(For a link to the Q&A from the Town Hall event held October 14, 2021, please click here.)

President Barbara Cape and Director of Contract Bargaining and Enforcement, Bob Laurie, answered members questions about the SHA Proof of Vaccination Policy Directive.  The Zoom meeting was recorded to provide accuracy in responding to these questions.  All participants were encouraged to put their question in the chat – and questions from members were gathered prior to the meeting…many with the same theme.

SEIU-West stated that we were not going to defend or explain the SHA policy, as it wasn’t our policy. SEIU-West was not consulted and we continue to wait for answers on many of the same questions the members have been asking.  We also are not here to debate the different science references or legal citations that members have gathered from other sources.  We discussed the statement from the SEIU-West Executive Board and shared on our website, and on screen, the memo that was issued from the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC).  We reiterated that the SHRC states that simply by putting in place a policy doesn’t violate an individual’s human rights, provided there is room to accommodate based on protected grounds, such as medical or religious exemptions.

The SEIU-West Executive Board continues to encourage members to seek out advice from their family doctor and get vaccinated.

UPDATE: and we can now advise that members should use the following statement and send to the SHA if there is an issue with:

Date:

To Blake McMullen; [email protected] 

I have been advised by my Union to inform you I cannot truthfully and correctly complete the SHA Declaration of COVID-19 Vaccination Status because the Employer response options provided do not describe my intention.

Your Name

Save/keep a copy for your records. Do not send a copy to the Member Resource Center.

Below are some of the questions we’ve received.

Q: What is seiu-west doing to help support and protect its members regarding visitors during COVID? I understand staff need to be vaxed or test negative why is their not a push for a policy for visitors? Or is there and it's just behind the scenes? Also what about the overworked exhausted staff still continuously being madated through out this pandemic and being told to phone their coworkers and harass them into coming into work?

A: The SHA policy on proof of vaccination is only directed at staff, including contractors and volunteers. It doesn’t apply to visitors.  We have asked SHA what they are doing to ensure the safety or the residents and staff as it relates to visitors, but they have not indicated they are going to bring in any stronger enforcement measures other than reduced presence and mandatory masking.  This is disappointing because SEIU-West believes that this is an avenue that we should be addressed to reduce COVID-19 transmissions, along with stronger public health orders to limit gathering sizes.

Q: My question is what do we do when patients refuse to wear a mask in an open treatment area for example emergency or renal kidney unit.

A: We recommend that you report that to your supervisor or manager immediately. But it is not up to members to enforce the policy – that is the management’s job.  If mandatory masking is a requirement, then this should be enforced by the SHA.

Q: Have read your statement but I still don’t understand why I have to pay weekly or more to prove I don’t have COVID Are long term care homes going to test residents to prove to me they don’t have COVID at there expense I don’t think so . I have no problem going for testing but making unvaccinated workers pay for this is bullying and should not be tolerated.

A: The SHA policy doesn’t apply to residents of LTC facilities. SEIU-West has advocated to have the testing done in facility by the employer to make it less onerous on staff to participate in this program.  Cost and access of the tests are a concern that we have as well; the three healthcare provider unions, SEIU-West, CUPE and SGEU, have all requested the employer consider this in their implementation.

Q: My question/concern is if SHA is concerned for their employees and patients, why aren't all employees being tested as there is evidence that even vaccinated employees carry high viral loads when asymptomatic.

A: The scientific evidence that SHA has shared shows that there is a reduced infection and transmission rate for those who are vaccinated. Vaccinated staff will continue to be tested when symptomatic, as is the practice now.  The option for unvaccinated staff to be compliant with the policy is to be tested instead of being vaccinated.

Q: Why do we have to declare anything my health information is my private information? Why do we have to pay for testing when Canada post employees are provided with the at home rapid test and the rapid tests are good enough for Canada post same province? (Also 2/3 of the Federal staff are exempt from testing or vaccinations) If we are forced to be tested All employees should be tested as the vaccinated still carry the same viral load as unvaccinated. How can we self declare to anything I.e. testing when we don't know type of test, frequency of testing or cost of testing? Please get this entire policy dropped.

