The union representing local teachers wouldn’t stand in the way if the Burnaby school board made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for school staff – but it will push trustees to lobby for a provincial mandate.
The provincial government has left the matter of mandatory vaccines for school staff up to local boards.
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has said there isn’t a public health order that would allow for a provincial approach.
And Premier John Horgan said Thursday the province is “not the employer in this case.”
But Burnaby Teachers’ Association president Daniel Tétrault said leaving the matter up to districts is unfair.
“It’s just unequal across the board,” he told the NOW. “What will end up happening is the districts where there probably needs to be a mandate, that have low vaccination rates, won’t adopt it, and districts that have already high vaccination rates might adopt it.”
Tétrault said the BTA supports the position put out by B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring Thursday who said leaving vaccine mandates to districts is “the wrong approach.”
“Any vaccine mandate would need to be provincially implemented and done equitably,” Mooring said. “We can’t have unequal treatment of workers in the public education system.”
That being said, if the Burnaby school board decided to make vaccines mandatory for all school staff locally, the union wouldn’t oppose it, according to Tétrault.
“We would not stand in the way, but we would make sure that our members’ privacy rights were protected and that people were treated fairly,” he said.
The BTA is encouraging all its members who are eligible for the vaccine to get it, according to Tétrault.
“This is the best way to protect not only you but your family and also the students who you are teaching,” he said. “We have a lot of students under 12 who can’t get vaccinated.”
The BTA has gotten some calls from members concerned about a possible vaccine mandate, according to Tétrault.
“Their concerns are around personal choice, about uncertainty about the effectiveness of the vaccine, but this is not a widespread sentiment here in Burnaby,” he said.
Paul Simpson, president of CUPE Local 379, which represents local school support staff, said a “vocal minority” of his members, too, have raised concerns about a possible vaccine mandate, but he said he believes the majority would support it.
The union has a meeting on Oct. 16 when the issue will be discussed, according to Simpson.
“At this point I can’t tell you I oppose a vaccine mandate or I support one,” he said. “Officially, I have not had that full conversation with my membership.”
The school board, meanwhile, needs time to “review the implications and work with (its) local medical health officer and other partners” before it makes a decision on making vaccines mandatory, according to chair Jen Mezei.
“There are lots of things to consider – including the Burnaby board of education’s concern for students who are not and cannot be vaccinated, yet, as well as immune compromised staff and students,” she said in an emailed statement.
But Mooring warned unvaccinated B.C. teachers without a legitimate exemption should start planning now to get the vaccine.
“It could potentially affect your pay, your benefits, and even your pension,” Mooring wrote in her statement. “We just don’t know at this point, and we may be limited in what we can do to help you.”