Unvaccinated CBRM employees to return to the workplace
With province lifting restrictions March 21, most councillors believe it's safe to have all workers back
Employees of Cape Breton Regional Municipality who have been off work on unpaid leave because they are unvaccinated against COVID-19 will be going back to work later this month.
After a contentious debate during Tuesday's council meeting, CBRM councillors voted 8-5 to get the workers back on the job.
The Nova Scotia government is lifting most pandemic restrictions on March 21, when proof of vaccination will only be required in some health-care settings.
Despite that, Coun. Steve Gillespie opposed the move to let unvaccinated municipal workers return.
"I believe vaccinations are the reason why we're coming out of this pandemic and I'm not going to allow individuals to come back to work because they stood out and said, 'No, I won't be a part of this,'" he said.
Coun. Gordon MacDonald said the workers are losing wages and should never have been sent home in the first place.
"They should be back to work," he said. "They need to come back to work so that they can at the very least recoup enough or get their unemployment next year."
About 20 employees had not received all of their shots when CBRM made vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for staff in November.
That number is now four or fewer, human resources director Deanna Evely told council.
Coun. Eldon MacDonald said it should be safe to have them back on the job.
"I think it's about taking the steps to mitigate and keep our workplace as healthy and protected as possible and I think doing this does that," he said.
"It allows those employees to come back. It creates a very small risk."
The issue sparked plenty of debate, much of it whether council should also remove the requirement for new hires to be fully vaccinated.
However, Evely said that condition should remain because there are some employees — such as the police mental health liaison officer — who could be required to enter health-care facilities.
Municipal solicitor Demetri Kachafanas said the policy adopted in November contemplated an end to restrictions and included options for people on unpaid leave, such as termination or a return to work.
With restrictions easing, council can choose to cancel unpaid leave for unvaccinated employees, but the policy needs to stay in place in case the province has to reinstate public safety measures, he said.
"I don't think there's any determination that the pandemic has ended," Kachafanas said.