The week of May 10 is looking to be pivotal for Ontario’s construction sector as the province aims to expand its eligibility list for COVID-19 vaccines to include most workers in the sector.
The latest technical briefing from the Ministry of Health indicates that it “anticipates” that “Group 2” essential workers, which includes most construction workers, will become eligible to book vaccine appointments that week.
It’s a milestone the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) has had in its sights for weeks, said OGCA director of government relations David Frame, and so it has scheduled a forum for May 12 titled Guidance for Construction and Establishing Your Workplace Vaccine Policy.
Frame noted provincial policies related to the pandemic tend to change frequently, and that when the OGCA scheduled its webinar it was well in advance of the eligibility timeframe as then projected. The new May 10 eligibility date just appeared recently.
“We were aware that vaccination roll-out was going to increase significantly by the middle of May,” explained Frame, discussing the timing and programming of the webinar. “This would become an issue for employers about getting their employees vaccinated. How should they be going about that, what sort of support should they be giving, what policies should they have around the whole thing?
“We knew the whole thing would be a relevant discussion by the middle of May.”
On May 5 the Ontario government announced further expansion of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan with the launch of mobile vaccine units for small to medium-sized businesses in hot spot communities. That day Peel also announced it would be offering vaccinations for residents 18 and older beginning May 6. The mobile units will begin offering vaccinations in Toronto, York and Peel at select businesses with a history or risk of outbreaks. Frame noted that at least two construction employers had indicated their interest in hosting clinics to the province’s Chief Prevention Officer Ron Kelusky.
The government’s framework for vaccines targets a First Group of workers who are to become eligible to register for vaccines on May 3, with critical infrastructure restoration workers included in the First Group. The Second Group (Group 2) includes broader construction including infrastructure.
“In the big picture, companies are saying vaccines are the way we’re going to continue to operate, we don’t want to get shut down again,” said Frame. “We’re going to encourage vaccines as much as possible, and we worked with Ron Kelusky last month to get essential construction workers on the priority list for vaccines. Then that leads to potentially having vaccine clinics for construction workers as well.”
The OGCA workshop is being cohosted with Fasken LLP and starts at 10 a.m. Kelusky will be on hand for a presentation as will construction lawyer Norm Keith, partner at Fasken.
Topics to be discussed include: What are the safety imperatives of vaccinations for construction workers? How do the rules apply to unilateral management vaccine policies? Should an employer establish a Mandatory Proof of Vaccination Policy? Will the government or employers be able to use vaccine passports?
“I think you’ll see the hard questions of, can you make somebody do it? But the bigger focus is, for the most part, most people want vaccines, and for the most part, those who are vaccine-hesitant are coming around to the benefits of being vaccinated,” said Frame.
“We will be recommending to employers, encouraging vaccines, and making available either through their worksite or through making time available to their workers to go and get their vaccine, that will be the focus.”
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