A: Employers are allowed to introduce policies that are reasonable, clearly communicated; administered in a fair and consistent way and compliant with the collective agreement.

The Saskatchewan Office of the Privacy Commissioner has provided advice that employers requesting proof of vaccination doesn’t violate private information standards, provided the employer limits the collection of this information; limits who has access to this information; and ensures the confidentiality of this information.

SEIU-West has grave concerns with how this policy was introduced and the slip-shod implementation after the fact; members need to know what they are agreeing to on their declaration forms.

Federal staff are governed by the Canada Labour Code – whereas we are governed by our collective agreement and the Saskatchewan Employment Act. There is unfortunately, no requirement that what one employer does – others should do as well.

Again, the question of testing both vaccinated and unvaccinated are related to this proof of vaccination policy. The options are to show proof of vaccination or participate in regular testing. If a member seeks an accommodation based on medical or religious grounds, they will still need to be tested, but the accommodation will address how this is done. Alternatively, they can request an unpaid Leave of Absence.

Q: I will test but can’t afford the testing. Is it once a week and can you fight to have them test us?

A: We do not have clarity on the frequency of testing – we raised this question with SHA as well and received no clear answer. And yes, we have requested that the employer provide the testing in house.

Q: Honestly my main question is how can they make us pay for tests when this whole time we've been getting them for free and other vaccinated people can continue to get them for free. Also the confidentiality is a huge issue for me.

A: We have challenged the employer on the issue of cost and accessibility. Again, this needs to be reasonable and not an onerous burden on healthcare workers.  We appreciate your concerns about confidentiality and want the SHA to provide clarity on how they will keep your proof of vaccination status safe; for how long will they keep it; and who will have access to it.

Q: If this is a medical test required by the employer why are they not paying for it? Pg 118 of the collective agreement.

A: Under Article 23.05 a) it references ‘pre-employment medical or subsequent medicals or immunization’; the COVID testing doesn’t qualify as a medical test under this language. And time for getting vaccinated is covered by the employer. We are told by the SHA that this is a policy directive which is temporary in nature.

Q: I would like to know how much will it cost for the COVID tests once a week that S H A will be requiring and will this be done at our workplace .thank you.

A: As of last night’s town hall, we weren’t aware of the cost of testing. As of this morning, October 14, the SHA has announced a monthly cost of $225 for staff who opt for the testing regime. We have also asked about the frequency of testing and are awaiting a response.  SEIU-West, CUPE and SGEU have requested that the employer provide these tests.

Q: Will employees be forced to pay, out-of-pocket, for their testing? I cannot afford 100 a week for testing.

A: As of last night’s town hall, we weren’t aware of the cost of testing. As of this morning, October 14, the SHA has announced a monthly cost of $225 for staff who opt for the testing regime. We have also asked about the frequency of testing and are awaiting a response.  SEIU-West, CUPE and SGEU have requested that the employer provide these tests.

Q: What is the SHA COVID-19 monitored testing program? Frequency? cost? kind of sounds like a third party will be doing the actual testing. -If with this they are allowing unvaccinated but negative tested individuals to work. How are they now going to mitigate this and protect these individuals from the vaccinated who are being allowed to enter with simply a proof of vaccination but no proof that they have not become an asymptomatic breakthrough case or possibly with symptoms but downplaying or lying about them but remain as spreaders? It would seem that testing for everyone would be the best solution. -Why have the at home rapid tests which we have been certified to use now not considered as valid? It can be understandable to not be allowed to conduct your own test but there are several possible options whereby monitoring could be easily done. -At this time there is no testing availability in Moose Jaw let alone rural areas. There are individuals willing to be tested but the where is the question. -Has there been any consideration to the Sask Human rights code being a living document? This is to say that additions to prohibited grounds for discrimination have been added within the last decade. is medical status given the nature of advancing technology an addition which once through courts may also be seen as necessary? Thank you

A: The SHA’s monitored testing program is one of the alternatives available under their Proof of Vaccination policy directive. The frequency is not clear yet and the cost wasn’t identified last night before the town hall meeting, but was announced this morning as costing $225/month. It appears that this will be done by SHA – not a third party.

