Reactions varied Friday afternoon after the Yukon government announced it’s making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all civil servants and associated organizations and businesses under the government umbrella.
Ted Hupé, the president of the Yukon Teachers Association (YTA), said he couldn’t comment until he spoke to his executive members over the past weekend. He said the announcement took the YTA by surprise.
“We just found out and we had no warning,” he said.
Teachers are among the civil servants affected by the new policy, which will take effect Nov. 30.
Steve Geick, the president of the Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU), had more to say. His reaction was ambivalent to the news, which he said wasn’t a surprise.
“It was expected,” Geick told the Star Friday afternoon.
“We want to stress that we support a vaccine policy, but I am severely disappointed as to how this is being announced.”
He wasn’t reluctant to say, though, that he has questions and reservations as to how the policy will be enacted.
“There was no consultation with us,” Geick said. “So we will have to learn what our members say and follow from there.”
The YEU represents approximately 4,000 government and related employees, he said.
Due to privacy issues, he said he had no more than anecdotal evidence as to how many government employees this could potentially affect.
“I think it could be significant,” he said. “But there’s no way of knowing and no way of finding out. Even the Public Service Commission can’t provide the numbers.”
That’s one of the key issues that the government must solve as it tries to enact the policy, Geick said.
Asking people their vaccination status, or making them prove it could open up a Pandora’s Box of privacy and human rights issues, he said.
“It’s another plan without a plan,” he said. “It’s typical of this government.”
There could be a serious impact as well to racialized people, he said, and there was no mention of how to accommodate people who can’t be vaccinated. It’s just not enough detail to judge what the government is doing, the union president said.
The government also needs to address options, such as working from home or rapid testing, Geick said. That’s something that wasn’t addressed in the announcement from the government.
He also said the deadline for the policy to be implemented – Nov. 30 – doesn’t allow people enough time to get both shots plus the two weeks needed for their full effectiveness. So it will be impossible for government staff to meet the date the policy will be brought into effect, Geick said.
“There just is no real plan,” he said. “And people are going to be scared.”
Geick added that many civil servants have already used up all of their leave options, giving them no time they can tap into to potentially get a vaccine or absorb an unpaid suspension if it came to that.
Geick said today he had heard from four senior civil servants over the weekend who were wondering how to proceed with implementing the policy.
He has also received an email from the government promising consultations leading up to Nov. 30.
No information was released Friday on how the government would deal with employees who decline to be vaccinated.
“The requirement will also apply to all those non-government organizations funded by the Yukon government to provide services to vulnerable populations, as well as those in congregate living settings such as group homes, shelters and the Whitehorse Correctional Centre,” the government said Friday in its release.
The new policy will also ban unvaccinated people from using non-essential services such as restaurants and bars, as well as sporting and entertainment events.
After Nov. 30, patrons will have to show proof of vaccination. Business operators and event organizers will be responsible for policing the policy.
Rich Thompson is a member of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and sits on the organization’s committee that deals with bars and restaurants.
He was not particularly excited nor aggrieved at the news from the government.
“It’s not unexpected,” Thompson said. “We’ve been watching this play out across Canada, so we knew it was coming.”
He said he doesn’t believe restaurant and bar operators will have to make much of an adjustment to having to check people for vaccination certificates.
They’ve already become accustomed to collecting names and numbers for people eating in, Thompson said, and to enforcing capacity limits and mandatory masking while the edict was in place.
“Everybody has to do what they have to do,” he said.
Proof of vaccination will not be required to access essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, libraries or banks.
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