Four employees of RioTinto IOC in Sept-Îles were fired at the end of January over their refusal to receive a vaccine against COVID-19, dismissals contested by the Steelworkers union which considers them excessive.
Moreover, the union recently filed a motion in Superior Court affecting 11 companies that applied federal decrees making employee vaccination mandatory.
Last November, around thirty employees of the RioTinto IOC company found themselves on unpaid leave because they refused to be vaccinated. Their employer is subject to Canadian regulations requiring vaccination in companies under its jurisdiction in the air, rail and maritime transport sectors.
Under pressure from their employer and family, more than twenty of these employees got vaccinated before the January 24 deadline, when they risked being fired. However, four workers resisted and were fired.
“Dismissal is capital punishment. This is a measure which, for us, is excessive,” said the coordinator of the Syndicat des Métallos, Nicolas Lapierre.
The union is challenging the disciplinary measures imposed on the workers through the filing of grievances. He considers discriminatory and contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the ministerial orders. The union is calling for the suspension of these measures in a request for a safeguard order filed on January 13 with the Superior Court. It speaks of irreparable harm and a serious violation of workers’ rights.
“Although at the Steelworkers union, we strongly encourage vaccination, we must also respect those for whom this is not an avenue. Still, it’s a very polarizing issue, it’s also a question of value. We respect those who do not want the vaccine,” said Nicolas Lapierre.
By email, an IOC spokesperson indicated that its vaccination policy applies to both its employees and its contractors and that 99% of those concerned have complied with it.
He adds that: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, IOC has followed the directives of the provincial and federal governments to slow the spread of COVID-19 and will continue to comply with the regulations in force.”
The Steelworkers union believes that distancing measures, wearing a mask and regular PCR tests would help ensure the safety of employees. Other companies on the North Shore, Quebec Iron Ore and ArcelorMittal, also apply federal regulations. The Steelworkers union, which represents workers at these companies, reports no dismissals. But around forty workers from these two companies who have refused the vaccine can no longer board the charter planes that normally allow them to get to work.
“As there is the road to go to Fermont, there is what is called a plan B for these workers. Most of the workers have chosen this alternative, to drive 10 to 20 hours. They took that avenue,” said Nicolas Lapierre.
11 companies are targeted by the approach of the Steelworkers union to the Superior Court in its application for a safeguard order demanding the lifting of the vaccination obligation. Grievances have been filed. But so far in Canada, most legal challenges by workers have been dismissed.