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Thousands still on unpaid leave as Liberals late updating federal public service vaccine mandate: unions


‘Not only have we not gotten an update on the policy, we don’t even know when the update will happen. Is it two weeks, is it two months, is it two days?’

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The Liberal government is now a week late on updating its vaccine mandate policy for federal public servants, according to unions, leaving the 1,828 unvaccinated individuals on unpaid leave waiting to find out if they can go back to work.

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“If you’re on administrative leave without pay right now, every day that goes by, you’re left wondering what’s going on here,” said Dany Richard, president of the Association of Canadian Financial Officers, which represents financial professionals working in the federal public service.

“We were told we’d have that decision by April 6.”

As of March 29, 1,828 employees were on unpaid leave due to the vaccination policy, the Treasury Board told unions last week. That number included employees who attested they were unvaccinated, who didn’t provide an attestation about their vaccine status, and employees who submitted an accommodation request that “was not applicable.”

That’s an increase from the 1,382 RCMP and public service employees that were on unpaid leave as of Feb. 1, a number the government outlined in an order paper document the same week.

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During the last election campaign, the Liberals campaigned on mandatory vaccines for public servants. Currently, the federal government mandates vaccinations for all employees in the public service, including the RCMP. Those who don’t comply with the policy or aren’t granted an exemption are put on unpaid leave, even if they work from home.

That policy was up for its six-month review as of April 6. The president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada has also previously told media the government promised a “renewed policy” on April 6.

Once released, that updated policy could let the affected individuals go back to work — or it could increase the number on unpaid leave, if the government includes its definition of fully vaccinated as including a booster shot.

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“This could go either way. That’s why we want to know, because there’s a major spectrum of how this policy could be reviewed,” Richards said.

Those employees could be out of work for another six months, have their employment terminated, or be allowed to go back to work next week, Richards outlined. “These employees have a right to know what’s happening with their livelihood,” he said.

Richards said the government has given no indication of when the updated policy will be released. “Not only have we not gotten an update on the policy, we don’t even know when the update will happen,” he said. “Is it two weeks, is it two months, is it two days? … I have no idea.”

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said in a statement it is reviewing the policy and that updates will come “in due course.”

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“Any decision made will be based on science and the advice of public health officials,” the statement added. “The review is ongoing and there was never an update planned for April 6, 2022.”

The government owes it to employees to provide some guidance to employees, Richards said. “The fact that our members are kept in the dark is frustrating.”

Both ACFO and PSAC, maintain employees should be allowed to work from home. PSAC declined to comment on the government’s update to the vaccine policy but said in a statement that “continuing to put unvaccinated employees on leave without pay is a harsh and unnecessary measure” when workers have shown during the pandemic they can work from home.

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