YG Limits Precarious Workers' Access to COVID-19 Vaccine

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It's fair to say that 2020 was a bad year - a really bad year. Most Yukoners greeted 2021 with optimism, looking forward to the early roll-out of our vaccination program. While the vaccine will be available to every interested Yukoner, access may be limited in unexpected ways. 

Yukon Employees' Union has learned that the Government of Yukon will require their workforce to use Special Leave if they must take time away from work to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Since March of last year, too many Yukon workers have been forced to drain their leave banks to manage the complications and stresses of the pandemic. Many full-time, permanent employees are completely tapped out; accrued sick leave is exhausted, vacation leave was used up long ago, and special leave accruals have evaporated. Some are indebted to their employer - borrowing leave from next year. And while it's an enormous challenge for those workers, another group of employees faces a different challenge. 

More than 800 YG workers are AOC, Auxiliary on-call. Their jobs are precarious, and their schedule is largely out of their control. These workers usually rely on a phone call or email offering them shifts - sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer. These employees could face an impossible decision if they're called to work on the day of their scheduled injection, choosing between needed income and an immunization. Since AOCs, term, and casual employees cannot accrue any leave, they have fewer options.

Even those workers who have remaining hours in their leave banks are compromised; the employer will only permit the use of Casual Leave, protected in the collective agreement, once all other leave has been exhausted.  And some managers will encourage workers to go and get the shot without using any leave, while others will toe the line and strictly follow protocol without any flexibility. Once again it's the most precarious workers who will be required to make the tough decisions and shoulder the heavy burden.

We are all being encouraged to protect ourselves and others from the ravages of this virus through vaccination. For casual and auxiliary on-call workers at YG who have never had any accrued leave provisions, getting the vaccination could mean having to turn down a shift and losing pay. Given the financial strain and pressures of the past year, that's a heavy price to pay for doing one's civic duty. 

All Canadians are given time on election day to meet their civic obligations without loss of pay. We ask the Government of Yukon to adopt a similar plan, allowing all its workers the same privilege and access to this life-saving COVID-19 vaccination.