October 18, 2021
YEU President Steve Geick was interviewed today by CBC radio's Leonard Linklater, asking for the Union's response to the vaccine policy announced Friday October 15th. The Union's position is clear on both the importance of the vaccine policy and the obligation of employers to seek alternatives to leave without pay.
“We support mandatory vaccinations as a health tool to keep our members, communities and colleagues safe; not only that but to keep the public safe. As public servants, that’s who we serve. However, any vaccination mandate can’t have ramifications on employment … it’s fine to have the mandate in place but when we start talking about disciplining our members or putting them on leave without pay if they’re not vaccinated, we take exception to that. There are lots of alternatives without jeopardizing someone’s livelihood."
Throughout the pandemic, scores of workers have continued their service of the territory and its citizens very well while working remotely; there is no reason that work-from-home options cannot be explored for those who are not vaccinated. The government has taken an ill-advised and punitive position without any meaningful consultation with employee representatives, one that will impact the lives of a great many workers.
Imagine the anxiety of a worker who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons; can they expect to lose their jobs? Workers who are reluctant to be vaccinated will not feel more confident with the looming threat of termination.
The October 15th announcement was premature; key stakeholders were not consulted and the fear and chaos their press conference has created will do little to promote public safety or increase uptake among the vaccine hesitant.
The government must consult with the unions, the NGOs, and the private sector businesses that will be profoundly impacted by this decision. While YEU supports vaccinations and the introduction of a sound, well constructed policy as a step toward a safer territory, Friday's announcement has placed the cart firmly before the horse. The announcement came before the creation of a policy, before the creation of a plan.
We look to the Government of Yukon to lead with a plan. Without a plan, there is no way to ensure the privacy of thousands of Yukon workers is protected, particularly when so many employers will suddenly be required to collect medical data on their workforce. Without a plan, workplace harassment and bullying - bolstered by the vaccine divide will continue to worsen, unchecked. Without a plan, thousands of Yukon workers could be out of the workforce at a time when their experience and expertise is desperately needed.
For those who are unable to be vaccinated due to legitimate medical concerns or issues protected by human rights grounds, we will defend your rights and support you. If you choose not to be vaccinated for personal reasons, we will look at your case and - if your human rights or workplace rights are being violated - we will support you.
YEU strongly supports a vaccination policy that is fair and respectful of the real life needs and concerns of our membership and our territory's workers. We hope our members will choose to be vaccinated to protect not only themselves, but those they serve, and those they interact with in our communities.