New platforms to help unvaccinated Canadians into jobs are springing up across the country as provincial health authorities stand firm on enforcing vaccine mandates only on customers, not employees, of non-essential businesses.
Meanwhile, governments around the world are turning to mandatory national vaccination regimes in an attempt to stem rising COVID-19 cases and to boost vaccination numbers in the face of the Omicron variant.
Experts in Canada say there is no justification for the discrepancy, saying vaccine mandates must apply to everyone in public settings to be effective.
“Requiring patrons to be vaccinated while not requiring the same of staff leaves gaps, which put everyone at risk,” said Dr. Alexander Wong, infectious disease expert at Regina General Hospital in Saskatchewan.
On Monday, New York City became the latest major centre to introduce a sweeping vaccine mandate. All private employers will be required to have their workers vaccinated by Dec. 27.
Mandates increase vaccine rates, report says
In Canada, however, while health authorities have imposed vaccine certificates across most of the country for people wanting to access non-essential businesses, such as restaurants and gyms, no such mandate exists for employees of these same businesses, in most provinces.
Private employers are left to decide for themselves what rules they will impose on their staff.
This is despite vaccine mandates being proven as the most effective strategy for increasing uptake, according to a report in the Canadian Medical Association in Journal published in September. Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario all saw vaccination appointments double the day they unveiled plans to require proof of vaccination for recreational activities, the report said.
“There are people who are not going to get vaccinated regardless of what we mandate, but there are also people who are sitting on the fence, for which additional support and these kinds of mandates make a lot of sense,” Wong said.
Mandatory vaccine policies for workplaces and public venues began rolling out across Canada in August. Since then, hospitals, banks, insurers, school boards, police and some provincial administrations across Canada have implemented similar policies for current and future hires. As a result, tens of thousands of Canadians who refuse to be vaccinated have lost their jobs or been placed on leave.
Job listings target unvaccinated
These people have flooded social media websites. Channels with thousands of subscribers have now been set up on platforms such as Telegram, solely to connect unvaccinated Canadians with potential employers.
It has also spawned a new job recruitment company, called Jabless Jobs, to help the unvaccinated find work. The company was registered in Vancouver on Oct. 14, according to Corporations Canada’s online database.
Jabless Jobs is currently advertising about 70 listings. Many are in the construction and trades sector, but there are also postings for chefs, dentists, caregivers, massage therapists, a hairdresser, early childhood educators and tutors for children with special needs.
The company’s website describes itself as an employment service to “connect non discriminatory employers with like minded job seekers.” Employers can list jobs publicly or anonymously. A tracker at the top of the website claims it has had about 75,000 views between Nov. 25 and Dec. 7.
Global News contacted 32 public job listings on Jabless Jobs to inquire about their reasons for advertising on the website.
Despite many having strong opinions on COVID-19 vaccines, most people refused to be quoted on the record. Many asked that their company not be mentioned in any story, despite the job listing being posted in a public forum. Three company representatives just responded with abuse and claims the “mainstream media” is corrupt.
Those who did agree to speak commonly repeated baseless claims about vaccine safety and mandates as an infringement on people’s rights.
Why companies are refusing mandates
Yehuda Goldberg, owner of Brothers Butchers Shoppe in Mississauga, Ont., which is advertising for a butcher, said mandates were a “violation of human rights” and he would “never be convinced” the vaccine was safe.
“Why should I mandate my employees to take an experimental vaccine that is harmful to their health?” he said.
The COVID-19 vaccines are not harmful to people’s health. “Adverse events” are rare and published weekly by Health Canada. Of the 59.9 million vaccine doses administered in Canada so far, there have been 27,747 adverse event reports (0.046 per cent of all doses administered) and of those, 6,443 were considered serious (0.011 per cent of all doses). The most common side effects were tingling or prickling, vaccine site pain and headaches.
Of the main vaccines approved for use in Canada, the Pfizer vaccine has proven to be 95 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic infection, while the Moderna vaccine was 94.1 per cent effective and AstraZeneca was 62 per cent.
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Currently, 89 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 86 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Nonetheless, Goldberg said he had about 20 applicants after posting on Jabless Jobs and had hired someone to start on Wednesday.
A representative from Premier Truck Body Ltd. in Langley, who refused to be named, said he is strongly opposed to vaccine mandates and “will never ask anybody to participate in this scheme.” The company is advertising for a refrigeration mechanic.
“I will close the business down before I mandate it,” he said.
The representative, who would not say whether he was vaccinated against COVID-19, said he “is not an anti-vaxxer” and had “many vaccines before.”
Others spoke of labour shortages, insisting they had no other choice. Ross Mercer, owner at Mercer Contracting in Whitehorse, Yukon, said he believed vaccines were a personal choice and he was rotating staff to ensure those who were unvaccinated did not go to sites they were prohibited from.
