Canada Post workers on unpaid leave, because of Covid vax non-compliance

During leave without pay, anxieties increase within families, says CUPW’s Alain Robitaille

The labour union representing Canada Post workers is contesting the crown corporation’s temporary suspension without pay of employees who are not complying with the federal government’s order that they become fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Covid vax mandatory

On Oct. 6, the Trudeau Liberals announced their government’s plan to require COVID-19 vaccination across the federal public service and federally regulated transportation sectors. Under the new policy, federal public servants in the core public administration, including members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were required to confirm their vaccination status by Oct. 29.

Those who were unwilling to disclose their vaccination status or to be fully vaccinated were to be placed on administrative leave without pay as early as Nov. 15. Crown corporations such as Canada Post and separate agencies were asked to implement vaccine policies mirroring the requirements announced for the rest of the public service.

Leave without pay

According to Alain Robitaille, president of the greater Montreal local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), the deadline for postal employees to comply with Ottawa’s order was midnight Nov. 26, failing which they would be placed on leave without pay until further notice.

“The postal union is not against Covid vaccination,” he said. “We are aware that it is the best solution possible for the population in general. We know that it is a good thing and we feel it is important to say so. However, what we are contesting to an arbitrator is that we feel there are alternatives for those who don’t want to be vaccinated which are also valid – including frequent screening.”

Many non-compliance reasons

Although the anti-vax movement has perhaps created in certain people’s minds a stereotypical image of those who oppose mandatory Covid vaccination, Robitaille said there are many reasons why some CUPW members are reluctant to or don’t want to comply, including concerns over individual rights, religious convictions and health issues.

Alain Robitaille, president of the CUPW’s local for the greater Montreal region, says Ottawa’s ‘leave without pay’ order for the Covid-unvaccinated is “yet another blow” some of the union members have to deal with just as the Christmas season is starting. (Photo: Courtesy Radio-Canada)

“A certain number of members of the postal workers’ union have all sorts of concerns about the vaccines, both founded and unfounded,” he said in an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia. “I am sure that a certain number of those concerns are unfounded. However, that being said their fears are very real.”

In all, the CUPW’s Montreal region local (which takes in Montreal Island, the South Shore, Laval and the North Shore) has around 6,000 members, around 600 of those being from Laval.

Workers feeling the strain

Robitaille said that 10 per cent of the membership have expressed concerns about the government’s order to become fully vaccinated, corresponding roughly to a trend seen in the rest of the population. He said the government’s decision to enforce the vaccination requirement has greatly impacted the postal workers and is weighing heavily on some of them.

“During leave without pay, debts accumulate, anxieties increase within families, damage is done,” he said, noting that the postal service has been one of the few sectors of the country’s economy that continued to operate without stopping since the start of the pandemic early last year.

‘Hard on families’

“We’ve been on the job since the beginning. It’s been hard on families, on human resources. And now this latest development will be yet another blow they’ll have to deal with just as the Christmas season is starting.”

On Nov. 25, the national CUPW announced that a “cease and desist” order the union had sought in court against Canada Post’s vaccination position wasn’t granted.

10 per cent of the membership have expressed concerns about the government’s order to become fully vaccinated

The arbitrator did, however, order a hearing on the merit of CUPW’s case, allowing the union to present its arguments within a shorter period than would ordinarily be the case.

“CUPW is disappointed by the result, but we still feel we have a good case on the merit,” said Carl Girouard, the CUPW’s national grievance officer.