Shaw refuses to provide 3-hour paid leave for COVID vaccinations, tells employees to use personal days

A Shaw employee is speaking out against the telecommunications giant, saying the company has refused to give B.C. workers paid COVID vaccination leave, citing federal regulations.

“I was surprised and dismayed,” said the employee, who has been with the company for more than 10 years, and whose identity CBC has agreed to keep confidential for fear of retaliation from Shaw. “It kind of felt as if we didn’t matter.”

In April, the B.C. government amended the province’s Employment Standards Act to provide workers with up to three hours of paid leave from work in order to get their COVID-19 vaccines.

Shaw and other telecommunications companies, however, are federally mandated, meaning they are not beholden to B.C.’s laws.

The disconnect highlights a discrepancy in how provincial and federal bodies have supported workers amid a national vaccination campaign aimed at quelling a global pandemic.

The employee and his union, IBEW 213, claim Shaw told workers the provincial changes “did not apply” to them and that they would have to use personal leave if they wanted to get vaccinated during working hours.

“We reached out to Shaw a number of times and were told the same thing — that members could use their own personal leave for vaccination,” said Robin Nedila, IBEW 213 assistant business manager. “It really is shameful.”

Robin Nedila of IBEW 213 says his union is concerned members aren’t getting vaccinated because they have little spare time and are reluctant to use personal days to do so. (Ben Nelms)

Shaw denies the claims, however. 

“The assertion that Shaw is not giving employees time off work to receive their vaccines is plainly not accurate,” wrote Shaw spokesperson Chethan Lakshman.

“Shaw offers all employees the ability to take time from their workday to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, as their role allows.

“If an employee is in a role that does not offer the flexibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during their regular working hours, employees are able to use personal days, which are separate from vacation time and designed to support time off required for medical and/or personal obligations.”

The unnamed employee, who has received his first dose, and who visits six or more locations every shift — including homes, medical offices, and retail spaces — says the policy has served as a barrier for Shaw’s staff, delaying some from getting their vaccine, and discouraging others entirely.

“We’ve been offered to use our own personal days or sick time to [get vaccinated] but we have those days and that time for other reasons,” he said.

Calls for change

But while the gap in policy remains in place, at least one local MP thinks there’s a quick fix, should Ottawa be interested.

“The federal government could easily amend the Canada Labour Code or come up with an order in council,” said federal health critic Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver-Kingsway.

Davies says he wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government outlining his concerns but hasn’t heard back.

Federal labour minister and Liberal MP Filomena Tassi, meanwhile, tells CBC she is “concerned by these reports” and that her ministry has been “working closely with organizations representing federally regulated employers,” encouraging “employers to accommodate employees who are receiving their first and/or second vaccinations, and those who may be experiencing post-vaccination symptoms.”

Labour Minister Filomena Tassi says she is concerned that Shaw is not giving workers paid leave, despite amendments to the B.C. Employment Standards Act. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Nedila and IBEW 213 say they want to see more from Tassi’s office.

“We’re hoping that all federally regulated workers and, more specifically, all Shaw employees everywhere, should be given three hours to go get vaccinated,” said Nedila.

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