Yukon employees must prove COVID-19 vaccination by midnight or be put on leave without pay
92% of employees have attested to 1st dose, says spokesperson
Yukon government employees have until midnight to let the territory know whether they've had at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.
The government has said if employees don't submit formal proof of their vaccination status by midnight Tuesday night, they'll have to take leave without pay starting Dec. 1.
The mandate is for all public servants, volunteers and contractors and employees, said Aimee O'Connor, a spokesperson with the Public Service Commission. It includes teachers and health-care professionals employed by the Yukon government.
The proof is legally required, she said, and employees who don't submit it will be asked to return all of their government-issued equipment.
"That includes things like keys, building access cards, government vehicles, laptops, phones, uniforms, any government files, things of that nature," she said. They also won't be allowed to enter the workplace.
John Streicker, the minister responsible for the public service commission, said having a fully vaccinated workforce will help ensure workplaces are safe.
"Thank you to all of the public servants across the Yukon who have stepped forward to support our vaccination efforts in the fight against COVID-19," he said.
92% of employees say they are vaccinated
O'Connor said it could be a tense time for some.
"Vaccinations in general bring up a lot of emotions," she said. "We're really trying to encourage employees to be as kind and as respectful as they possibly can be."
So far, she said around 92 per cent of employees have attested to having their first dose, though she noted that's only among active employees (it doesn't include seasonal workers, or those on long-term leave).
She said 34 exemption requests have been made for medical and religious reasons. She did not say whether any of those had been approved.
O'Connor pointed out that the proof does not show who has not been vaccinated, just those who have been. She said anyone who forgot to submit their proof or who later got vaccinated can request to return to work once their proof is submitted.
Steve Geick, president of Yukon Employees' Union, said it's too soon to know the impact the vaccine mandate will have on staffing at government departments. He said he wishes there had been more consultation.
"There was no real discussion with the government," he said. "Right from the beginning, as soon as they said they were coming out with a mandate, we were pressuring them to look at alternatives to leave without pay."
Geick said the union has been getting emails from both people that do not want to be vaccinated, and from people that want everyone vaccinated.
However, he said the union supports the mandate.
"We're in favour of it, because of a number of reasons — we need to keep workplaces safe, we need to keep workers safe. And, because ... a lot of our members are public servants, we need to keep the people that we're serving safe."
While Geick doesn't have an exact estimate on how many people have not been vaccinated, he said even if it's just 15 per cent of members, there would be a shortage of workers.
"I think health care is going to be one of the most affected already," he said, adding there's already a short supply of people to work in the vaccination clinics.
"So even if it is 10 or 15 per cent … it could have a severe impact."
Impact on education sector unclear
There are approximately 200 emergency responders in the Yukon and chief of Yukon EMS, Devin Bailey, said 20 of them are now off the job because they didn't want to get vaccinated.
He said having a lack of community responders isn't a new challenge and plans are in place to ensure service continues.
"We'll be reaching out to all community superintendents and asking them to put all the folks who completed their attestation (proof) onto the schedule to get people to health-care centres when necessary," Bailey said.
Meanwhile, Ted Hupe, the Yukon Teachers' Association president said it's unclear how many workers in the education sector are impacted.
He said the association supports the vaccine mandate, but it also has to support members that choose not to get it.
The association has also been trying to get more information about the medical rationale for the mandate, he said, adding that they've been told testing was not a safe alternative to the mandate.
"We have no idea overall, how many education employees will not attest," he said.
2nd dose required in January
Hupe said the association feels little information has been provided.
"It makes us look rather silly when we don't have information that we can share with our own members," Hupe said.
Officials across the public sector said they'll be looking to the government to provide more information in the coming days.
Government employees need to have a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by January 30.
The territory said the vaccine mandate will be in effect until COVID-19 restrictions are less of a concern in workplaces, as advised by the acting chief medical officer of health.
- An earlier version of this story misspelled Aimee O'Connor's given name.Dec 01, 2021 10:03 AM CT
With files from Vincent Bonnay and Chris MacIntyre