Vaccinated staff will continue to be tested if they are symptomatic. Respectfully, I think that healthcare workers know first-hand how serious COVID is and won’t be lying about potential symptoms.

We don’t know what kind of tests are being used/recommended in the monitored testing program, but will be following up on that question with the SHA to get clarity.

Medical status is something that is addressed in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission information memo under ‘disability (physical or mental)’ – but vaccination status is not a part of that consideration.

Q: Unions position on signing declaration WITHOUT all available information provided regarding testing program ie cost, frequency, type of test, where to test etc.

A: Comply because it’s mandatory – if you can’t answer because the questions are designed where you would be forced to lie, report to the employer that you tried to answer but couldn’t do so. Need this to be on the record with the employer.

We have posted a recommended response to send to the SHA on this issue – it’s on our website. Make sure you keep a copy of this.

UPDATE: SEIU-West has identified this issue with SHA and we can now advise that members should use the following statement and send to the SHA:

Date:

To Blake McMullen; [email protected] 

I have been advised by my Union to inform you I cannot truthfully and correctly complete the SHA Declaration of COVID-19 Vaccination Status because the Employer response options provided do not describe my intention.

Your Name

Save/keep a copy for your records.

Q: I have a huge concern that is very stressing regarding the mandates handed down on Oct 1. Please fight and stand up for our constitutional rights as human beings that are been taken away from us. We have worked in the COVID environment for 2 years with virtually no cases, , now they want to force us into something we don't want to do.

A: SEIU-West is raising the same concerns and questions as our members are; we are committed to representing all of our membership – regardless of their vaccination status.

The question of constitutional rights is not as black and white as people think. Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out the following: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The challenge here is that there is an argument to be made that in the middle of a global pandemic, all rights are not absolute.

Q: I have some questions regarding this COVID policy rollout 1. R all employees; vaccinated and non vaccinated, required to undergo the rapid testing? If not why? We r well aware that vaccinated acquire and spread this virus just like non-vaccinated. And would that not be discrimination if all r not required? 2. What happens if u need to leave work early/be late because of this rapid testing? 3. What happens when a rapid test comes back positive? How is that being coded for unvaccinated? 4. If a vaccinated person be aimed COVID positive how r they being coded? 5. What if I choose to not follow the rapid test or vaccination policy? 6. It’s been proven that after a positive result, u can have a COVID rapid test show up positive for up to 90days….how is this affecting employees? 7. If sha is making this man diaries should it not be easily accessible and paid for by employer because it’s their policy? Shouldn’t be any different then undergoing random drug tests at other companies 8. Will employers be willing to sign a full liability waiver for damages caused by this vaccine if they arise?

A: No, not all employees are required to undergo the COVID testing under this policy. Vaccinated employees will undergo testing if symptomatic.  The SHA has shared their scientific evidence that vaccinated people are less likely to acquire and spread COVID.

It’s not considered discriminatory because the testing option is being provided instead of providing proof of vaccination. It is one of the options that is available to staff covered by this policy.

SEIU-West, CUPE and SGEU are advocating for this testing to be done by the employer and hopefully limiting the time required away from work.

If either a vaccinated or unvaccinated healthcare worker is diagnosed positive, the advice is the same, call 811. How this is being coded is the same as well: if you are put off work by 811 for isolation purposes – members should be paid pandemic pay. If you deemed positive, it will be coded as sick time.

If a member chooses not to follow any policy – not only this policy – the employer can discipline a member.

I cannot speak to the employer signing off on any liability waivers – that would be a SHA question.

SEIU-West, CUPE and SGEU are requesting the employer make these tests available to staff. The SHA announced today, about the monthly cost for the testing which is $225/month.

Q: What will happen if I don't fill out the Declaration by the end of Thursday, Oct 14/2021. I don't like my choices. Please answer on the zoom meeting and via my email. Thanks.

A: This is yet another one of those ‘mixed messages’ that we are getting from SHA. I think the deadline will be extended based on the circumstances.

Comply because it’s mandatory – if you can’t answer because the questions are designed where you would be forced to lie, report to the employer that you tried to answer but couldn’t do so. Need this to be on the record.

