According to its largest union, the post office, the largest civilian employer in the federal public service, will permit unvaccinated employees to work by taking free weekly COVID tests. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers said they reached an accommodation with management and lawyers to ensure workers "have options that respect your rights."
Canada Post has 54,000 employees, by official estimate. Under a vaccination policy to take effect October 30, employees may report their status by phone "attesting they are either fully vaccinated or that they have chosen the rapid test option" for those who decline to be immunized, CUPW said in a statement.
"By choosing the rapid test option, you will be required to self-test at least twice a week before entering your workplace, and you will be required to attest to your results by again phoning the 1-800 number," wrote the union. "During the period from October 30 to November 15, Canada Post will start mailing rapid test kits at no cost to the workers, to the homes of those who have chosen the rapid testing option.
Management would not comment directly on the policy, reported Blacklock's. "Discussions are ongoing with our bargaining agents to finalize details," said Phil Legault, spokesperson for Canada Post.
Cabinet on October 6 claimed federal employees who declined vaccination faced loss of pay, health benefits and firing though dismissal based on medical status would breach contract law and collective agreements. "The case law has yet to be settled regarding requiring mandatory vaccinations for employees," the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest federal union, said in a statement.
Alroy Fonseca, a spokesperson for the Alliance, said Tuesday most members were already vaccinated. "We are confident they are in line with vaccination rates for the general population if not higher," said Fonseca.
Blacklock's obtained an employee survey at one Crown agency indicating 96 percent of employees were fully immunized even before the cabinet ultimatum. Ottawa Public Health data show 85 percent of eligible Ottawa residents are fully vaccinated, higher than the 72 percent average in Ontario. The vaccination rate for Ottawa residents over age 50 was 89 percent.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, on October 6, claimed federal employees who declined a COVID shot would be placed on leave without pay as early as November 15. "We are taking this step to protect those who work in the federal public service, their families and their communities," Freeland told reporters.
"The Canadian public service is vast," she said. "We are Canada's biggest employer." With 300,540 federal public service employees, the Treasury Board in a Policy On COVID-19 Vaccination said numerous exemptions would cover some 212,000 employees.
"Just to be clear, the policy is as of October 29," said Freeland. "If you want to work for the Government of Canada, which means the people of Canada, you have to be fully vaccinated."
The Treasury Board, in a technical briefing with reporters, acknowledged the policy did not apply to hundreds of thousands of federal employees at Crown agencies that would make their own rules like Canada Post, as well as the House of Commons, Senate and Canadian Armed Forces.