As the first of about 400 B.C. public-service workers who failed to show their B.C. Vaccine Cards face termination starting Feb. 24, a group representing the unvaccinated is calling on the government to end the mandate.
All B.C. public service employees were required by the government to provide proof of full vaccination by Nov. 22. The Public Service Agency says about 98 per cent of the just over 38,000 employees showed proof of partial or full vaccination, leaving about 400 who did not.
Those who did not comply and didn’t have a valid medical or other exemption were placed on an unpaid leave of absence for three months, after which they can be terminated. The first affected employees will reach the end of that three-month period Feb 24, the Public Service Agency said Monday.
A group calling itself B.C. Public Service Employees for Freedom, representing employees who felt forced into taking the COVID-19 vaccine to keep their jobs, or who are facing termination for non-compliance, has written an open letter to the province’s top bureaucrat calling for an end to the vaccination mandate.
“We were told this was about employee safety, and that vaccination was the safest, most effective measure to reduce transmission in our communities,” a group spokesperson wrote, asking for anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“The problem is, the vaccines haven’t stopped infection or transmission, and most office-based B.C. public servants are still working from home online.”
The Public Service Agency said it has no plans to end the proof of vaccination requirement, which will be in effect “until general public health concerns regarding COVID-19 are reduced to a level to enable workplaces to operate without restrictions or a vaccination requirement.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recently extended the requirement to show the B.C. Vaccine Card at non-essential businesses and events until June 30.
The Public Service Agency’s deadline for vaccine proof of Nov. 22 was originally meant to coincide with a return-to-office order for government employees, but the return-to-office date has been delayed to Feb. 17.
The province’s current restrictions on gatherings are due to be reviewed on Feb. 16 and Henry has said she expects some to be loosened by Family Day on Feb. 21.
The Public Service Agency is waiting until after that time to decide whether to call employees back to the office and what form that will take.
B.C. Public Service Employees for Freedom argues if their vaccinated colleagues can work from home online, “but we can’t and will be fired because we won’t disclose our personal, private medical information or take a vaccine that doesn’t stop COVID infection or transmission, how does that ensure workplace safety?”
Many public service workers in public-facing jobs such as those staffing service desks or working in liquor stores can’t work from home.
Those on unpaid leave have reported to the group that if they are fired for just cause, they will be ineligible for unemployment insurance and will have a tough time finding similar employment and pay outside of government in a largely government town.
“Government programs and services have suffered as a result of this mandate and we just want to get back to work and serve the people of British Columbia,” said the group.
The B.C. General Employees’ Union said Monday the vast majority of its members are vaccinated. It did not respond directly to the open letter from B.C. Public Service Employees for Freedom other than to say its position about its members has not changed.
“Since the beginning of the vaccine program we have encouraged every union member who can get vaccinated to do so and, since the beginning of vaccine mandates, we have encouraged any member who believes their collective agreement rights have been violated to contact their union immediately.”
The province reported 3,287 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, including 478 in Island Health, for a total of 23,739 active cases in the province. There are 1,174 active cases on the Island.
A week ago, there were 1,364 active Island cases.
On Monday, the province also reported 987 people in hospital for COVID, down from more than 1,000 cases last week, with 141 people in intensive care.
There were 32 deaths reported over the weekend, including five in Island Health.
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