Unions are scrambling for details after the Yukon government announced a new policy of requiring vaccinations for the public service.
Both the Yukon Employees Union (YEU) and the Yukon Teachers Association have meetings with the government this week to discuss the policy. In an earlier announcement, the government said that all employees – including teachers and health care workers – need to be vaccinated by Nov. 30.
YEU President Steve Geick said the union has encouraged vaccination and said the COVID-19 shot is important to guaranteeing workers safety. But he also said the union is not supportive of people losing their job based on a personal choice.
“As far as a mandatory vaccine policy goes, yes, we are in favour. However, if there are ramifications that affect someone’s life and employment because they’re not vaccinated, that is a huge issue for us,” he said.
Geick said he received an email on Oct. 8 saying that the government had not made any decisions but was discussing the possibility of mandatory vaccines.
He said the government did not share their plan with the union before a news release on Friday. The result, he said, was “announcing something that they did not have a plan for.”
“Now you’ve got an entire workforce that has no idea what those ramifications are,” he said.
On Monday, Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee didn’t specify whether government workers who refused to be vaccinated would lose their jobs or face other types of discipline, but said “that’s a tough question.”
“In other jurisdictions, some people have been immediately let go and lose their job. In other cases, there’s a period of time or accommodation, or they can use some vacation in order to get that,” she said on Oct. 18. “That’s part of the work that’s being done with the Public Service Commission, with the unions and with individuals.”
McPhee acknowledged that the government is concerned about losing workers — particularly in already short-staffed professions such as health care and teaching. She estimated around 82 per cent of public servants are already fully vaccinated.
The government had meetings scheduled with the Yukon Teachers Association on Oct. 19 and with the YEU on Oct. 20. Geick said he wants to see discussions about accommodations, including working from home or rapid testing.
“There’s a number of ways that they can do this without any implications on someone’s employment status,” he said.
In the House this week, Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon said he opposes a mandatory vaccine policy. He also accused the government of introducing the policy in order to distract from the situation concerning Hidden Valley elementary.
McPhee called the insinuation “completely outrageous.”
“The public health measure that was announced last Friday, following the recommendations of the Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, is not motivated by anything other than the health and safety of Yukoners,” she said.
Dixon said he is “extremely supportive of the vaccines” but opposes them being mandatory.
“I really strongly encourage all Yukoners to get vaccinated. I just personally don’t feel that forcing people — or mandating people to do something — is the best path forward and that there are other options that should be considered,” he said.
NDP leader Kate White said she wants the government to be planning on how to communicate with those who oppose the vaccine. She also wants to see a mandatory mask mandate reintroduced in the territory.
“Science recognizes right now that vaccination is the best answer to stopping the spread of COVID-19. But we have seen a government that’s been very poor about communicating. So how are you going to get vaccine-hesitant folks on the side?” she said. “How do they start working through these conversations, understanding that folks are coming at this from really, really personal places?”
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