Home Business & Economy Health Care Sector BC employees working remotely still require vaccination, highlights human rights issue

BC employees working remotely still require vaccination, highlights human rights issue

"There are very few instances where an employee would not be expected to attend the workplace at some time or interact in-person with other employees." ~ BC Public Service

working on laptop at home
Working from home during COVID-19.

Tuesday November 2, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC

by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

Some BC Government employees are working entirely from home during the pandemic.

Some of them wonder why, then, they are subject to the directive about mandatory COVID vaccination.

Human rights issue:

john ranns, metchosin
District of Metchosin Mayor John Ranns is sticking up for employee rights during COVID mandatory vaccination issue. [Oct 2021]

In a rare move, there was even a letter by one local municipal mayor a few weeks ago, published in a major Victoria-area news stream, in support of at-home workers to be exempt from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination (or at least be given time to reconsider).

That letter came from John Ranns who is the Mayor of the District of Metchosin (though he signed the letter personally, not as representing Metchosin), clearly speaking through the lens of his long-time work as a CUPE union leader for 17 years (before he became the mayor of rural Metchosin in 1987).

Ranns told Island Social Trends that he is definitely in favour of people being vaccinated against COVID-19 (he is, himself). “I have never discouraged anyone from getting vaccinated.” But he defends the rights of employees to draw the line with conditions of employment that go against human rights.

“These people who are against vaccination are not knuckle draggers. They are genuinely afraid for their health but doctors can’t give them exemptions,” Ranns said in an interview with Island Social Trends in mid-October, explaining his position in the letter and turning the point to the emotional and mental well-being of employees forced to deal with this situation.

letter, john ranns, covid
Letter by John Ranns, as published in the Times Colonist on October 14, 2021. [screenshot]

“What kind of employee will you get”, he postures, regarding how mandatory vaccination will impact some people who are of course dependent on continued employment. He explains that this approach “goes against the narrative” of having people’s back.

“I encourage people to get vaccinated. But if there are medical reasons, including mental health, then the employer is obligated to offer alternatives so that everyone is safely working,” said Ranns.

“I am disheartened at the lack of understanding and cruelty I’m seeing expressed in this (provincial public health) policy,” Ranns told Island Social Trends. Ranns received several phone calls from distraught people, giving him insight on this scenario.

From a human rights perspective, Ranns says the ‘get vaccinated or lose your job’ approach is bordering on stripping away fundamental rights to control your own body. “It’s still their choice. You weigh the risks and the rewards, and that includes impacts on mental health,” Ranns said.

woman, working at desk, gig economy
BC government employees who telework are still expected to attend the workplace at some time or interact in-person with other employees, says BC Public Service

Public health order:

Without fulfilling the vaccination requirement, any BC government employee will face unpaid leave or termination as of November 22, 2021. That was announced yesterday by Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry.

B.C. government workers therefore have these next three weeks to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Dr Henry went so far as to say yesterday that she feels people in health-care (emphasizing the word ‘care’) who don’t realize the importance of being vaccinated in order to provide a safe workplace are “in the wrong profession”. She is expecting health-care employees to care about the well-being of others (though health-care employee lists lump in doctors and nurses who’ve taken oaths or made commitments to ‘do no harm’ along with everyone else in the system, many of whom are just there for the employment opportunity).

The government vaccination policy in health-care and across the public sector is to protect the citizens of BC who seek or require health-care. The Province is protecting the rights of all people in BC to access health-care in a way that is safe — in this case, that all people employed in the system are vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The current Delta variant of the virus is dominating all known cases and is described by Dr Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix as ‘vicious’ and unrelenting.

Dr Bonnie Henry, November 1, 2021
Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry during November 1, 2021 media session.

This extension of the previous October 26 deadline for full vaccination (i.e. two doses of any of the approved COVID vaccines) was necessary due to a resultant staff shortage in the health care system which has led to cancellations of surgeries and other health care services.

Regarding the proof of vaccination policy — and in particular those doing telework (i.e. working from home), the B.C. Public Service Agency told Island Social Trends in a statement yesterday:

  • The BC Public Service has an obligation to take appropriate measures to provide for the health and safety of any employee while they are performing the duties of their job. Employees with telework agreements are not exempt from this policy.
  • There are very few instances where an employee would not be expected to attend the workplace at some time or interact in-person with other employees. This policy applies to employees regardless of whether they work at home or in a worksite.

Meeting the vaccination requirements:

Employees who are not able to provide proof of vaccination or refuse to disclose their vaccination status by that date will be considered unvaccinated, said Health Minister Adrian Dix during yesterday’s news conference.

adrian dix
Health Minister Adrian Dix reported on the number of unvaccinated health care workers in BC, on Nov 1, 2021.

Unvaccinated workers who do not have a medical exemption will be placed on unpaid leave for three months. Workers who remain unvaccinated after this period may be terminated.

Those who are partially vaccinated could be offered alternative work arrangements, but will be required to show proof of full vaccination 35 days after their initial dose.

“This is a necessary step to support vaccination and help protect all our workplaces and communities from COVID-19,” said Dix.

Unvaccinated health care workers leads to service cutbacks:

As of Sunday night at midnight (reported Monday November 1), there were 3,325 health care workers unvaccinated, or 2.6% of the health-care workforce, said Minister Dix yesterday. Those employees are now on unpaid leave.

Of the 127,448 health-care workers in BC, the majority (122,059 or 95.8%) are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (i.e. have received two doses). A small number of employees (2,064 or 1.6%) have received one dose so far.

Some cancellations (and rescheduling) of surgical procedures has resulted from the health authorities being short-staffed, as related to the mandatory vaccination policy. Two operating rooms are down at the hospital in Kelowna, Fraser Health has seen “a small number of surgeries postponed”, and while Vancouver Coastal Health has been “no surgical postponements” as a result of the vaccination mandate the reduced number of operating rooms due to overall system load will resume in the new year (at Richmond Hospital), said Dix on November 1.

Profile of unvaccinated workers by health authority:

The profile of unvaccinated health-care worker numbers, as of October 31, 2021, was, by health authority (as announced by Health Minister Adrian Dix on November 1):

BC Health AuthorityNumber of Unvaccinated Health-Care WorkersPercentage of 3,325 unvaccinated
Vancouver Coastal4782%
Vancouver Island4802%
Unvaccinated health-care workers in BC at October 31, 2021, by health authority; listed by percentage.
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