The Yukon government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is starting to send shockwaves around the territory.
Steve Geick, the president of the Yukon Employees’ Union, said Friday afternoon that up to 30 staff members at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre were on unpaid leave.
Geick told the Star YG is attempting to backfill the empty positions with conservation officers.
Other problem spots were the Ross River health centre, where custodial staff were on leave, as were some maintenance workers at the Watson Lake power plant.
Geick said this morning he expected to have more numbers by noon, but said the situation is growing more chaotic all over the territory.
“The government has some wonky numbers,” he said. “The smaller communities are getting hit harder. It’s easier for Whitehorse to cover up for two or three workers than it is for the communities.”
John Streicker, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, said at noon today he had some revised figures.
A total of 269 employees had not submitted vacciine attestation forms, meaning they were suspended without pay last week.
Streicker confirmed a letter has been sent out from the Public Service Commission to conservation officers to fill in at the corrections centre, although he couldn’t confirm the 30 people figure the YEU has cited.
Streicker said conservation officers have “peace officer training”, and the invitation to them was part of the correctional centre’s business continuity plan.
As for the situation in Watson Lake, that involves allied public workers not directly working under the government, he said.
“Each department and (allied organizations) have their own business continuity plan,” Streicker said.
The Yukon Party also said it’s concerned about the situation.
“The Yukon Party pressed the Liberal government on a number of concerns including potential service disruptions for communities and support options for those Yukoners who have been put on leave without pay just weeks before Christmas,” the party said in a statement.
“We asked about the plan to deal with potential service disruptions; for financial support through the holidays since the federal Liberal government has made them ineligible for Employment Insurance; and for increased mental health supports that will inevitably be required with so many people out of work during the holidays.
“Unfortunately, as is common with the Liberal government, they were unable to provide clear answers or demonstrate that they have any plan to address these critical issues.
“We remain concerned that the Liberals continue to downplay and dismiss the impacts on individuals who now find themselves out of a job during the Christmas season.”
NDP Leader Kate White said late this morning she has asked for the detailed numbers but hasn’t had a response from the government yet.
Nor did she know about the situation at the jail, but she wasn’t surprised.
She said the officers had been used as border guards during the past two summers and for other assorted duties.
“It’s not unheard of to use them for other things.”
White said this is why the YG needs to unveil its plan to handle these shortages to the public at large.
“They say they have a plan; now it’s time to show it to the public.”