WestJet announces employee COVID-19 vaccine mandate

A passenger checks in at a Westjet counter at the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jeff McIntosh

Weeks after federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra mandated that federally regulated airline employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, the WestJet Group announced it will require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 30.

“Protecting the health and safety of our guests and employees remains our number one priority, and vaccinations are our best line of defence,” Mark Porter, WestJet executive vice-president of people, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Aviation has been one of the hardest-hit industries, and we believe requiring all WestJet Group employees to be vaccinated is the right thing to do and ensures the safest travel and work environment for everyone in WestJet’s world.”

Porter said the vaccine as a requirement for employment is “essential to the safe restart of travel across Canada.”

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A press release for the Calgary-based airline said there will be evaluations and accommodations for those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical exemptions. Testing will not be provided by the airline as an alternative for vaccination.

WestJet workers face the possibility of unpaid leave or termination if they don’t attest to their vaccine status by Sep. 24 or don’t complete their vaccination by Oct. 30.

WestJet spokesperson said the timeline still gives employees time to make up their minds to get fully vaccinated by the end of October.

“Once we reach Oct. 30, those (unvaccinated) individuals will then be placed on an unpaid leave for the month of November so that they can ultimately make that final determination and get the information that they need, if they so choose (to) go down the path of getting that first vaccine and then the second one four weeks after,” Richard Bartrem, vice-president of marketing and communications for WestJet, told Global News.

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“In the event that that’s not the case come Dec. 1, they would no longer be WestJet employees, unfortunately.”

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In a statement to Global News, CUPE Local 4070 president Chris Rauenbusch said the union is aware of WestJet’s announced policy and takes the responsibility of representing its members’ rights very seriously.

“Our legal counsel is currently reviewing the details of the announcement along with the requirements announced by the federal government,” Rauenbusch said.

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Bartrem said a vaccinated WestJet workforce can put confidence back in travel.

“(Travellers) want to understand across that entire travel journey or that travel ecosystem what measurements are being put in place to make sure that it’s as safe as possible.”

WestJet joins Air Canada, Porter Airlines, Sunwing and Air Transat in enacting mandatory vaccine policies for their employees following the federal announcement.

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South of the border, airlines like Delta, American and United have all enacted vaccine mandates for their employees.

Earlier on Wednesday, Canadian National Railway announced all of its employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.

–with files from Reuters

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