated on 23/05/2022
A man holding a 'no mandates' placard in front of the Canadian national flag demonstrates against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Toronto, Canada
A man demonstrates against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Toronto, Canada. Photo by michael_swan via Flickr, under Creative Commons license

Three unions representing around 280,000 Canadian public servants have taken action against the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, calling its continuing use “punitive”, “unreasonable”, and an “abuse of management authority”. 

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) have filed grievances against the federal government’s vaccine mandate for public servants, according to the National Post. The unions join the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) which announced it was challenging the mandate on behalf of members in late March.

Through policy grievances, the unions are asking the federal labour relations tribunal to force the government to allow unvaccinated employees currently suspended without pay to be allowed to work from home, and to compel it to reimburse them for lost wages.

The unions publicly support vaccination but have moved to back members who oppose the mandate citing public servants’ ability to work from home and what PIPSC president Jennifer Carr called the “shifting landscape”.

“We continue to support vaccination. But given… the loosening of the COVID restrictions and the shifting landscape, we’re of the opinion that employer’s policy right now is unreasonable. These members can work from home,” Carr said. “Effectively, we think it is punitive and an abuse of management authority.”

Nearly 2,000 public servants suspended without pay

The Government of Canada announced last summer that all federal government workers must have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of October 2021 or face unpaid leave, unless they had been granted an exemption. The government said in a statement at the time that, as the country’s largest employer, it must show leadership in protecting public servants and the communities in which they live and work.

Roughly 99% of federal public servants have attested to being fully vaccinated, the government has said. According to figures the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) shared with unions last month, 1,828 federal government employees who failed to comply with the mandate were on unpaid leave as at the end of March this year.

“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 PSAC said in a statement.

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

Greg Phillips, the CAPE president, meanwhile, said working from home has become such an established practice amongst his members that the government’s vaccine policy is rendered unnecessary.

“My members are basically all office workers. For the past two years, only a statistically insignificant number of people have actually had to go into the office,” he said, as reported by the National Post. “What we’re saying is that if you have to go into the office, you should be vaccinated, as much as if you’re going into a construction zone, you have to wear steel toed shoes.”

Vaccine mandate review delayed

The unions are also understood to be frustrated that a review of the mandate has not been delivered.

The TBS vaccine policy states that the government chief resources officer is responsible for reviewing the mandate “at a minimum every six months”, which would have meant a 6 April deadline for the first review. However, no such review has been completed.

TBS spokesperson Alain Belle-Isle said there is “no obligation” to update the policy every six months but that a review is currently underway “in line with the requirement” and the results would be presented “in due course”.

PIPSC’s Carr said that when the unions spoke to government representatives last week they were not given a “tentative date” for when the results of the review would be shared. “At this point, it seems like it’s in a black hole,” she said. “That leaves a lot of public servants in limbo.”

A Global Government Forum survey conducted in January and February this year found that Canadian public servants were split on whether they agreed or disagreed with the vaccine mandate – 47.6% were in favour of the policy, while 47.5% were against.

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

2 Comments

  1. Alan says:

    If a vaccine requires a boost every few months: It is not working. No vaccine in history has ever required so many boosters in such short time periods. Ibumectrin, Hydroxichloriquin and Monoclonals cure COVID in a few days if treated early.

  2. Randy says:

    To keep mandating these vaccines at this phase of the ‘pandemic’ is unjust. The Emergency Use Authorization that was initially in place could only be implemented because there was no other treatment available. Now we have antivirals that have been developed to treat COVID-19. There is no justifiable reason for these mandates at this time. People should not be losing their jobs.

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