The Vaccination Dilemma
The issue of mandatory vaccinations is proliferating the entire construction industry, and since this requirement is stemming from individual buyers of construction demanding this on their sites, the entire construction industry is left without a clear directive and completely fragmented.
Public health has left the ultimate decision up to the construction industry to navigate, but this lack of clarity has led to the downloading of responsibility to individual business owners. This move has in turn created an unfortunate division of the industry and more confusion than clarity, with minimal positive impacts on vaccination rates of workers.
I can see three clear camps of individuals: those strongly for vaccinations; those who will continue to refute the science and instead are staunch in their position against vaccinations; and lastly, those companies that are being dictated to by the buyers of construction and see multiple issues in simply mandating this requirement across the board.
Let’s be honest: this is a very polarizing topic and those who are for mandatory vaccinations simply see this as society’s best way out of COVID-19. For these buyers of construction, this is both a business decision as well as a moral one. From their perspective, they can combine the continuation of their projects with great optics and positive public opinion since they are now seen as leading the charge in protecting workers. For them, this is a win-win situation. I have amassed some anecdotal perspectives and after extensive discussions with all aspects of the construction industry, I don’t believe that this is as simple as a “yes” or “no” decision. There are multiple elements to the discussion, and I will get into that shortly.
On the other hand, you do have a small minority of people who are vehemently opposed to vaccinations. They are affectionately referred to as the “anti-vaxxers.” They are the individual workers on site that are openly defying any science on the vaccine as well as compounding an already bad situation into one that becomes almost unmanageable. You are all entitled to your own personal opinion, but when you start to openly influence and at times “bully” your opinion onto others, this is where the problems arise.
I am not here to vilify those that do not want to get the vaccination. I am here to say that once you cross over from personal opinion to openly challenging the contractor’s vaccination policy, you transition into the realm of problem instead of being part of the solution.
Throughout the pandemic, the ICI sector has repeatedly risen to the challenge of protecting our workers by introducing site screening and antigen testing, staggering labour forces, adhering to physical distancing, and advancing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protocols. Furthermore, the OGCA supported the COVID-19 vaccination efforts and provided all of our members, and the greater construction community, with a template vaccination policy that “strongly encourages” all workers to seek vaccination as a means of protecting themselves from contracting COVID-19.
When a worker refuses to abide by the contractor’s vaccination policy, they are compromising the contractor’s ability to ensure the health and safety of all of their workers on site. This places the contractor in a bad position because they are now perceived as “bending to” or “appeasing” the anti-vaxxers to the detriment of the majority that are adhering to the policy. Optically, no contractor wants to be in this position since it degrades overall morale on the sites and within the entire company.
Incidentally, in a recent Toronto Star article titled, “Anti-vaxxers don’t have a right to accommodations, Ontario human rights watchdog says,” it was noted that “people who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to personal preferences or ‘singular beliefs’ do not have a right to accommodations under Ontario’s human rights law, the province’s rights watchdog says.” This article was succinct in how it phrased the argument and noted that, “the decision to get vaccinated is voluntary, and a ‘person who chooses not to be vaccinated based on personal preference does not have the right to accommodation under the (Human Rights Code).’” As a means of clarification, the article went on to say that, “while human rights law prohibits discrimination based on creed — someone’s religion, or a non-religious belief system that shapes their identity, world view and way of life — personal preferences or singular beliefs do not amount to a creed, the commission said, adding it ‘is not aware of any tribunal or court decision that found a singular belief against vaccinations or masks amounted to a creed within the meaning of the Code.’”
Ultimately, the anti-vaxxers position on this subject is not rooted in a solid foundation and instead, on personal preference that has now been denied as a viable defence against not being fully vaccinated.
The final group is the one I really wanted to highlight. Those contractors that are being mandated by various buyers of construction to fully implement vaccinations as a condition of continuing work on projects. Although they want to comply to make their clients happy and to reassure the client that the sites will not be closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, these contractors see mandatory vaccinations as a further compounding of existing issues that contractors need to administer. Without any guidance on the part of public health, this situation is quickly becoming an unfair downloading of responsibility.
In discussions with many of our contractors that are “stuck” in this position, they noted that without any clarity, this has led to unintended consequences. The issues created include a further proliferation of the critical labour shortage in the construction sector. Additionally, this will create significant contractual issues throughout the construction supply chain, which has the potential to overwhelm dispute resolution, arbitration and legal systems.
Look at construction like a pyramid, with the buyer of construction, or client, at the top, followed by the consultant company level, and then the general contractor as the next level. The final and much larger levels are those belonging to the subcontractors and the supply chain providers. A simple decision at the top of the pyramid is easy for the client to initiate, but as that same mandate goes down the pyramid, it becomes compounded into a more multifaceted and complicated effort to administer.
This is the fundamental issue that construction is facing. Since public health has not provided one sole, clear direction on the matter, it is being left to the buyers of construction to interpret and mandate on individual projects and in turn, becomes unmanageable for general contractors to demand from subtrades and suppliers.
The OGCA continues to address this issue head-on and alongside the entirety of the construction sector, and we will keep all of our members abreast of any developments as they occur.
Should anyone want to discuss the vaccination mandates, or if you require any assistance from the OGCA, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 905.671.3969.