The city of Calgary has been forced to take an unexpected step back with its COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees, according to Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
Gondek told reporters Wednesday that the city would continue to offer free home testing kits for its unvaccinated employees who opted for the testing program.
The policy originally stated that unvaccinated employees would have to start paying for those tests out of their own pocket on December 2.
Per the COVID-19 Employee Vaccination Policy, all City of Calgary employees must receive two doses of the vaccine or provide a negative test result on a regular basis to continue their duties. Any employee who declines either option will be placed on leave without pay.
Gondek said 91.5 percent of city employees are immunized against COVID-19, which is an 85 percent increase after the original Nov. 1 deadline for employees to provide their vaccination status.
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According to Gondek, the city of Calgary was forced to make the policy change “thanks to the Calgary Police Service” after learning that the service would continue to provide free test kits to its employees.
“Now, instead of focusing on the good results we got from holding people accountable for getting vaccinated, we have been held as ransom,” Gondek said. “The city has now agreed that it will be part of our policy to continue to pay for testing if people are not fully vaccinated.”
He said city manager David Duckworth has been put in a “compromising position” with unions representing other city workers who learned of the situation and claimed it was unfair.
“Let’s talk Northeast Calgary: Vaccination rates of 99 percent. Those people did their part, ”Gondek said. “Are you telling me that there are some people, a very small percentage of the population, who don’t want to do anything and that we will reward them by paying for their tests? Unacceptable.”
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However, CPS said Wednesday that its unvaccinated employees would have to pay for their own tests starting Wednesday, but free rapid tests are on the way for its employees.
“As part of the government’s rapid testing program, essential services had the opportunity to request free kits until March 2022,” a CPS spokesperson said in a statement. “We are still waiting for these kits and until they arrive, members who are not vaccinated will continue to pay out of pocket for rapid test kits.”
CPS told Global News that it expects about 9,100 test kits until the end of March and it is “incorrect” that its policy has changed.
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According to a senior staff presentation at the Calgary Police Commission meeting Tuesday, 92 percent of CPS staff are fully vaccinated and one percent are partially vaccinated. CPS Deputy Chief Raj Gill told the commission that the rest of CPS staff have opted for the rapid testing program.
Gill told the Calgary Police Commission that rapid testing would remain an option for the “foreseeable future” as the pandemic progresses.
Meanwhile, other unions representing City of Calgary employees are pleased with the City’s decision to continue to provide free test kits to unvaccinated or partially vaccinated employees.
Mike Mahar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583, said that forcing city employees to pay for test kits when provided by the province and the federal government “didn’t make any sense,” adding that access to the tests compliance would increase. rates.
“It seemed like punishment for those who, for whatever reason, couldn’t fully vaccinate, and it just made things too complicated,” Mahar told Global News. “Why would you want to impose a sanction on someone when the easier the tests, the more compliance you will have?”
The City of Calgary confirmed that just over 500 city employees are currently registered for the testing program, which has dropped significantly from the roughly 2,000 city employees expected to participate in rapid testing in early November.
According to Christopher Collier, director of environmental and safety management in the city of Calgary, the group of employees registered in the testing program have a medical or religious exemption from receiving the vaccine or choose not to receive the vaccine.
Collier told Global News that the city still has a significant supply of COVID-19 tests to offer its employees that will last until 2022.
“For those people who have a valid exemption, medical or religious exemption, their option is just to take the test, so we wanted to make sure we accommodate that,” Coller said.
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But there is concern from experts that providing the test kits for free is a “dilution” of the vaccine mandates that were imposed to incentivize vaccination against COVID-19.
“I think when the employer is the one who pays for the cost of testing, employees have an incentive to opt for the testing program rather than get vaccinated,” said Lorian Hardcastle, associate professor at Cumming Law School. Medicine School. “That tends to undermine the mandate of the employer.”
Collier said the city of Calgary never set out to “force” mandatory vaccinations, but rather to create a safe workplace, and the testing program is “very much in tune with that.”
Gondek remains firm in his position and urges everyone to get vaccinated.
“We can prevent variants like the ones we are seeing if we all get vaccinated,” he said. “For those people who don’t want it, there should be consequences.”
– With files from Adam Toy of Global News
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