SEIU-West and other unions asked the following questions.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) provided the responses.
This document simply communicates the responses of the SHA, and is in no way to be taken that SEIU-West agrees with or endorses the SHA responses.
1. Is the $225 tax deductible?
I do not know the answer to this. I think people should seek out tax advice from a professional for this question.
2. The question about sharing (employee) information with ‘other partners’ is still outstanding – who are the other partners that this information will be shared with (other than the Ministry of Health)?
I believe the term is used as a catch all and the SHA will determine whether any summarized data will be provided to a requestor. The point of the communication is that no personal information will be shared with other partners.
3. The flat $225 is a problem for those who are OTFT – can this be pro-rated? OTFT building up a debt to SHA and ending up paying to work if there is a balance owing. This will be a hardship for many of your employees-our members.
We cannot prorate it. Individuals who work casually and select the monitored testing program (MTP) will still need to upload test results three times per week because we do not know when they will attend work and often attend on short notice. The SHA believes vaccination is the best protection we have against COVID-19 in our workplaces and that option is always available at no cost to employees.
4. What objective evidence is SHA asking for related to the religious exemption? What are you considering under ‘creed’ for the religious exemption?
SHA is seeking signed confirmation from a religious leader that explains what part of their doctrine prohibits vaccination, and confirms the individual submitting the religious accommodation request is in fact a member of that religion. This is a similar process to any religious accommodation request verification.
5. The medical accommodation only references allergy-related issues – can you explain?
The medical experts we consulted with to prepare the accommodation process for medical accommodations indicated two medical reasons that an employee may not be able to be vaccinated. Those two reasons are included on the form. If an employee has a different medical reason to require an accommodation they may still submit it and the Accommodation team will review.
6. The rapid antigen test is considered acceptable for the MTP – would a sputum test be considered as it’s less invasive for some?
No, the monitored testing program is intending to distribute and utilize Antigen test kits which provides the individual an outcome very quickly. Our test to protect Director tells me there is a method of specimen collection called a Swish gargle test, however it is a specimen collection tool that needs to be sent to the lab for PCR testing.
7. The education component is mandatory – why is this not on employer time?
The perspective that the SHA is looking at this from is that the education is not mandatory for all employees, only for those that are choosing to not provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccine status.
8. Based on those who’ve submitted declarations, how many in-scope staff did not submit declarations? You’ve indicated that this number should be available soon.
The declaration was simply a tool to provide us with some advanced information on team member intentions. In all, there was likely 4000 – 6000 team members that did not reply to the declarations.
9. The SHA has said in written documentation that testing is not mandatory, however you’ve stated that compliance with this policy is mandatory, including the MTP, can you explain?
The SHA’s perspective related to this policy directive is that testing is also not mandatory. Employees can choose between two options (provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccine status or enter the monitored testing program). Testing is only a requirement if a team member chooses to enter the monitored testing program.
10. Can you share the scientific data that the SHA is relying on related to the efficacy of the vaccines – I think that would be helpful to encourage participation in the program.
There are a number of pieces of scientific data that have demonstrated that vaccines are effective. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of opinions online that push other agendas and information that people rely on to support not being vaccinated. I am attaching the latest link to a Government of Saskatchewan communication about the COVID experience in Saskatchewan which includes:
The Ministry of Health has updated the COVID-19 vaccination and breakthrough information for October 1-31. Highlights include:
- Of the 10,018 cases reported in October, 7,370 (73.6 per cent) were unvaccinated or tested positive within three weeks of receiving their first vaccination. Five hundred and eighty cases (5.8 per cent) were partially vaccinated with one dose, while 2,648 cases (26.4 per cent) were fully vaccinated. Of the 2,648 cases with a second dose, 22.8 per cent (604) had comorbid conditions and 22.5 per cent (595) were 65 years and older.
- Of the 461 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, 352 (76.4 per cent) were unvaccinated or tested positive within three weeks of receiving their first vaccination. Thirty-three cases (7.2 per cent) were partially vaccinated with one dose, while 109 cases (23.6 per cent) were fully vaccinated.
