Legislation passed in Alberta on Wednesday night that allows for workers to receive three hours of paid leave so they can get the COVID-19 vaccine without losing wages.
Bill 71 passed just hours after Alberta’s UCP government announced its plan to bring in the provision.
“We have heard there are concerns from some workers of their ability to get the time to get the shot,” Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping said when he announced the plan on Wednesday.
“Our government intends to introduce legislation that will amend the Employment Standards Code to provide a COVID-19 vaccine leave,” he said.
After the legislation passed, Copping issued a news release Wednesday night, saying introducing the bill was the “right thing to do, and we will continue to take bold actions to protect Albertans’ lives and livelihoods while ensuring our economic recovery.”
Alberta workers cannot be fired or disciplined for using the paid leave, Copping said. It can be used twice for those accessing the two-dose vaccines.
“Hardworking Albertans want to get the vaccine, but some may not be able to schedule an appointment because of their working hours, they may not be able to afford a loss of pay, which is a barrier to getting vaccinated,” the minister said.
“As always, we encourage employers and employees to work together on scheduling appointments, minimizing the impact on employees and also minimizing the impact on employers when taking the leave.”
It will be available to both full-time and part-time workers, regardless of length of service, the UCP said.
Copping thanked Alberta workers for their courage and dedication over the past 13 months — some continuing to offer essential services, others working from home to reduce the risk of transmission.
“Getting more people immunized means we’re getting close to reopening our economy,” he said. “This helps our economy, protects lives and livelihoods.”
When he introduced the bill, Copping acknowledged the paid leave was first suggested by the Opposition and said the UCP has “had conversations with the NDP about this as well.”
In a news release issued after the bill passed, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said she is “glad that the legislature has come together to unanimously pass this critical law in a single day.”
“I know the vast majority of Alberta employers recognize that the vaccine is the best way to keep their worksites and establishments safe,” said NDP labour critic Christina Gray.
“This new law now enshrines the rights of all workers to ensure all eligible Albertans can get vaccinated as soon as possible. Alberta’s NDP was proud to propose this legislation to the government and to see through its passage.”
B.C. and Saskatchewan have passed similar bills, Copping added.
Daily COVID-19 case numbers
Alberta continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases — both wildtype and variant strains.
On Wednesday, Alberta Health said 1,699 new cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the last 24 hours.
Over the same time period, about 18,412 tests were completed, putting Alberta’s positivity rate at around 9.5 per cent.
The province said Wednesday 1,332 cases involving variants of concern had been identified in the last 24 hours.
There are currently 18,873 total active COVID-19 cases in Alberta. Of those, 59 per cent are variant cases.
Due to a technical difficulty, hospitalization, ICU or fatality numbers were not available on Wednesday.
A total of 35,785 vaccine doses were administered on Tuesday, which brings the provincial total to more than 1.26 million.
“Thank you to everyone who is getting the vaccine to protect their health and the health of everyone around them,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw tweeted.
“I remain concerned about the high spread in our province. We all must continue to work together on behalf of our loved ones, neighbours, co-workers and communities to bend the curve and drive cases down provincewide.”
On Tuesday, Alberta expanded eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone born in 1981 or earlier.
That day alone, more than 36,000 eligible Albertans booked appointments to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days.
“I’m encouraged to see much more activity at the walk-in sites,” Kenney said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 update.
“This vaccine works… The risks of adverse effects are miniscule compared to COVID-19. The risks associated with COVID are massively higher.”
Both Health Minister Tyler Shandro and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday. The premier said his shot is booked for Thursday.
As of Wednesday, more than 70,000 appointments for AstraZeneca have been booked over the next seven days, and another 28,000 for the week after, Alberta Health said.
More than 65,000 people have received the vaccine. That is more than 20,000 in the last two days.
There are approximately 143,000 doses remaining that have not yet been administered.
Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday he didn’t know when Alberta would receive another shipment of this particular vaccine.
The province is currently in Phase 2C of its vaccine rollout plan. Anyone who turns 65 this year and older is eligible for vaccine. Doses are also being administered to First Nations individuals 50 and older, any Albertan 16 years old or older with certain underlying health conditions, and specified front-line workers.
Details on vaccine eligibility and instructions on how to book an appointment are available online.
Dr. Hinshaw said Tuesday that Albertans should not call their pharmacy to book a second dose until all Albertans have been offered a first dose.
She has said Alberta is spacing out doses 12 weeks.
Currently, all three vaccines being administered in Alberta — AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech — require at least two doses, administered weeks apart. A one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson has been approved by Health Canada, but has not yet been rolled out.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich