The Chief Human Resources Officer for the federal public service sent a message to departments on Friday, following news from Treasury Board that vaccinations against COVID-19 would be required for all federal public servants.
The largely generic message titled, “Required Vaccination : What it means For The Public Service,” highlighted working with departments and stakeholders, specifically unions through the National Joint Council to figure out next steps and how this would be implemented.
The messaged made reference to the public servants who will unable to be vaccinated and that discussions will happen about accommodations that could potentially be put in place.
Despite generally being collaborative and positive in tone, the message also made reference to public servants who may refuse being vaccinated, “For those who refuse vaccination, we will need to consider alternative measures, such as testing and screening. Our overall objective will be to protect broader public health by reducing the risk of COVID-19.”
The message was taken down from Treasury Board’s website on Monday after the line about about public servants refusing vaccinations and being tested instead was picked up the media and became the subject of partisan debate.
However, the media and those on social media had already saved the message and were posting screenshots of it online, despite Treasury Board having removed it from its website.
Treasury Board had to clarify, saying the reference to testing and screening for public servants who may refuse vaccination wasn’t entirely clear, which is why they decided to remove the message.
Treasury Board did not indicate whether an updated, more accurate message would be posted online.
Reaction on social media included some saying it was unfortunate that the health and well-being of public servants was being used for partisan advantage.
PM: “There will be consequences”
The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that, “[public] servants must be vaccinated. If anyone doesn’t have a legitimate medical reason for not getting fully vaccinated, or chooses not to get vaccinated, there will be consequences.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada responds
In response to the Prime Minister’s comments, one of the largest federal public service unions, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), put out a statement titled, “Public service workers shouldn’t be disciplined over vaccination requirements”:
This week, national political party leaders have made concerning statements about disciplining or terminating federal public service workers who choose not to be vaccinated as part of the government’s vaccine mandate proposal.
PSAC supports vaccination requirements for federal workers to ensure the safety of our members in their workplaces, and to protect our communities, but using discipline and termination to enforce them is unacceptable.
PSAC has been in consultation with the federal government on their vaccination proposal, and our position is clear: employees with a valid medical reason for being unvaccinated, or for reasons protected by human rights legislation, must be offered a formal accommodation under the law.
In addition, if there are workers who are unable or unwilling to be vaccinated, the government must temporarily reassign those employees to other duties where possible or allow for alternate work arrangements such as remote work.
Where required, other measures should be explored, including regular screening and rapid testing.
PSAC will continue to play an active role in consultations as the federal government develops its vaccination requirements plan. We will do our utmost to ensure the safety of our members while protecting their rights in the workplace – including their right to privacy.– Public Service Alliance of Canada, August 17, 2021
The Canadian Association of Professional Employees puts out expanded statement
Another union, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (or CAPE) also put out an expanded statement on Tuesday, following their brief one from last Friday:
On August 13, 2021, the Federal Government announced a policy of mandatory vaccination for federal public service employees.
As the country enters a fourth wave of the pandemic and COVID cases continue to rise, it’s more important than ever for Canadians to do everything they can to protect each other, slow the spread of the virus in our communities and do what it takes to rid ourselves of the pandemic.
CAPE recognizes the importance of vaccinations and welcomes all efforts to increase vaccination coverage across Canada. As such, we strongly encourage all members who can get the vaccine to do so.
The announcement around mandatory vaccinations was sudden, provided little details around the consequences for non-compliance and failed to lay out any necessary exceptions. Without further information and meaningful consultation on what a policy on mandatory vaccination would require, CAPE cannot adequately guide or advise members.
It is important that any decision that seeks to implement vaccine requirements for federal public service employees, also consider exceptions for workers who cannot be vaccinated for reasons protected under human rights legislation.
The details of the government’s mandatory policy have yet to be outlined. CAPE is actively working with the government and other union partners, through the National Joint Council, as well as our National Executive Committee to provide meaningful input on the proposed policy. CAPE will also continue to advocate for the government to maintain other measures that help to reduce exposure to the virus, including telework, varied work schedules, and flexibility for family care.
CAPE will share additional information with its members as the consultation process unfolds and as details of the employer’s proposed plan are formalized.– Canadian Association of Professional Employees, August 17, 2021
Message from the Chief Human Resources Officer: Required Vaccination : What it means For The Public Service (deleted message):