City of Surrey employees and volunteers have been told they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who choose not to must participate in a “rapid testing program” and turn in a negative rest result before each shift.
After Feb. 1, employees in the rapid testing program will have to pay for related costs themselves and those who fail to comply with one or the other will be placed on unpaid leave for a minimum of 30 days and eventually could lose their jobs.
Of roughly 1,400 City of Surrey employees who responded to a survey, 94 per cent indicated they have been fully vaccinated, one per cent had received one dose and five per cent have not been vaccinated.
Conversely, the Surrey School Board decided last week not to mandate vaccination against COVID-19 for district staff.
As for Surrey city council, Amber Stowe, media relations lead at city hall, confirmed Mayor Doug McCallum is fully vaccinated and Councillors Linda Annis, Jack Hundial, Doug Elford, Brenda Locke, Laurie Guerra, Allison Patton and Mandeep Nagra told the Now-Leader they are as well.
Coun. Steven Pettigrew told council Monday night, “I’m not even going to say if I’ve been vaccinated or not.
“That’s really no one’s business but my own,” Pettigrew said. “I freely admit I do not have a vaccine passport nor do I plan to get one.” This was during debate on whether those rules that apply to staff should also apply to the elected officials.
Guerra said council should implement the same strategy for itself that’s being imposed on staff. “I think it’s only fair,” she said. “I’d like to see council do the same.” Council supported this, with Pettigrew voting against the plan for both staff and council, citing “government control.”
“I feel we’re going down a really slippery slope here,” he said.
Pettigrew asked city staff if people are required to provide proof of vaccination before entering council chambers. City Manager Vincent Lalonde replied they are not.
“The simple answer is no, the provincial government made it clear that attendance to council meetings, you do not need to show your vaccination,” Lalonde confirmed. To this, Pettigrew said he finds it “somewhat ironic” that a member of the public does not have to have a vaccination passport to enter council chambers, “yet council is proposing that a member of council has to have a vaccine passport to be able to sit in this chair.
“So that means if I just go and I sit down there with members of the public I do not need a vaccine passport but if I come up here I do,” Pettigrew said. “So does that mean I just go down there and raise my hand from the floor?”
“Again, if this passes now, is it illegal for me to sit up here? Well I don’t think so because there’s been no bylaw that’s been written,” Pettigrew said. “I suspect this will pass, so does that mean I have to leave? So I have to go sit over there? What happens if next time I come back here and I try to enter, does that mean that you’re going to have me arrested?”
“I challenge the legality of this,” Pettigrew said. “I believe that if we go forth with this we are putting ourselves and our city in jeopardy from a whole variety of reasons and also whatever we do here will also most likely be used as a precedent throughout the province.”
Locke said the city’s new rules are “completely appropriate.
“I think we’re all in this together and if we really want to support what the provincial health officer is saying, that’s the right thing to do.”
Elford said “it makes sense that leaders in the community like us, elected officials, follow the same policies and encourage people to get vaccinated as well, and walk the walk, in a sense.”
“What concerns me is realistically a threat to staff as well, you know I’m concerned about staff and exposure to staff. I mean, if you’re unvaccinated and you’re walking around city hall, I think you should at least be tested so you’re not at risk of exposing people to COVID, or their families.”
In an inter-office memo dated Nov. 5 by Deputy Fire Chief Dave Burns notes that effective Jan. 4 all City of Surrey staff employees, volunteers and contractors must be fully vaccinated and provide proof that they are.
Employees failing to provide proof of vaccination using a “City approved technology” from Dec. 6, 2021 to Jan. 4, Burns noted, will be given a “further opportunity” to comply from Jan. 5 to Jan. 31, during which time they will be required to attend a mandatory online education program about the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccinations, and participate in the city’s rapid testing program beginning Jan. 5.
Employees who don’t provide proof of vaccination on or before Jan. 31, will be required to continue to participate in the city’s rapid testing program and those employees who fail to prove they’ve been vaccinated or to comply with rapid testing requirements “will be placed on an immediate unpaid leave of absence for a minimum of 30 days and may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination,” the memo reads.
Requests for accommodation will be reviewed case by case. As for the rapid testing program, “Employees are required to have a negative test result before the start of each shift as confirmed through the City authorized antigen test or polymerase chain reaction (“PCR”) test” and must submit their test results pictures of them, which will be subject to audit.
Each test result is valid for 72 hours and must be completed as required based on the employee’s work schedule. Employees working Monday to Friday will require a negative test result on Monday and Thursday; those working Monday to Thursday, or any four-day period, will require a negative test result on Monday and Thursday, and employees working “any length of time from one to three days” will require a negative test before their first day of work.
“The City will provide rapid testing kits to employees in the rapid testing program for tests that are required up to and including on January 31, 2022. Employees in the rapid test program are responsible for all costs (i.e., the cost for rapid test kits) for participating in the rapid testing program beginning on February 1, 2022,” Burn’s memo reads.
On Nov. 4, Surrey City Manager Vince Lalonde issued a similar memo outlining vaccination requirements for “all employees, volunteers and contractors (who work in City facilities and/or alongside City employees),” effective Jan. 5.
“It is the City’s goal to provide the greatest possible protection for employees’ and citizens’ individual health while upholding excellence in customer service and maintaining operational efficiency,” he wrote.
Lalonde noted in his memo that to date 144 city employees and Surrey Mounties have contracted COVID-19 and “of those only three transmissions have occurred in the workplace, and only one of those have occurred since vaccines have been available.
“In other words, since vaccines have been available, one employee out of over 3,000 employees has unfortunately contracted COVID-19 while at work,” Lalonde wrote.
The Surrey Police Service and Surrey RCMP, meantime, require their officers to be fully vaccinated.
Cpl. Vanessa Munn said as federal employees, the Government of Canada requires Surrey Mounties be vaccinated too. “The legislation in regards to federal employees being required to be vaccinated applies to us as well,” she said.