The push for COVID-19 vaccine mandates is gaining traction in Canada’s construction industry, with governments, large project sites and major employers setting new inoculation deadlines.
Two of Canada’s largest contractors and provincial officials in Quebec are requiring construction workers to get their shots, while in Western Canada, the owners of two massive infrastructure projects have laid down their own vaccine requirements.
Contractors EllisDon and PCL have set a Nov. 1 deadline for their workers to get inoculated against the virus. EllisDon said as of this date, testing will not be offered as an alternative to full immunization.
A spokesman for EllisDon, which has about $5 billion in revenue and 5,000 employees in Canada and internationally, says the directive "does not extend to sub-trades."
Other companies appear to be following suit, with Chandos Construction, a commercial builder with 500 employees based in Ontario, announcing a Nov. 15 deadline for vaccinations.
The three firms said employees can request an exemption to the vaccination verification requirement based on "proven medical condition(s) and ... applicable human rights grounds.”
The EllisDon spokesperson said “conversations with employees who choose to remain unvaccinated will be personal and confidential ones that will be handled on a case-by-case basis.” The firm did not say if unvaccinated employees without exemptions would be terminated.
“Vaccines now represent the best tool we have to help reduce the spread of the virus. It's our duty to protect the health of not only our team members but of all those we serve including customers and trade partners,” Chanos COO Sean Penn stated in a press release.
In Quebec, provincial officials are giving construction workers working near or in health care establishments until Oct. 15 to get fully vaccinated, providing mobile vans with health staff to construction sites to do inoculations.
To date, there has been more than 1,200 virus outbreaks at construction sites across Canada, with 4,000 construction workers infected, according to the CBC.
In Western Canada, BC Hydro, in the middle of building the $16-billion Site C hydroelectric dam in northeastern British Columbia, has set a Jan. 10 deadline for all contractor and subcontractor workers to get vaccinated at all its jobsites. The company has given its 6,000 employees until Nov. 22 to get fully vaccinated.
The BC Hydro program goes a step further than a recent similar order by LNG Canada, which has given its own employees until Nov. 30 to get their shots, but has stopped short of mandating it for contractors and subcontractors, instead encouraging those firms to issue the mandates.
Canadian Construction Association President Mary Van Buren has issued the organization’s vaccination policy, which requires entering the group's offices or attending its events to be vaccinated.
Eight Ontario contractor associations recently completed a survey of how many workplaces have a vaccination policy in place and assessing barriers to vaccine programs.
The various moves come amid Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s rollout of a national vaccine mandate, which requires all air, rail and core public service workers to get their vaccinations by month’s end, which includes federal contractors, according to one recent legal analysis.
Unions are being “consulted,” one contractor group told Canada ConstructConnect publication. The Laborers' union is evaluating jobsite vaccine policies as they are announced “and will also be assessing how they may impact our members on a case-to-case basis,” said a spokesperson in a statement.
“Vaccine mandate policies seem to be coming into the forefront,” said Martin Smith, chair of McCague Borlack LLP’s employment law practice. “The pendulum has shifted away from employees having the individual right to choose not to be vaccinated, toward the employer’s obligation to ensure there is a safe work environment.”