News Release: Updated health and safety guidelines for post-secondary campuses come up short

Publish date: Wednesday, August 25, 2021

UVic - University of Victoria Administrative and Academic Professionals



Updated health and safety guidelines for post-secondary campuses come up short

VICTORIA – UVic unions (CUPE 951, CUPE 4163, the UVic Chapter of the Professional Employees Association (PEA), and the UVic Faculty Association) welcome the BC government’s announcement today about mask mandates in post-secondary institutions, and the requirement for vaccinations for students in residence, food services and other “non-essential” spaces on campus. But, despite these positive measures, the updated guidelines ultimately come up short when it comes to protecting the health of students and employees.

“These new rules will protect many of our members,” said CUPE 951 President Kirk Mercer. “However, UVic unions remain very concerned that universities cannot require vaccinations for students in classrooms. This is the most important measure needed to help protect the health and safety of students and employees.”

Today’s announcement by government was confusing, with mixed messages about how the new guidelines would be implemented and who they would apply to. Minister Kang stated that post-secondary institutions would be granted the autonomy to implement their own health and safety measures over and above the PHO (including proof of vaccine requirement) but was then contradicted by Dr. Bonnie Henry who stated that this does not apply to students, who can attend classes with no vaccination requirement.

Dr. Henry claims that university classrooms are comparable to K-12, where there was apparently little transmission last year. “This reflects a total lack of understanding of university environments, where students move between two to three classes of 200 or more students each day,” said UVic Faculty Association President Lynne Marks. “Allowing students to remain unvaccinated, with no requirement for rapid testing, reflects a lack of concern for the health of faculty, staff, and students.”

“Compared to other provinces, BC has unparalleled control over the post-secondary sector,” said PEA Chapter Chair Sheryl Karras. “While almost all universities across Canada have the autonomy to mandate vaccinations or rapid testing for students, and have done so, this is still not possible in BC. We remain frustrated by our government’s inflexible approach to the health and safety of our campus communities.”

Dr. Henry states that she does not wish to prevent anyone from accessing a university education because of their vaccination status. In taking this particular stance, she ignores alternatives. “The rapid testing alternatives to vaccination put in place by most Canadian universities show that this is not an issue,” said Marks. “A much bigger issue is that without a vaccine mandate and rapid testing to protect them, many students will be prevented from attending university, in order to protect their health and the health of their families.”

“Students might have the option to withdraw from unsafe classrooms and other university spaces, but university employees do not have that option,” said CUPE 4163 President Greg Melnechuk. “We call on the Public Health Office to step in to mandate safe workplaces for our members.”  

BC currently has among the highest per capita case counts in the country and cases continue to rise. A recent report by the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group, which includes scholars from UVic and other BC universities, projects dramatic increases in cases counts and hospitalizations. The government has only gone part of the way to create safe campuses this fall. They must follow the science, and the lead of almost all other provincial governments in Canada, giving universities the autonomy to mandate vaccinations for students and employees alike.

We acknowledge with respect and gratitude that our work takes place on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Lekwungen and WSANEC peoples.


Media Spokespeople:

CUPE 4163
Greg Melnechuk, President /

Professional Employees Association (PEA)
Sheryl Karras, Chair /

UVic Faculty Association (UVICFA)
Lynne Marks, President /

Media Liaison:
Ben Johnson, Membership Services Advisor, UVICFA /
Twitter: @uvic.fa

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The PEA was formed in 1974, by a group of professionals working in the public sector. The story goes that the founders of the union mortgaged their houses to fund negotiations of the union’s first collective agreement. 

Now, the PEA is BC’s union for professionals. We represent a wide range of professionals including lawyers, foresters, engineers, agrologists, teachers, veterinarians, fundraisers, physiotherapists, pharmacists, psychologists program managers, librarians and more.

Our union is led by the PEA Executive. They represent members from across the chapters of the PEA and set the overall vision and direction for our union.

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Navigating a union can sometime be a challenging process. Under this section of the website you will find resources to help you navigate the PEA. In the members section you'll find expense claim reimbursements, information on the PEA's scholarship and bursary program and our grants and donations program.

Collective bargaining and job action resources explain the process of collective bargaining and what to do in the unlikely event of job action. 

Local reps can also find resources to help them complete their job more effectively. This includes ways to welcome new members, how to take notes in investigation disciplinary meetings and more.

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The PEA is made up of nine chapters, or groups of members who either work for the same employer or are in the same field of work. Each chapter has an elected executive tasked with running the affairs of the chapter. Each chapter is entitled to representation at the PEA Executive, the governing body of the union. 

Our members work for a range of employers: the Province of BC, the University of Victoria, St. Margaret's School, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, the Oil and Gas Commission, the Law Society of BC, Legal Services Society, the Okangan Regional Library and health authorities across BC.

Professionals need unions now more then ever

Since the 1970’s, when the PEA was formed, our mission has been to ensure our members can work in safe, productive environments and receive fair and reasonable wages and benefits for the valuable work they do. We help individuals and groups of professional workers to understand the challenges they face in their workplaces and some of the solutions available to them. 

We work with potential members to become certified as a union and achieve the wages, benefits and respect they deserve. 

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The PEA was formed in 1974 to represent licensed professionals in the BC Public Service. Since then the organization has grown to include a wide range of professionals from across BC. Find our more about our governance, staff and strategic direction.

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