UPDATE: SEIU-West has identified this issue with SHA and we can now advise that members should use the following statement and send to the SHA:

Date:

To Blake McMullen; [email protected] 

I have been advised by my Union to inform you I cannot truthfully and correctly complete the SHA Declaration of COVID-19 Vaccination Status because the Employer response options provided do not describe my intention.

Your Name

Save/keep a copy for your records.

Q: 1) Have there been suggestions as to where, how often and how much the cost will be/if any, for staff to COVID test? 2) If I decline to do the COVID testing, can I opt to take Admin leave? 3) If placed on Admin leave, is there a maximum amount of time I would be allowed to stay on leave? e.g 1 year or 2 years 4) If I change my mind and want to come back to work and I was willing to COVID test, would I be allowed to return and how much notice would I have to give? 5) What happens with Canada Life benefits and Pension should I be placed on Admin leave? 6) If I don't sign the "Declaration" by end of Thursday, Oct 15/21, are there consequences?e.g. Can I still use my sick time, vacation hours, family leave, medical time? 7) What happens to all the employees that have been vaccinated 6 months or more ago. Do they have to get a booster because their antibodies have waned? Who is going to protect me from those employees should I be at work unvaccinated and COVID testing. Will they have to test weekly and pay? Or will they be given special privileges to test and NOT pay?

A: The cost of the monitored testing program was announced on Thursday at $225/month – this wasn’t available info for last night’s town hall. We do not know how often.

We don’t have ‘Admin Leave’ in our collective agreement. But you can apply for an unpaid leave of absence at any time. Under Article 15.01, LOA’s are generally 1 year in length, but can be requested to be extended.

If you return from a LOA, you would be required to comply with the SHA’s Proof of Vaccination policy.

Our advice on the declaration form is to comply because it’s mandatory – if you can’t answer because the questions are designed where you would be forced to lie, report to the employer that you tried to answer but couldn’t do so. Need this to be on the record. SEIU-West has identified this issue with SHA. See the update in red at the beginning of this document.

For those employees vaccinated 6 months or more ago – the question of a requirement for a booster isn’t something that SEIU-West can answer…that is not our area of expertise.

Q: I called Microbiology(virology) at RUH and asked if the spit test was accurate for COVID 19 testing and they stated that it is very accurate. I feel like this is a better option for us if we are forced to get tested. This test is not classified as a Medical procedure like the nasal swab. The spit test is less invasive. I feel we/I should not have to pay for this testing as this is technically a decrease in pay. I think the Union should challenge this policy and especially deadline as there's no clear information as to type of test.

A: This isn’t within our area of expertise regarding which test is being used. We encourage you to reach out to the SHA with this question.

We are communicating our concerns about the cost of testing and availability of testing with the SHA with the recommendation that they provide this to employees.

Q: Since SHA has now done a flip flop in such a short amount of time on paying for the rapid tests , this has forced my hand to get the vaccine, as even though I am not comfortable injecting myself with experimental gene therapy vaccine I can't lose my job and and I can't afford to pay for any PCR testing, so again how is that actually a choice?? Choice for the well off?? Also , the employer states I need to answer the declaration question for the situation i find myself in, but there is no choice to pick for scheduling a time next week to get the shot and then another in Six weeks, only " I have gotten my first shot and will endeavor to get the second shot within six weeks"... so what do I choose since I still need both shots??

A: Respectfully, we don’t have a comment on your assertion about the vaccination being experimental gene therapy…it’s a vaccination.

Based on your example, it sound like you should identify that you are going to provide proof of vaccination. See the update in red at the beginning of this document.

Q: what happens if we can't afford testing every week? I am currently awaiting vaccination not yet available in Canada

A: The SEIU-West Executive Board encourages members to talk with their family doctor and get vaccinated. I’m not sure what vaccine you are waiting for, but there are some that are already available.

The monitored testing program is reported by SHA to cost $225/month. If you have issues with that cost, please contact the Member Resource Center at 1-888-999-7348 Ext 2298 or [email protected]

Q: If Johnson and Johnson vaccine is listed as an acceptable shot under the mandate order why has it not been made available? People have waited for this type of adenovector based vaccine and are now being punished for being patient.

A: SEIU-West can’t answer why certain vaccines are available and not others.

