Muskoka Lakes council has voted in favour of new vaccination guidelines for municipal staff.
The new guidelines require unvaccinated employees to be tested for covid three times a week. Unvaccinated employees are also offered education on vaccines to dispel myths and misinformation for those who are hesitant. In accordance to the September announcement from the Simcoe Health Unit staff is strongly recommending all employees get vaccinated.
The staff report did not suggest imposing mandatory vaccination on municipal employees. The reasons cited are the unsure legal authority, potential difficulties in future hiring and the lack of a mandate from the Federal and Provincial governments. A survey of municipal employees showed that 90% are currently vaccinated.
Several councillors expressed concerns over the new policy.
Councillor Peter Kelley discussed possibly making vaccinations mandatory for new hires.
“I would not want to put ourselves in a situation where an unvaccinated employee is working in the office and he or he or she refuses to take the periodic test. And we can’t do anything about it because it’s not a condition of their employment,” Kelley.
Human Resources Manager Sarah Lehman stated that the current policy aims to be a balanced approach for both existing and future staff.
Councillor Frank Jaglowitz expressed similar concerns to Kelley.
“Why would we hire somebody that’s not (vaccinated) because that’s a person that’s not likely to get vaccinated in the future,” Jaglowitz said.
Mayor Phil Harding agreed with the balanced approach put forward by staff, citing the difficulties in hiring as a concern.
“We have a staff shortage across the province and the country right now. And as we try to fill positions, and as believe any individual business owner is having to understand both sides of this equation,” Harding said.
Covid19 rapid tests are currently being supplied by the Provincial government. Councillor Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa expressed concern over the township being forced in the future to pay for these tests for unvaccinated employees.
“I certainly would hope that never would our township have to pay for those employees tests. I don’t think that that should be a benefit of employment in our township,” Nishikawa said.
Township Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Hammond informed Nishikawa that if the tests were no longer supplied by the Federal or Provincial governments than the cost of the testing would be borne by the employee.
Nishikawa was also concerned about town building officials being unvaccinated. As these employees have more interaction with the public and in many cases must enter into someone’s home Nishikawa was unsure if these employees being unvaccinated would cause problems. Nishikawa highlighted the possibility of a resident asking the employee for their vaccination status before entering their property and if that would be acceptable.
Lehman was unsure if the employees would be required to reveal their vaccination status but noted that buildings inspectors have been operating through the pandemic using standards safety procedures.
Mayor Harding again supported the report from staff stating that residents wanting a building inspection are inviting the officials into their home. If they are unsure about an inspector’s vaccination status that the resident may have to wait until after the pandemic to feel more comfortable.
Councillor Allen Edwards did not believe the new guidelines went far enough. He said that he believes that unvaccinated persons should not be allowed in municipal offices, unvaccinated building inspectors should not be sent to residents’ homes and the township should be using its position to lead.
“We should be doing this as a township. We should be setting an example. Instead of saying well, we can’t do this and that. It’s about time somebody has a little bit of gumption,” said Edwards.
The Omicron variant of the Coronavirus has changed reopening plans for Ontario with rapidly rising active cases. Councillor Susan Mazan highlighted this when questioning the new guidelines not starting till January.
“It’s our job to protect our staff. It’s our job to protect our community to the best of our ability. And I think we all have to be thinking with a sense of urgency,” Mazan said.
Hammond responded that there needs to be a reasonable time for implementation. While acknowledging changing events Hammond stated the new guidelines would take effect after approval from council.
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