Western University staff association is ‘challenging’ institution’s COVID-19 policy

A student walks towards the Western University campus in London, Ont., on September 15, 2021. Nicole Osborne / The Canadian Press

As classes head for their first full week back to school, the University of Western Ontario Staff Association (UWOSA) said it’s challenging the university’s updated COVID-19 vaccination policy.

“UWOSA continues to support vaccination as a public health measure to protect our workplaces and our communities,” the staff association said Friday.

“However, as public health restrictions have lifted across the country, including Ontario, it is important to take a closer review of Western’s vaccination policy and how it is applied specifically to UWOSA members.”

On Aug. 22, Western introduced its updated COVID-19 policy, which includes the requirement that all attendees have received at least one booster shot.

The controversial decision, on top of requiring mandatory masking in classrooms, prompted mixed reactions from students, while the union representing the institution’s faculty association praised the move.

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Students, faculty and staff are required to submit current proof of vaccination by Oct. 1.

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The association said that the policy was implemented despite the provincial government eliminating the mandatory vaccine passport program as well as the masking requirement in most settings across Ontario.

Additionally, the group highlighted that other post-secondary institutions have dropped their vaccination requirements, including Fanshawe College, “with the notable exception of some requiring vaccination and boosters for students living in residence.”

Ahead of Western’s timeline to submit current proof of vaccination, the Ontario Science Advisory table was dissolved on Sept. 6.

“Given the current state of the pandemic there are arguably less intrusive means to keep employees safe at work and to enable Western to meet its statutory obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” the statement said.

“UWOSA has repeatedly raised concerns to Western that the policy does not strike a reasonable balance between an employee’s interest in privacy, bodily integrity and Western’s interest in maintaining the health and safety of its workplace.”

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One day after Western announced its updated COVID-19 policy, UWOSA said that it reached out to members to solicit their feedback.

“We have also sought multiple opinions from our legal team regarding the reasonableness and enforceability of the amended vaccination policy,” read the statement.

The association has since filed a policy grievance over the university’s amended COVID-19 vaccination policy.

“UWOSA will fight to ensure that regardless of any member’s vaccination status, our collective is heard and our collective is supported,” the statement said.

“UWOSA acknowledges that the current policy is unreasonable for our members and is a breach of our Collective Agreement as well as The Ontario Human Rights Code.

“While there is no guaranteed outcome of the policy grievance filed, we are optimistic a resolution will be reasonable and equitable.”

Western declined to comment “as the matter is in litigation.”

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