Unifor urges provinces to mandate paid time off for COVID-19 vaccination

·3 min read

TORONTO — Canada's largest private sector union is urging all provinces to mandate paid time off for workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying most employers won't provide it unless government forces them to.

Provincial legislation would be similar to legislating time off to vote in elections, Unifor said in a statement.

"We all know that vaccination is key to paving the way for the safe reopening of businesses, and the economic recovery we are all waiting for," said union president Jerry Dias.

"Employers who are advocating for lifting restrictions must also do their part and remove all barriers to workers to get the vaccine."

But for some people in line to get the vaccine, three or four hours may not be enough.

Aaron Genest, who works at Siemens Software in Saskatoon, waited more than four hours in line to get the vaccine at a local drive-thru site.

"(Our company) has enormous flexibility. If employees want to take the whole day to go and get vaccinated if they need to, we'd absolutely support that," he said, adding that employees aren't required to write it down as time taken off work.

Although he booked an appointment for a vaccine for May 4, he said he ended up lining up at the drive-thru, which is first-come, first-serve.

While such lineup are often unscheduled and the wait time is unpredictable, Genest said he's lucky to have an understanding employer and that his "boss didn't bat an eye."

The three-hour window seems to have become standard: Saskatchewan and Alberta have mandated up to three hours of paid time off for workers getting inoculated.

British Columbia, which allows workers to take unpaid time off to receive the vaccine, plans to amend its employment act to ensure up to three hours of paid leave for each vaccine dose.

Meanwhile, those in the rest of Canada must depend on their employers to let them take time off work to get immunized against COVID-19.

Companies including Canada Goose, Bank of Montreal, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Staples Canada have said they're offering employees at least three hours of paid leave to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

"While there is no plan for BMO to mandate employees to receive a vaccination, I strongly encourage you to receive it if you’re able," the bank's CEO, Darryl White, wrote in a memo.

Ontario crown company Metrolinx also said it's providing employees, including bus operators and transit officers, three hours of paid time off to get vaccinated.

In January, at least 35 tech companies in the country, including SkipTheDishes, Borrowell, and FreshBooks, signed a pledge vowing to let their staff leave work in order to get a jab.

“We want to send a message to our workforce, to our employees’ families, and to Canada as a whole that … the vaccination effort needs to be a top priority for Canada," the companies said in the pledge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press