MONTREAL -- The Parti Québécois (PQ) says it is siding with numerous health care unions in asking the Quebec government to push back the Oct. 15 COVID-19 vaccination deadline.

"Pushing back the date will allow you to have a contingency plan," insisted PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon. "If we’re missing that many workers, how many are there [left] and what is the plan to make sure we’re not in chaos on the 15 [of October]?"

The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) has stated health care workers who are not fully vaccinated by the deadline will be suspended without pay.

However, the unions and the PQ are arguing that allowing a delay in deadline would allow for the industry to prepare and prevent any breakdowns in service.

"The labour shortage is widespread throughout the health and social services network. By suspending unvaccinated staff on Oct. 15, Premier Legault and Minister Dubé will aggravate this situation and create service disruptions that will jeopardize the health of the population," argued Robert Comeau, interim president of the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS). "The government is ill-prepared. It must postpone this date to ensure the health and safety of Quebecers."

Other unions advocating for a delayed deadline include the Fédération de la santé du Québec (FSQ-CSQ), the Syndicat Canadien de la fonction publique (SCFP), the Syndicat Québécois des employées et employés de service section local 298-FTQ (SQEES-FTQ) and the Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ).

"There is a very real fear that the removal of hundreds of workers will result in increased workloads and the use of mandatory overtime," noted Isabelle Groulx, vice-president and respiratory therapist responsible for occupational health and safety with the FIQ. "It puts patients at risk, in addition to our members who are already stretched to the limit. The health care system is already extremely fragile."

They argue the province cannot afford to lose any more staff in the health sector.

"The network is already trying to fill a glaring staff shortage, including 4,300 nursing and nursing assistant positions," added the PQ leader.

In addition, the unions point out the order does not explain how many health care workers will also be absent from the private sector, such as in seniors' homes.

"Beyond the medical staff, we must also think of the other support staff, office staff, technicians and health professionals on whom a multitude of care and services depend," stated Maxime Ste-Marie, president of the CPAS-SCFP. "Many of these people risk leaving to work elsewhere, never to return, and this at a time when the lack of personnel is already glaring."

Last week, the province admitted there are at least 7,000 health care workers who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.