Over 120 jail staff in Ontario put on leave over vaccination policy

But union president claims workers are following OPS rules

Over 120 jail staff in Ontario put on leave over vaccination policy

More than 120 staff at Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont. have been placed on leave for allegedly failing to comply with COVID-19 vaccination rules.

This is after Halton Public Health banned unvaccinated staff from working at the jail last week amid a COVID-19 outbreak, according to a report from the Toronto Sun.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General said this complies with the Section 22 order issued in response to the growing outbreak at the facility, according to a statement sent to CP24 Sunday afternoon. There are 80 cases linked to the current outbreak, according to Halton Public Health.

The majority of the unvaccinated staff, including correctional officers, were placed on unpaid leave as of Dec. 1 due to a public health order issued by local officials.

“As part of the order, the local public health unit has declared that all unvaccinated staff will not be permitted onsite after noon on Dec. 1,” Greg Flood, ministry spokesperson, said in the statement.

“As the public health order does not permit staff to attend work, all unvaccinated employees, including those who refuse to disclose their vaccination status, have been placed on temporary unpaid leave pending the lifting of the local public health unit’s orders.”

Over 1,000 workers in the “core” federal public sector were put on leave in November because they had not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

‘Staff were following rules’

However, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union claimed that staff were following Ontario Public Service rules, according to a report from CTV News. Those rules had allowed unvaccinated workers to go through regular COVID-19 testing as an alternative to vaccination.

“The focus of this isn’t about who is vaccinated and who isn’t, the focus of this is these individuals were in compliance with an OPS mandate and they were punished for it,” said Peter Figliola, OPSEU Local 234 president. 

Figliola said staff who are able to work at the jail are working 12 to 14 hours days and through breaks in order to keep the facility operating. This is while other staff members are facing an unknown amount of time without pay.

“I feel like we are being used as a test run to see what the reaction is for the rest of the province,” he said. He noted that proof of vaccination or testing is not a requirement for visitors to provincial jails and said the union had been asking for this to be addressed for weeks.

“I honestly think this has set back labour relations two decades probably,” he said.

The weekend memo from OPSEU Local 234 president Peter Figliola says 124 staff members working at Maplehurst are affected by the new requirement.

Also, staff at the jail were only informed on Nov. 30 that Halton Public Health had issued a Section 22 order, banning unvaccinated staff from entering the jail as of noon the next day.

In October, the federal government announced that these workers will have to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 29. The deadline was Nov. 15.