Vaccine mandate for B.C. teachers should be done provincially, not by school district: union president

The president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation is speaking out against the province's assertion that vaccine mandates for educators aren't its responsibility but up to school districts.

In a statement released Friday, Teri Mooring said the BCTF doesn't oppose a vaccine mandate for kindergarten to Grade 12 workers, as long as privacy rights are protected and medical exemptions are accommodated.

"The BCTF will not be standing against a mandate," Mooring's statement said. "It's the right thing to do at this stage in the pandemic."

The statement was released days after the province added employees of the B.C. Public Service Agency to the list of workers who will soon be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Teachers, however, aren't under such a mandate.

"The districts are the employers," Premier John Horgan said in a news conference Thursday. "We are the funder, to be sure, but there is a dual relationship here between (school board) trustees and the government."

Mooring said it's "become clear" to the BCTF "that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is likely to come to the public education system" and encouraged teachers and staff to get vaccinated now if they can.

But Mooring said she takes issue with the province's position.

"At this point, I am very concerned that a potential vaccine mandate could be implemented district-by-district, employer-by-employer," she said. "That’s the wrong approach. Any vaccine mandate would need to be provincially implemented and done equitably. We can’t have unequal treatment of workers in the public education system."

Mooring explained the provincial health officer hasn't issued a public health order forcing districts to mandate vaccines. In the meantime, the BCTF said it'll speak to the province and the BC Public School Employers' Association to ensure a vaccine mandate is rolled out fairly, if one comes. Mooring said she wants to be sure employees who refuse to get vaccinated "are treated fairly."

"However, to be clear, we don’t know what the consequences would be and neither does your local union. If you are not vaccinated and do not have a legitimate exemption, you should start planning now to get the vaccine," Mooring said.

"It could potentially affect your pay, your benefits, and even your pension. We just don’t know at this point and we may be limited in what we can do to help you."