The city of Toronto has fired 461 employees for not getting at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and the fate of a further 285 city workers hangs in the balance.
The news comes as the city is planning the possibility of mass absenteeism from public servants due to an explosion in Omicron variant infections, with the possibility of service reductions due to lack of healthy, non-isolating staff.
While the total number of those fired or facing a possible layoff is only about one percent of the city’s 32,000 employees, many of them work in significant areas, including paramedics and firefighters, as well as Toronto Public Health.
The city said Wednesday that the 461 workers had not done so by Sunday deadline, shown proof of being vaccinated under a strictly mandatory requirement announced in August in an effort to help increase Toronto vaccination rates.
These workers “either had not received any doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or had not reported their vaccination status and had their employment in the city of Toronto terminated,” the city said in a statement. news release.
The dismissed employees include: 127 in parks, forestry and recreation; 49 in senior support and long-term care; 30 in public health; 28 in shelter support and housing; 20 in the fire department; and 15 in paramedical services.
The hardest hit service in percent is 311 Toronto, where nine workers, or four percent in total, were fired for refusing to prove dual vaccination.
Another 248 employees in the city who had reported receiving a vaccine dose are called to meetings and asked for proof of another dose, or at least an agreement to get one, otherwise they will be terminated.
A further 37 employees remain on temporary leave while the city reviews their requests for a dispensation for the order on human rights grounds.
Toronto Mayor Chris Murray said he is “extremely proud” of the public service for its strong response to the extensive vaccination order that was among the first in Ontario, where many other major employers followed suit.
“With the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases across the city, driven by the Omicron variant, it’s good to know that city employees are doing everything they can to protect each other and the people of Toronto,” Murray said in a declaration.
While the percentage of workers affected is small, Toronto is heading into an Omicron wave where it may need all available workers.
On Wednesday, Mayor John Tory said the city will soon make public contingency plans in case the highly contagious variant strengthens as much as 60 percent of the city’s workforce away from work.
The city says workers fired or facing a possible layoff are not relevant to that planning because they have been on unpaid leave since November and was “not included in the current staff level.”
The Toronto Public Library has already announced plans to temporarily close almost half of its branches from Monday to cope with staff absences. The library system has laid off 54 employees out of more than 2,100 for contravening its vaccination mandate.
The city says that no matter how many workers report sick, it will maintain essential services, including emergency services, waste collection, water treatment and homeless shelters. Other services may be restricted or canceled.
Scarlett Martyn, an advanced paramedic who refused to be vaccinated, said the city ended her 23-year employment Tuesday. She had offered to undergo a daily COVID-19 test at her own expense.
“What will be detrimental is the staff shortage they will face,” she said.
The city’s immunization requirements and others that followed have helped increase Toronto’s vaccination rate to 87 percent of residents aged 12 and over who have received at least two doses.
Updated Toronto COVID-19 figures show that since last Saturday, local admissions have been rising since the end of December. The daily average was 14.9 compared to the pandemic of 95 in April last year early in the vaccination effort.
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