“There’s such a labour shortage that I’d be crazy to turn anyone away even if they’re unvaccinated,” he said.
Jabless Jobs launches in Vancouver
Other companies had stronger anti-vaccine stances. Teresa Heron, co-owner of HUF Gym in Mississauga, which is advertising for a cleaner, has been outspoken about her refusal to enforce Ontario’s vaccine mandate. The gym made headlines in the spring when it decided to reopen during the lockdown.
Corduroy Restaurant in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, which is advertising for kitchen staff, had its business licence suspended in October for refusing to follow mask rules and failing to ask for vaccination cards from restaurant guests.
But, despite its name, the creator of Jabless Jobs says the company is not solely for the unvaccinated.
Douklias said he started the company as a job board on Telegram to find a job for himself after his workplace began “introducing vaccine restrictions” which he disagreed with. He said the channel “blew up,” so he registered Jabless Jobs as a company.
Region-specific Telegram channels with thousands of subscribers across Canada have also been set up to connect the unvaccinated with jobs.
“B.C. mask/vax-free employment” has 3,000 members. The Alberta contingent has over 4,000. Ontario’s also has about 3,000. Hundreds of messages circulate in these groups per day. Those looking for work are encouraged to post information about their professional backgrounds and are then connected to employers.
Information is also shared about public venues defying provincial mandate rules. Personal trainers offer home services. Yoga studios offer discounts to the unvaccinated. People ask and provide information about religious or medical exemptions and how to get one.
Newfoundland only province to mandate staff
But private businesses are free to choose not to mandate vaccine policies in most provinces in Canada.
Global News contacted health authorities in Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories to compare vaccine policies for non-essential businesses. Currently, only Newfoundland and Labrador stipulates both employees and customers must be vaccinated to access certain non-essential businesses and settings.
New Brunswick mandates that unvaccinated employees in private sector businesses, such as restaurants, undergo regular COVID-19 testing. The remainder of Canada enforces vaccine mandates on patrons of private businesses but not their staff. Northwest Territories and Nunavut do not enforce public vaccine policies.
In response to questions on why staff did not need to be vaccinated in public settings, most provinces simply reiterated that public health advice had deemed it optional. A spokesperson for the British Columbia Ministry of Health said it was a different process “because of the employer-employee relationship” and in Saskatchewan, a provincial spokesperson said it is “up to the employer to decide if they want to opt in to these regulations.”
In Yukon, a spokesman said the government has “no plans to intervene” in forcing private businesses to enforce mandates on staff. But if staff “enter their work establishment for reasons other than work,” they require proof of vaccination.
In Manitoba, a representative said: “Restaurants have other precautions in place, such as physical distancing, and the staff would not be in close contact with customers, as opposed to the customers who may be from different households and would have prolonged, close contact (without masks).”
Wong disagrees, saying both staff and customers should be vaccinated as everyone is in sustained, close contact in many public settings.
He said policy makers were “pandering to the five to 10 per cent minority” of people who remain unvaccinated.
Canada behind on nationwide rules
On a national level, there is no general vaccine mandate, other than those announced for federal employees and RCMP members.
That’s despite countries across the world increasingly turning to national vaccine mandates and severe restrictions for the unvaccinated.
In New Zealand, vaccinations are mandatory for all businesses where customers need to show vaccine certificates. In Australia, rules vary between states. In Victoria, one of the hardest-hit states, workers on an expansive list, which includes everything from construction to retail to real estate, must be vaccinated. In Singapore, unvaccinated employees are barred from their workplaces.
In Europe, public life in Greece, Austria, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic became limited for the unvaccinated in mid-November as infections rose across the continent. Germany is currently considering a general vaccine mandate, while Austria has instructed the unvaccinated to stay under lockdown when it lifts its wider general lockdown on Sunday.
But experts say Canada is unlikely to follow suit.
Wayne MacKay, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University, said he is “surprised” that provinces have not enforced vaccine policies on private sector staff, especially in settings such as restaurants where customers must be vaccinated to enter.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me. There’s nothing from a legal point-of-view to stop the governments from making it necessary,” he said.
Instead, MacKay believes provincial governments have quietly passed on the responsibility to employers to “avoid difficulty.”
“It’s a matter of politics or cautious policy, that provincial governments want to leave that to the private sector. But the private sector would much prefer to have the governments mandate it so the employers don’t have to take the heat.”
MacKay said Ottawa would not introduce national vaccine mandates due to backlash from the provinces. If it did so, the federal government would have to either use the Emergencies Act or pass legislation giving it the authority to step in, and that would be “difficult to argue,” Mackay said.
He said Canada had taken a “fairly cautious” approach on vaccine mandates in comparison to other countries, even though “the anti-vaxxers don’t seem to think so.”
“Rights are being limited but there are no absolute rights. If there’s a large public emergency, then that is what the Charter’s reasonable limits cause is for.”