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Town staff absenteeism creeping up due to COVID-19

‘Our ability to maintain service levels ... may be impacted if we see higher confirmed/assumed cases in our staff,’ says Collingwood’s executive director of customer and corporate services
Collingwood Town Hall Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

As of this week, 17 town staff members are off work due to COVID-19, and another 11 have been deemed close contacts.

During Monday night’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, executive director of customer and corporate services for the Town of Collingwood Amanda Pegg provided a presentation to councillors regarding the town’s efforts to comply with modified step two of the province’s Roadmap to Reopen, and gave an update on current staffing levels since the mandatory vaccine policy has gone into effect.

As part of the discussion, councillors voted down a staff request to reconsider their Oct. 25 vote on re-opening the customer service counter five days a week to walk-ins.

“Staff are cognizant that our ability to maintain service levels with minor delays may be impacted if we see higher confirmed/assumed cases in our staff complement,” said Pegg.

According to the staff report provided to councillors, staff re-deployment options are identified and are ready to be implemented if required by increased absenteeism.

As not all services can be delivered through redeployments, Pegg noted in her report that it is critical that all precautions be taken to protect essential services and staff.

“Amended guidance on isolation periods (i.e. vaccinated individuals with symptoms are to automatically isolate for five days) and the lack of availability of COVID-19 testing are posing a new risk to staff capacity,” she wrote.

Under the town's vaccine policy passed late last year, all employees were required to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 31, 2021. Employees who were not fully vaccinated by Dec. 31, and did not have an approved exemption were placed on an unpaid administrative leave of absence as of Jan. 1.

SEE MORE: Town starting ‘phased approach’ to mandatory vaccinations starting next week

Pegg said that as of Monday’s meeting, fewer than 10 staff have been placed on unpaid leave under the policy.

“We’ve also identified impacts on contracted services. This is being monitored closely as service providers, too, are grappling with staffing issues,” she said.

In regards to town hall customer service, Coun. Kathy Jeffery said she believes the town has done an excellent job of protecting staff with plexiglass barriers and the mandatory vaccination policy, and didn’t see the need to reduce five-day-a-week service at town hall.

“I still feel there were a lot of cases when it comes to the services we provide as a municipality that require a more timely response than we were able to give having so many work remotely,” said Jeffery. “I think we still need a basic staffing in customer service where someone can get a real person.”

Coun. Deb Doherty said she struggled with the report and recommendations.

“At the end of the day, I think that the circumstances for the past two years have required us to be flexible,” she said. “This is part of that. The municipality should be seen as taking a leadership role here. This recommendation would be part of that.”

The report was received for information, however council voted down a recommendation to go back on its decision to re-open the customer service desk to five-day-a-week service by a vote of 4-4 (to reconsider required a 2/3 majority vote of council). Coun. Mariane McLeod, Coun. Steve Berman, Coun. Kathy Jeffery and Coun. Bob Madigan were opposed.

The decision was ratified at a special council meeting immediately following the committee meeting on Monday night.