The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a profound effect on Canada’s economy and, critically, the health, safety and security of workers.
Canada’s slow-moving vaccine rollout has clearly delayed economic re-start efforts, relative to other nations. However, new vaccine shipments entering Canada will greatly improve access in the near term. As health professionals work to vaccinate a critical mass of residents in the coming months, Canada must consider how to safely and gradually lift restrictions, open up businesses and get workers back to work.
Establishing a National Framework
Unifor encourages government to consider all available options that enable the safe restart of services and moving unemployed workers back into jobs.
This includes the implementation of certificates of vaccination in sectors where similar programs already exist (e.g. international air travel) along with others that may be well served by them, complemented by strict pre-screening measures along with diagnostic testing.
Various efforts to establish such certificates are underway in several jurisdictions and within industries. It is imperative that all levels of government in Canada work together to establish a framework and clear guidelines that support a seamless and consistent application of certificates that best coordinates a beneficial re-start to the Canadian economy.
Science must guide Canada’s re-start efforts
The prospect of fully reopening Canada’s economy is positive news for tens of thousands of Unifor members working in hospitality, gaming and passenger transportation – and millions more nation-wide – devastated by layoffs and loss of income due to service restrictions. For the first time since the start of this pandemic, a return to work appears within reach.
Despite the obvious economic advantages of a quick and safe return to work, Unifor recognizes that strong scientific evidence must underpin such efforts, to avoid the risk of potentially debilitating consequences should vaccines prove non-durable and unable to prevent transmission.
Unifor also encourages government officials to resolve the valid concerns laid out in the March 2021 Chief Science Advisor’s report regarding vaccine certifications. The Chief Science Advisor helpfully outlined a series of issues, including those related to equity, the appropriateness of application among vulnerable populations, personal privacy and data protection as well as human rights that may be incompatible with certain forms of vaccine certification.
Governments must balance these considerations against public health and the economic well-being of residents, to ensure fair and equal treatment. Such actions must not contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or human rights statutes.
Toward ‘critical mass’ immunization
Unifor recognizes that until vaccines reach a critical mass of people in Canada, we cannot expect business-as-usual. Our union commits to further supporting the federal vaccination program, encouraging voluntary worker vaccinations throughout the country and removing barriers to vaccination.
Unifor will also continue to promote greater vaccine access throughout the world, urging governments to explore all options, including the easing of intellectual property barriers to encourage greater domestic vaccine production and supply, especially in underserved jurisdictions.
Workers need a seat at the table
As dialogue toward an economic re-start continues between government officials, health experts and business organizations, it is imperative that labour unions and community health advocates have a seat at the table.
This multi-stakeholder approach to workplace health and safety has served Canada well since the onset of the pandemic, and must continue.
All individuals must remain vigilant in adhering to public health guidelines and take necessary personal safety precautions to stay safe and prevent community spread. Governments and employers must do their part and act with haste to provide critical supports, including permanent paid sick days.
Government must foster a fair, inclusive and resilient recovery
The pandemic has exposed major fault lines in Canada’s physical, legislative and social infrastructure, including inadequate employment standards (e.g. paid sick days), a frayed social safety net (e.g. unemployment insurance supports) and diminished domestic supply chain for necessary goods (e.g. personal protection equipment, medicines and critical goods). These obvious gaps, long dismissed by governments, only made a bad situation worse.
Unifor recognizes that this pandemic will not be over for anyone, until it is over for everyone. As such, we commit to relentlessly championing progressive, practical and principled policies to repair these deficiencies and facilitate a safe return to work in the spirit of building a fair, resilient and inclusive economy.