At Alberta’s largest oil and gas companies, its workplace vaccines include employees with mandatory Kovid-19 policy, contract operators, and people working under direct contract in its Calgary headquarters or field.
The decision was guided by a public health emergency in Alberta and an increase in Covid-19 cases, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) said in an email statement to News.
“In an effort to increase the safety measures already in place, we will continue to implement additional measures to build our collective response to COVID-19,” the statement said.
The vaccination policy begins December 1 and provides exemptions for medical or religious reasons. CNRL did not say what would happen with employees without vaccine exemptions.
The unknown and the consequences
Perry Birkenpas, executive director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance, said the need to keep employees safe is critical but they are concerned about the impact on workers.
“There is concern throughout the industry, that is [with] With the Delta transformation and the province’s caseload, we are likely to see further impacts on business, ”said Birkenpas.
“Can we get workers? Are there pieces of work that need to be stopped due to positive tests?”
There are also unknowns, such as booster shots, he said. “We’re dealing with a moving target.”
CNRL currently has four active outbreaks, two of which have seen 2,232 Covid-19 cases since October 2020. According to Alberta Health, there are currently 77 active cases.
As of Wednesday, there were 234 active cases in rural Wood Emu area 23 and Fort McMurray.
Birkenpas said other companies are looking at CNRL policy, but there is currently no industry standard.
“Others are going to consider it, but they’re also going to look at it and say, ‘Do we still need to use rapid testing in some shape or form?’
In Imperial Oil, there is no mandatory vaccine, and those working at its Kearl site north of Fort McMurray must provide proof of vaccination or undergo rapid screening every 72 hours, spokeswoman Lisa Smith said in an email.
Vaccination at Suncor is not mandatory but is encouraged, said spokeswoman Leithon Slade.
Adam Savaglio, employment law expert at Scarfone Hawkins LLP, said it was not surprising in the CNRL policy that employers were trying to balance workplace safety, operations, government mandates and employee resistance to vaccinations.
“Because we are ultimately a burden to employers, we are getting to the point where it becomes more common than usual,” he said.
Savaglio said employers do not need to provide more housing for people who choose not to be vaccinated without religious or medical immunity.
“They can terminate that employment contract,” Savaglio said.
It then becomes a question of separation and instruction, which affects whether the worker is in the union, their seniority in the company and whether they are in agreement.
If employers have the burden to comply with health and safety standards, Sawaglio said, they need authority to regulate and maintain health and safety guidelines. Employers can ask for limited medical information if they meet health and safety standards, he said.
“You can’t put all the burden on them and then expect them to not be compulsory in their workplace,” he said.
Eluk Cerda, managing associate at the Calgary office of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said compulsory vaccination policies are becoming commonplace among employers but these policies are troubling when they don’t allow rapid testing or people to work from home.
“The unanswered question is, ‘What happens to an employee who doesn’t have a vaccine?’
If an employee is suspended or dismissed for non-vaccination, they may be eligible for the severance package. If the union represents the affected employees, the union can file a complaint, he said.
“This is a complete choice that employees have,” Cerda said.