Rallies Across Ontario Against Government's Use of Ministerial Powers to Trample Workers' Rights

Kenora, August 27, 2020

Workers' Forum: The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions is at the heart of a mass action campaign to get the Ontario government to drop ministerial orders it has passed which violate workers' rights with impunity. Can you tell us more about the campaign?

Michael Hurley: Let me say first that the COVID crisis is taking a very big toll on health care and social service workers in Ontario. Sixteen have died and, as of today, 6,752 have caught COVID at work. When we compare ourselves to other countries, like China, for example, about twice as many workers have died but China has 100 times the population. They have been much more thorough at protecting their health care workforce than Ontario or Canada have.

To add insult to injury, one of the ways in which the Ontario government has faced the COVID crisis is to give itself and employers the power to override many important elements of workers' basic workplace rights. These include, for example, the right to have a defined shift, the right not to be reassigned without notice, the right not to have their job eliminated without notice. They can also bring in contractors now, and vacations and parental leaves can be cancelled in many areas.

Basic workplace rights built up over decades have been undone. Bear in mind that in most of these workplaces -- in most health care workplaces, most social service workplaces, and most municipal workplaces in Ontario where these rights are being over-ridden -- there are no COVID cases. There have never been any. There are none in the workplaces now and there are none in many of these communities. That is the reality.

What we have undertaken is a campaign, in conjunction with other unions in the Ontario Federation of Labour, to organize rallies to build consciousness and to demonstrate our opposition to the government's actions. These rallies have been successful and have been building in terms of their strength, which encourages us to hold more rallies and aim for double the number of participants in the next series. We plan to continue mobilization of the membership until our basic workplace rights are restored. We have 30 rallies planned from now to the end of October and we are going to have a second series in November and December. These rallies are being organized across Ontario. We have had rallies in Kenora, at the border with Manitoba, in Fort Frances, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ottawa, Pembroke, Renfrew, Cornwall, Brockville and we are starting now into Southern Ontario.

People are very supportive of our actions when we explain what is going on. I don't think that the population of Ontario is aware that these rights have been taken away from health care and social service workers. Part of the point of having these rallies is to mobilize public opinion because we really believe that the public is grateful to these workers because they have tried to be helpful through this crisis. I do not think people expect that the government that calls them heroes is also taking away some of their most important workplace rights.

We also need to familiarize the public with the nature of what these changes mean. For example, 85 per cent of this workforce is female and 40 per cent are single parents. It has sometimes taken a worker 20 years to get day shifts, and they have small children, and now their employer can tell them that as of tomorrow they are working permanent nights, or that they are being assigned to work in another community which does not have public transit. They are told that their transit problem or their childcare problems are not the employers' concern, at a time when childcare centres are closed, emergency childcare for front-line providers is quite limited and family bubbles are small. This is a huge issue for people. We are trying to explain the impact of all this to the public. We are confident that the public will be horrified and that there is going to be increased pressure on the government.

WF: What demands are being put forward at these rallies?

MH: We have a number of demands. We are asking the government to drop the order that overrides the collective agreements of these 600,000 or so health and social service workers. That can be done simply with a Cabinet meeting. The order is part of Bill 195 which was passed in July but the bill says that the government may at any time amend or alter or delete any of these orders. So we are saying that they should use their powers to do that.

These measures were implemented first through an emergency order in March when COVID-19 first hit. That order was extended month by month and in July the government passed new legislation, the Reopening Ontario Act. That bill says that we've got the COVID crisis under control, we are reopening Ontario and yet it extends the override of these collective agreement rights for a period of at least one and up to three years. This happened in July. The bill was tabled and passed within a 10-day period. No opposition amendments were accepted. It did not go to committee. There was no opportunity for the unions to have any input into the bill. The bill was passed under a closure motion.

This is not acceptable and we are working to increase the pressure on the government to drop these measures against health care and social service workers.

We are also asking them to face up to the fact that this is an airborne virus and that the workers in these settings need to be properly protected. So far they have not been, both in terms of the guidance they and their employers receive from the government in terms of how the virus should be treated and managed, and also in terms of the protective equipment that is provided.

These are our two key demands.

Ottawa, September 9, 2020

Kingston, September 8, 2020

North Bay, September 4, 2020

Sudbury, September 3, 2020

Sault Ste. Marie, September 2, 2020

Thunder Bay, September 1, 2020

(Photos: OCHU)

This article was published in

Number 61 - September 15, 2020

Article Link:
Rallies Across Ontario Against Government's Use of Ministerial Powers to Trample Workers' Rights - Interview, Michael Hurley, President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions


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