BC Hydro announces vaccine mandate for employees; schools, ferries in more complicated situations

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B.C.'s main electricity provider has joined the growing list of employers in the province that will soon be requiring their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

BC Hydro announced the vaccine mandate Thursday afternoon, after Premier John Horgan hinted that such a decision was imminent during a news conference earlier in the day.

The utility company will require all employees working at its worksites and facilities to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, according to a statement.

"This date aligns BC Hydro with the date announced by the province of B.C. for the Public Service Agency and allows enough time for unvaccinated employees to be fully vaccinated," the statement reads.

Consultants and employees working for contractors and subcontractors will be required to show proof of vaccination by Jan. 10, 2022, according to BC Hydro.

The new policy will apply to more than 6,000 BC Hydro workers, including those working at the construction site for the Site C hydroelectric dam, where Northern Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak in August after 41 workers tested positive for the disease.

"BC Hydro will continue to work with its employees, unions and contractors in the coming weeks to further define the vaccination policy and provide details for accommodations for those who are unable to be vaccinated due to a medically approved exemption," the company said.

SCHOOLS, FERRIES AMONG EMPLOYERS STILL SORTING OUT REQUIREMENTS

The electric company's announcement comes on the heels of several other vaccine mandates announced by the provincial government earlier this week.

On Tuesday, the province added employees of the B.C. Public Service Agency - including correctional officers, wildfire fighters and social workers, among others - to the list of workers who will soon be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Health-care workers in the province were already subject to such a mandate. 

The province also announced Tuesday that visitors to health-care facilities would be required to show proof of vaccination in the coming weeks.

During his remarks Thursday, Horgan repeatedly defended the provincial government's position on requiring immunization for teachers, saying it's up to local school boards - not the province - to implement such mandates. 

“The districts are the employers,” he said. “We are the funder, to be sure, but there is a dual relationship here between (school board) trustees and the government.”

Another situation in which the provincial government isn't the employer - despite providing substantial funding - is that of BC Ferries.

Workers for the provincial ferry service are not under the purview of the B.C. Public Service Agency, but Horgan said Thursday that they will still be required to be vaccinated because they're employed in a federally regulated industry.

A spokesperson for BC Ferries told CTV News Vancouver the premier's assertion that all ferry workers are required to be vaccinated is not entirely accurate.

"Transport Canada’s directive speaks to companies that operate vessels with 12 or more crew," said spokesperson Deborah Marshall in an email.

"Some of our smaller ships operate with less than 12 crew. We are seeking clarification from Transport Canada on how the full extent of the requirements will apply to its employees. We expect to have it all sorted in a few weeks."

Passengers on BC Ferries vessels are not subject to federal proof-of-vaccination requirements introduced earlier this week. Those rules will apply to planes, trains and cruise ships, but not ferries.