- Of the 98 individuals admitted to ICU, 85 (86.7 per cent) were unvaccinated or tested positive within three weeks of receiving their first vaccination. Six cases (6.1 per cent) were partially vaccinated with one dose, while 13 cases (13.3 per cent) were fully vaccinated.
- Among the cases reported in October, 78 individuals passed away; 53 were unvaccinated or less than three weeks after their first vaccination.
- Estimated case rates were 1,819/100,000 for the unvaccinated, 642/100,000 for those with a first dose and 357/100,000 for those with a second dose.
Re: Costs of the Monitored Testing Program
1. We request clarification on the reason(s) that the SHA is charging for the testing program. We note that The Employers’ COVID-19 Emergency Regulations state that the conditions of doing the test on your own time and at your cost can be disregarded if agreed to by the employer (Section 5 a) and b)). Did the SHA consider this? Please explain.
Yes, the SHA considered this. Discussions occurred with stakeholders and the decision made is that the SHA will deduct $225.00 per month in the form of a payroll deduction for employees choosing the monitored testing program as their way to comply with the policy directive.
(Follow up question). You indicate discussions occurred with “stakeholders”. SEIU-West is obviously not a stakeholder as no discussions occurred with the Union. Who exactly are the stakeholders you reference as having input into charging employees for the testing program on off-duty hours.
2. On October 19, 2021, in your briefing to the unions, it was stated that the logistics that came to the SHA from government were that federally supplied rapid tests could not be used and that you would have to procure tests for the program. Can you tell us what the cost of procuring the tests is?
I do not have this readily available and will need to follow up. The cost to purchase the test kits is only one input variable that went into the decision to charge $225 per month for the monitored testing program.
3. Further to question number two it was stated that it’s not about paying for your test but rather the service that the team will bring to employees, regardless of why they are unvaccinated. It was later stated that the monitoring would require seven FTE out-of-scope employees for the 5,000 employees the SHA believes will be enrolled. We would like the number of employees enrolled when that is determined. What criteria did the employer use to determine the necessity of out-of-scope employees to monitor this program?
We will be able to provide the number of people in the monitored testing program at a future date. The total number may include employees, practitioner staff, and volunteer medical first responders.
Monitoring staff will review records for employee compliance and be involved in follow up as required with Managers and HR staff. Follow up may involve discipline up to and including termination of employment for non-compliant employees. This would put the monitoring staff in conflict with the interests of the various bargaining unit employees.
4. We are looking for the breakdown of costs of the program. If there are 5,000 in the monitored testing program and the cost is $225.00 per month, we would like to understand the breakdown the way that these dollars will be spent. Is the employer including in the cost of the program the monitoring of accommodated employees? Is the employer including the cost of having the proof of vaccination uploads verified and following up with employees who have a positive antigen test?
Costs that factored into the decision to charge $225 per month include:
- Development costs for the IT systems involved
- Salary costs of the staff working in the Monitored Testing Program
- Costs of procuring antigen test kits
- Salary costs of increasing staff to support a surge in request for support setting up MyConnection accounts
Additional costs that will be incurred related to a monitored testing program that were not quantified include:
- Salaries of other staff involved in program development
- Salaries of Manager time to follow up on non-compliance
- Salaries of HR staff time to follow up on non-compliance
- Costs of logistics transporting test kits across the province to various SHA sites.
Other options that would have been available in the private sector for testing would have been considerably more expensive to SHA staff.
$225 per month was determined to be an estimated cost recovery amount and also a reasonable amount compared to private sector options.
5. We have heard from some of our members, your employees, that the cost of the program is going to cause a significant financial hardship for them. Those members whose work is precarious, those who are in lower waged work, and those who may be the only wage earner in the family are expressing concern that they won’t be able to pay for testing and pay the bills. This is a concern for us. We would like the SHA to reconsider charging for the monitored testing program.
I took this request back to our policy directive sponsors and the decision is to maintain the $225 per month cost for those entering the monitored testing program. Team members have the option of being fully vaccinated at no cost to them. As soon as an employee is fully vaccinated they could end enrollment in the Monitored Testing Program. This decision is consistent with other policy implementations in some Saskatchewan Public Sector employers.