The District of West Vancouver’s vaccine mandate for municipal staff has now come into effect, and 16 employees have been put on unpaid leave for failing to get their COVID-19 shots.
Of the 943 full-time, part-time and casual staff, including West Vancouver Fire & Rescue, Blue Bus and West Vancouver Memorial Library employees, 98.3 per cent showed proof of vaccination by the Jan. 5 deadline, according to district spokeswoman Donna Powers.
“It's an excellent result,” Powers said. “The majority of staff are very pleased with this program.”
Because it is a human resources matter, Powers said it is confidential which departments the unvaccinated employees were in.
So far, two staff members have been granted human rights exemptions, which Powers said were likely for health or religious reasons, but other unvaccinated staff had their requests turned down.
“We noted in our policy, personal preference is not a legitimate reason for an exemption,” Powers said. “Applications for exemptions are taken very seriously. We go through them with all due diligence, and they do take time.”
The West Vancouver Police Department’s 80 members are also facing a vaccine mandate, although it does not come into effect until Jan 11.
Unlike the City of Toronto and other municipalities that immediately terminated staff who failed to get vaccinated, West Vancouver’s employees will be given three months to come into compliance before they will be let go permanently. During that time, they will be encouraged to get two doses.
“The district's objective is to raise vaccination rates across the community,” Powers said.
Unions representing municipal workers and Blue Bus drivers generally agreed with the mandate when it was announced in October, although they did say they would be pushing the district to extend it to the general public who come into close contact with their members. Without legal authority granted by the province, that won’t be possible, Powers said.
“We're as a government. We're an essential service and people are entitled to access government services,” she said.
Losing 1.7 per cent of staff is unlikely to cause any major disruptions to services, Powers said, adding that would be less than the expected HR turnover in a typical year.
And bigger issues loom.
“What the municipality is really concerned with right now is disruption of services from sick leave as a result of the Omicron variant. We've seen that Dr. Henry has predicted a 30 per cent absentee rate across all sectors of the economy,” she said. “That's actually what we're bracing for.”
Powers said the district will focus on keeping essential services and emergency services going. Much like in the spring of 2020, staff are now working from home as much as possible.
Because of the Omicron variant and staff and volunteers already reporting in sick, services at the West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre will now be scaled back to just the essentials, Powers said.
The Feed the Need program will continue but everything that can be moved online will be.
“And we're increasing the phone-call wellness checks that we're doing on vulnerable seniors, not just because of Omicron, but also because of the snow situation,” she said.
Things have been changing quickly, Powers said, and the district is planning now for in case more disruptions follow.
“We're prepared and we'll be flexible if we need to close down programs at the other facilities,” she said. “And we've got our fingers crossed, it's going to be a fast spike and a fast drop, so we're just hoping for the best that way.”
In a statement, City of North Vancouver spokeswoman Pardeep Purewal, said the city decided on its own vaccine mandate on Nov. 9 last year “to meet our occupational health and safety obligations to protect our employees and the public from risks associated with COVID-19.”
“The policy applies to all city employees (including contractors, employees of contractors, sub-contractors and volunteers) and requires them to be fully vaccinated, unless otherwise accommodated from mandatory vaccination under the policy by Jan. 25, 2022.”
The District of North Vancouver also has a mandate coming into effect later this month.