TorontoOntario paramedics who are waging a fight with the province to have a mandatory flu vaccine removed from the Ambulance Act, have been given a booster by a landmark labour board decision that says a mandatory flu shot for workers is a serious invasion of the body.
The decision, the first of its kind, upheld the right of tens of thousands of health care workers to refuse to comply with a mandatory flu shot as a condition of employment. The grievance was put forth by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, on behalf of 130 members working at St. Peters Health System, a chronic care geriatric facility in Hamilton.
The union argued that the hospital did not have the legal right to suspend nine workers who refused to comply with a mandatory flu vaccine. The experienced arbitrators ruled that a forced flu shot infringes on an employees privacy rights and that the express consent of the worker is required or it is an assault of the person.
This is a victory for all health care workers. But the ruling is a welcome shot in the arm for paramedics who are arguing under the Charter of Rights that they are being discriminated against by the province, which has foisted a mandatory flu vaccine on them. The labour board says this is a violation of common law and an invasion of the body, says Sid Ryan, the Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the union that represents the majority of Ontarios 5,000 paramedics and 40,000 health care workers province-wide.
Today, at a Queens Park media conference, Ryan, Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), and Steven Barrett, a lawyer with Sack, Goldblatt and Mitchell provided details of the arbitration board decision and its relevance to a legal challenge launched last year on behalf of paramedics who refused to comply with a mandatory flu shot.
Over the winter, 50 paramedics were suspended after they refused to comply with mandatory flu shot legislation. All are back on the job, except for Bill Kotsopoulos, a North Bay paramedic. His employer, the North Bay Hospital, is still refusing to allow Kotsopoulos to return to work.
In addition to the labour board ruling lending weight to the charter challenge, it also gives a clear message to the management of the hospital that forcing someone to get a flu vaccine as a condition of employment is a violation of a workers rights. The right thing to do is to allow Bill back to work, says Ryan.
In February, paramedics representing the majority of the provinces ambulance workers gave the Ontario government a forceful message that unless a legislated mandatory flu shot is removed from the Ambulance Act, next fall they will mobilize province-wide non-compliance.
Weve asked for dialogue with the health minister, but so far there has been no response. This needs to be resolved now before we head into the fall flu season, with the majority of the provinces paramedics not complying. We are urging the minister to deal with this issue over the summer months or he will be accountable for the turmoil in our emergency system next fall, warns Ryan.
For more information please contact:
Sid Ryan, President CUPE Ontario
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications