Workers on the frontline anxious as B.C. looks to lift mandatory mask order in July

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Workers on the frontline in B.C. are trying to figure out what the end of the province’s mandatory mask order will mean for them.

As part of B.C.’s reopening plan, face coverings are expected to go from mandatory to recommended as early as July 1 if cases are low, hospitalizations are declining, and 70 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think there’s a lot of anxiety about this announcement that’s made obviously a lot of excitement as well,” says Kim Novak, president of UFCW 1518, which represents some of B.C.’s frontline workers, such as grocery store and retail employees.

“We want to make sure that those vaccination rates are where Dr. Bonnie Henry says they need to get to and obviously want to make sure people continue to wear masks and follow the mandate so long it’s a provincial health order.”

She says her members were among those to call on the province to make masks mandatory and they’re now wondering how things will change once it’s lifted.

“The concern is when people walk into workplaces right now like grocery stores, as an example, without a mask on. There’s a lot of anxiety and fear among our members,” Novak tells NEWS 1130. “At this point, because it’s a provincial health order, it means that they have the right to refuse unsafe work and as result of that, that’s what we encourage them to do.”

Another concern is whether workers will still have to enforce mask wearing, as businesses contemplate keeping store policies requiring face coverings in place even after the province lifts its order.

“We faced that going into October, before it became ordered by government and it was a lot of stress on our members,” Novak adds.

“So what we’re really hopeful of, is that when an announcement comes and that is lifted, that it be done in a way that really respects businesses choice to continue to have that be a requirement to enter their workplace, and that at all costs it not be the workers on the frontlines that have to be paying a price as a result of that decision.”

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The province made masks mandatory in indoor public spaces last November amid pressure.

Novak expects many workers to still wear masks even after the province no longer mandates them.

“So as we approach the July 1 date, and hopefully we will see the vaccination rates where they need to be and as a result have a safe workplace for people who are on the frontlines, we want to be mindful that if our members continue to decide or choose to wear masks after that date, that they do so without the concern of criticism.”

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