Ontario hospital workers being told to use vacation or lieu time to get COVID-19 vaccine

“The OHA claims to exist to preserve the integrity of our healthcare system, and then they treat our frontline heroes, who keep our health system running, with contempt.” — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Toronto (18 Jan. 2021) — The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) is calling out the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) for not providing clear direction to hospitals that workers should be given time to get vaccinated against COVID-19 during work hours.

Hospitals citing lack of funding from the province

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says, “It’s unbelievable that front-line workers at some hospitals are being told they have to use vacation or lieu time to get a vaccine shot. Although the union appealed to the OHA to provide direction, there has, thus far been no action.”

“It is duplicitous for the OHA to drag their heels and fail to show any leadership while claiming to be all-in on preserving healthcare capacity,” said Thomas. “The OHA claims to exist to preserve the integrity of our healthcare system, and then they treat our frontline heroes, who keep our health system running, with contempt.”

The provincial government and public health officials are encouraging frontline workers in hospitals to get the vaccine, but some hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area are refusing to pay workers being vaccinated at off-site hospitals, citing lack of funding from the province.

Many workers do not have paid time off

Currently, only 21 of the 139 hospitals in Ontario are able to administer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on-site, due to the cold storage temperatures. No clear direction has been given to workers about scheduling their vaccines, and the union has learned that some workers have been told to use their vacation days, float days, and lieu time to get their shots. Many of them, such as part-time workers, do not get paid time off.

OPSEU/NUPGE and other unions have been meeting with health ministry officials to collaboratively discuss ways to remove barriers to getting as many health care workers inoculated as possible. Thomas says if the OHA and its member hospitals don’t change course then the Minister of Health should intervene immediately.

Hospital red tape is putting lives at stake

“This failed leadership on the part of the OHA and hospitals is exactly the kind of barrier we need to remove,” said Thomas. “It’s vital that front-line workers get this vaccine to protect patients, themselves, their coworkers and their communities. We can’t let hospital red tape and political maneuvering get in the way of saving lives.”

OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says, “Making vaccine access easy for our healthcare workers is critical to ensuring our hospitals can meet the pandemic, and OHA’s CEO Anthony Dale should be making this a priority.”

“The OHA is AWOL – absent without leadership,” said Almeida. “It’s inexcusable that employers are trying to nickel and dime our front-line heroes and failing to ensure they and Ontarians are protected. Get with the program, Mr. Dale. Actions speak louder than words.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE