Quebec Premier François Legault speaks during a child-care funding announcement in Montreal, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Unions, businesses watching as Quebec, Canadian governments eye vaccine mandates

Unions, businesses watching as Quebec, Canadian governments eye vaccine mandates

MONTREAL — Unions and businesses that may be affected by vaccine mandates under consideration by the federal and Quebec governments say they’ll be watching the situation closely.

The Quebec government said Friday it was considering requiring health-care workers to be vaccinated, one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was mulling the idea of introducing a vaccine mandate for federal employees and workers in federally regulated industries

“We are considering making vaccination obligatory for workers in the health-care network due to the rise of the Delta variant,” Ewan Sauves, a spokesman for Premier François Legault, said in an email. “We are not ruling anything out to protect the public and to not confine Quebec again.”

Sauves said the government is not considering a vaccine mandate for other public sector employees.

Jeff Bagley, the president of the Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux, a union that represents a wide range of Quebec health-care workers, said he was surprised to hear the province was considering a vaccine mandate given the high rates of vaccination among his members.

According to the province’s Health Department, 90 per cent of workers at public health-care institutions and in private facilities that have contracts with the government have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. About 81 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

“I understand the objective and we agree on the objective, that as many people as possible, especially working in the health and social services network, should be vaccinated,” he said in an interview Friday.

Bagley, however, said he questions how the vaccine mandate will be implemented and how exemptions will be handled for workers who can’t get vaccinated because of allergies or other medical reasons.

“I would think twice before making it an obligation,” he said. “If they decide to go ahead with the obligation, then they’ve got to answer the question of what to do with people who have legitimate concerns about the vaccine.”

Since April, health-care workers in Quebec who refuse to show proof of vaccination or who are fewer than two weeks removed from being fully vaccinated are required to get tested for COVID-19 three times a week.

Maxwell Smith, a bioethicist who teaches at Western University, said the question of whether health-care workers should be required to get vaccinated comes down to risk.

Smith said an argument could be made for mandating vaccination if a high percentage of workers have already gotten the vaccine, because then it would only affect a few stragglers. There is also an argument for a mandate, he said, if only a few have been vaccinated, because then it would increase vaccination rates.

“It really does need to come down to what is the risk? And is that risk sufficient to warrant a more aggressive intervention?” he said in an interview Friday. “With what we’re seeing with the Delta variant, we are in the middle of a pandemic and we have very effective vaccines, so those two things together provide a pretty strong justification for doing this.”

Before implementing vaccine mandates and passports, governments should ensure that vaccination is accessible to everyone and that those who have legitimate concerns can get answers, Smith added.

Unions representing federal workers and those in federally regulated industries say they’ll be watching the federal government’s plans closely.

“As with any change in public health regulations, we would need to see what exactly is being proposed by the government, and expect that employers would consult with us about implementation, so we can ensure our members’ rights are being respected,” said Wesley Lesosky, president of CUPE Airline Division, which represents more than 15,000 workers at 10 airlines, including Air Canada and WestJet.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada said it too, expects to be consulted before the federal government makes a decision.

“Given that many of our members are already being asked to return to federal workplaces, we would urge the government to both provide a clear position as soon as possible, and to ensure that any measures they propose take into consideration our members’ health and safety, their human rights as well as privacy, and the protection of the public,” Chris Aylward, the union’s national president, said in a statement.

Businesses in federally regulated sectors, including Air Canada and WestJet, as well as large banks such as CIBC, RBC and Scotiabank, told The Canadian Press Friday they are encouraging workers to get vaccinated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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