HIV and hepatitis B vaccinations suspended for TTC workers

TORONTO – There could be more woes for Transit Toronto employees as hundreds of workers face suspension following a union’s decision to abandon a legal battle against the corporation’s vaccinations mandate.

“I never thought this day would come,” spokesperson Kelly Jarvis said Friday. “I don’t think anybody saw this coming.”

Thousands of TTC workers must be vaccinated against HIV and hepatitis B – issues that surfaced earlier this year after a worker was arrested for knowingly exposing more than 70 transit passengers to HIV after being infected by contaminated syringes.

Employees who fail to get the vaccination face penalties ranging from five to 30 days suspension or termination.

TTC employees also face restrictions on tobacco use and smoking in public.

“In terms of getting the vaccinations, the employees had a choice of getting it, of taking a preventative course on hygiene, of getting nicotine withdrawal and then facing up to two weeks of unpaid leave,” Jarvis said.

“We gave the option for every employee to choose.”

But The Union of Ontario Workers (UOW) decided on Thursday that they would stop paying $50 per week in legal fees and drop a court challenge.

However, the union continues to claim that health and safety concerns may be “undermined or even ignored” if employees have to wait until Jan. 1, 2020 to get vaccinated.

“Due to public health concerns and our long standing concerns of the autonomy and hiring responsibility of our employer, we have decided to let our members exercise their right to choose to have their annual influenza vaccine, instead of being forced into a position where they must have it and pay for it,” Jarvis said.

It is the unions response to requests from Mayor John Tory and provincial Health Minister Eric Hoskins that employees get vaccinated in the absence of legislative support.

Tory has repeatedly said that he believes employees should have the right to decide, pointing out that vaccination rates are good and that none of the complications of the disease has been linked to Toronto Transit Commission workers.

The mayor and the province on Thursday sent a letter to staff saying they would not increase health and safety regulations after failed negotiations with the union in April over a potential extension of the mandate.

A rep from Hoskins declined to comment on the agreement reached by the city and the union, but noted he had previously written to workers that “we will ensure you have the full freedom to make an informed choice.”

Hoskins previously said a “facilitated, confidential approach” to vaccination should be the “default” when dealing with health and safety concerns.

Toronto has set vaccination rates that are above the provincial standard. Statistics from Health Canada say that 96 per cent of workers at major companies are vaccinated against hepatitis B, while a third have taken the annual influenza vaccination.

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