The SEIU-West Executive Board encourages members to talk with their family doctor and get vaccinated. There are some vaccines already approved and available.

Q: I have chosen to not be vaccinated for COVID because I am currently pregnant. I was told by my doctor that I will not qualify for an accommodation. The information given to me to states that the vaccines are safe for pregnant women but that no clinical trials were done and this is based off of a hypothesis that it is safe not confirmed findings. So for myself and others in the same situation I find it quite concerning that medical professionals are trying to force this on pregnant women. The health authority says they are not forcing it but my only other option is to drive 2hrs one way to pay $100+ for a test just to prove I can attend work even if I have zero symptoms. In total with gas and testing I am being asked to pay approximately $200 every 3 days just to prove I'm not sick. Meanwhile, my fully vaccinated coworkers can attend work test free and possibly spread the virus anyway, because it is known that vaccinated people can spread the virus, which in turn can still infect those immune compromised, including pregnant individuals such as myself. I would also like to add that by the health authority making me drive for these tests they will be putting myself and my unborn child at risk to be in a car accident, especially as winter is approaching. This may seem far fetched but it is my understanding that death from car accidents is higher in my age range than COVID 19. By also making me travel for testing I am now having to go to a community I have no contacts too and one I don't ever go to, increasing my risk of not only contracting but spreading the virus. So my questions are why is the health authority not making testing mandatory on site when we have testing available right in our facilities and homes? And why are pregnant women or women who plan to be pregnant being forced to take a vaccine they fear may harm their child or face the financial burden and stress of extra traveling?

A: I can’t comment about the advice you are receiving from your doctor, but if you have a question about an accommodation, please contact the Member Resource Center at 1-888-999-7348 Ext 2298 or [email protected]

The Proof of Vaccination policy is providing options: show proof of your vaccination status; or participate in the monitored testing program. An accommodation will allow you to forgo vaccination but you will still need to test. The cost would be mitigated due to accommodations. There needs to be options for people to choose from.

The cost of the monitored testing program has been announced as being $225/month but how this is managed in rural or remote areas is not clear at this time. We will be following up with SHA.

SEIU-West, CUPE and SGEU has recommended that these tests be provided by the employer.

Q: Concerns regarding employee information/confidentiality -informed consent and Right to refuse -details of mandatory testing program -100% to Refuse all COVID testing based on the non-discrimination act Bill S-201, it is an indictable offence to force anyone to take DNA/RNA test or deny service, employment or education opportunity -public Health act 1994 section 64 (1) Conscientious objection to immunization -charter of rights implicated by mandating vaccines. Section 7 and section 15

A: The advice from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Saskatchewan sets out that when asking for proof of vaccination, an employer needs to limit access; ensure that the information is used only for the purpose required; that the employer will ensure that this information is saved in a confidential manner; and destroyed when it is no longer needed.

We need to remember that this is not a ‘mandatory vaccination policy’, but a proof of vaccination policy. In saying that, while the employer is asking for proof of vaccination, they are also providing alternatives should a member not want to provide that: including a duty to accommodate based on religious or medical grounds; or participating in a monitored testing program.

The conscientious objection option doesn’t apply in this case because this policy is being introduced under the Saskatchewan Employment Act – Occupational Health and Safety legislation and regulations. The conscientious objection option is only available if it is a mandatory vaccination policy introduced under the Public Health Act.

In reading the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we need to read the whole document. S. 1 sets out the following: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The challenge here is that there is an argument to be made that in the middle of a global pandemic, all rights are not absolute.

Q: Is the cost for testing going to be tax-deductible?

A: We don’t know but will follow up with the SHA for clarity and report back to the membership.

Q: Will boosters be required under this policy?

A: They are not specifically referenced in the SHA policy, but we will seek clarity on this and report back to the membership.

We will post Part Two of the questions shortly.

Thanks to everyone for participating in the town halls. We will continue to provide advice to our members as this issue evolves and changes.  Our Member Resource Center is currently inundated with member calls and messages, so we ask for your patience as we continue to answer your questions.  We will respond in the order that we’ve received them. We thank you for remaining respectful as we work through these issues together.

Respectfully,

Barbara Cape

President SEIU-West

 

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