Winnipeg councillor renewing calls for front-facing city staff to be vaccinated

WINNIPEG — Whether going to a Winnipeg Jets game, heading off to a university campus, or working for one of Canada’s largest banks, you’re required to be fully vaccinated.

Now, a Winnipeg city councillor is renewing calls for a double vaccination policy for city employees who have direct contact with the public.

“I think we can collaborate and make this happen very smoothly,” said Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood).

“We can relocate a person to a different position. There’s all kinds of things that we can do.”

Klein said there would be exemptions for those with religious or medical reasons.

Similar policies were put it place by other municipal governments this week. In Toronto, COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory for all city employees and transit workers within the next two months, as cases there rise during the fourth wave.

The Town of Banff has also mandated vaccinations for all of its employees, saying staff who aren’t fully vaccinated within six weeks could risk losing their job.

Bioethicist Arthur Schafer said people who refuse likely won’t get very far.

“My view is that the legal challenges will fail, unless those who reject mandatory vaccinations can show that it isn’t necessary in their work situation,” said Schafer. He also noted workplaces would need to make an effort to accommodate those with concerns.

CUPE Local 500, the union representing more than 5,000 City of Winnipeg employees, said voluntary vaccinations work best.

“Vaccine mandates shouldn’t take the place of proper protective equipment and ventilation and cleaning,” said CUPE Local 500 president Gord Delbridge.

The Amalgamated Transit Union said it remains concerned for the health and safety of all transit employees and riders, and understands and respects that some may have medical concerns or religious beliefs that may prevent them from being vaccinated.

“We must balance human rights and labour laws with the public health orders,” said Romeo Ignacio, ATU 1505 president.

“Although bus operators deal with members of the public frequently, the Province has stated that the driver shields installed in the buses should protect drivers from COVID-19 transmissions, and vice versa.”

The city said it’s following provincial public health orders and, at this time, there are no requirements in those orders for staff or visitors to city facilities to be fully vaccinated.

“The city continues to be diligent in following COVID-19 safety protocols, and remains committed to requiring masks inside City-operated facilities, enforcing indoor capacity limits, and encouraging physical distancing,” said a city spokesperson in an email to CTV News.

The federal government recently announced it intends to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory across the federal public service, and will require that all commercial air, interprovincial train and cruise ship passengers be fully vaccinated no later than October.

“I think it’s going to be very popular among employees, as well as employers, to require vaccination because if you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to be infected,” said Schafer.

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