TORONTO — Prime Minister Trudeau sounded more than a little exasperated last week when he reiterated the federal government’s oft-repeated message to Canadians about getting vaccinated.
In a nutshell: do it, now.
“It’s time for people to get vaccinated. There’s no more excuses. Those who continue to hesitate to get vaccinated, are prolonging the pandemic in Canada and elsewhere in the world,” said Trudeau.
At the same briefing Trudeau also noted that the federal government is looking into mandatory COVID vaccination for federal employees, and possibly federally regulated industries too.
His comments came as more and more companies look at mandatory vaccination for employees, amid a growing wave of frustration from many Canadians that the country is now staring down a fourth wave while 20% or more eligible Canadians have yet to get their first dose, fuelling the transmission of the delta variant.
Federally regulated industries include Canada’s airlines.
In the U.S. several carriers have already announced new policies. Last week United Airlines announced it was implementing a policy of mandatory vaccinations for all its 67,000 employees by Oct. 25.
Will other major U.S. airlines follow? Already Frontier Airlines and Hawaii Airlines have made similar moves. Frontier says its employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or undergo regular COVID testing. Hawaiian Airlines is giving workers until Nov. 1.
Other U.S. companies that have stepped up with mandatory vaccination policies, to varying degrees, include Facebook, Cisco, and Walt Disney Co. Many companies, including Delta Air Lines, have made mandatory COVID vaccination a requirement for new hires.
Labour laws in Canada are different than in the U.S., however.
But as one Canadian employer put it, in an article this past weekend in The Globe and Mail: “I wouldn’t allow an employee to carry a knife to the office.” Refusing to get vaccinated for a deadly and highly transmissible disease that has already killed more than 4.4 million people worldwide is similarly dangerous to the workplace, he said, and many would agree.
Travelweek reached out to several of Canada’s biggest carriers yesterday, to get their take on mandatory COVID vaccination for employees.
Not surprisingly, of the airlines who responded, all are playing their cards close to their chest as they await any further updates from the feds. Here’s what they had to say…
“We strongly encourage our employees to get vaccinated for their own well-being and that of our customers. We have even set up employee clinics in Toronto and Montreal to facilitate this. However, as of today, public health authorities in Canada have not made vaccination mandatory in any place of work and it is not possible to comment on recent discussions about possible mandatory vaccination programs as no details have been provided.
“Generally, though, the health and safety of our customers, crews and other employees is always our primary concern. For this reason, Air Canada has encouraged its employees to get vaccinated for their well-being, including setting up employee vaccination centres in Montreal and Toronto to assist in this, and by supporting community vaccination programs. Since the pandemic began we have strongly recommended the use of science-based measures to facilitate safe travel and we continue to do so.”
— Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have implemented a series of measures to protect our employees and customers. Among them, we strongly encourage our employees to be vaccinated. The possibility of mandatory vaccination for federally regulated industries has been raised, but we are not aware of the Government of Canada’s future plans or requirements in this regard. We are monitoring the situation closely and will adjust accordingly.”
— Transat spokesperson Debbie Cabana
“Our health and safety committees were previously considering this issue, but we have not made any determinations. At this time, we don’t have additional information to share while this process is ongoing.”
— Porter Airlines spokesperson Brad Cicero
“Since the onset of the pandemic, WestJet has remained committed to ensuring the health and safety of both our guests and WestJetters, this includes a strong recommendation for WestJetters to get vaccinated against COVID-19. We continue to support Canada’s vaccination roll-out and our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tammy McKnight, continues to drive awareness for vaccinations both internally and externally, in the effort to inform and educate WestJetters, through science and data, of the importance of getting vaccinated. WestJet is a strong partner of the federal government on curbing the spread of COVID-19 and will continue to strongly urge our guests and WestJetters to vaccinate.”
— WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell
The issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for workplaces has been brewing for months. Jennifer Philpott, an Associate with Goulart Workplace Lawyers, answered questions on the topic for this Q&A in Travelweek.