March 18, 2020

Workers Nationwide Organize to Uphold the Rights of All

All Out to Activate All Working People
to Make Sure the COVID-19 Crisis
Is Resolved in Their Favour

Time for Workers to Act

For Your Information
• Strict Comprehensive Measures Urgently Recommended to Contain COVID-19 and Protect the Population

Mobilizing the Human Factor/Social Consciousness in the Fight Against the COVID-19 Pandemic -- Workers Speak Up
New Brunswick Public Sector Workers Take Action
Vancouver and District Labour Council Outlines Emergency Action Needed for Working People and Families 
Ontario Health Care Workers Demand Protective Gear
Public Transit Workers in Toronto and Mississauga Demand Protective Gear
Todd Parsons, President, Union of Northern Workers (UNW),
Northwest Territories

Simon Lévesque, Head of Health and Safety, FTQ-Construction, Quebec

Opinion on a Matter of Serious Concern

National Emergency Announced in Quebec Brings to Light What Is
- Pierre Soublière

Workers Nationwide Organize to Uphold the Rights of All

All Out to Activate All Working People to Make Sure the COVID 19 Crisis Is Resolved in Their Favour

Workers' Forum salutes all of Canada's working people whose contribution makes life possible, especially under the conditions of all out mobilization to contain the coronavirus COVID-19. The immediate aim is to flatten the curve so that lives are saved and the health care system is not overwhelmed. 

A big challenge faced by workers -- particularly in health care but also other services -- is how to deal with the consequences of the neo-liberal wrecking that has been going on to undermine the capacity of the health system to adequately care for all those needing it, and protect the workers from harm with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for all who need it, and through working conditions that provide for safety for patients and workers and proper provision of care in every respect in hospitals, clinics, long-term care homes and other facilities. It is to be expected that governments at all levels which have been carrying out the wrecking and privatizing to pay the rich will now only act as the situation requires if the workers raise the claims which they must and keep the initiative in their own hands about how things should be organized and operated, instructing their unions about what is needed and so on.

The Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L) has received inspiring stories of workers in all spheres of the economy mobilizing their co-workers to make sure the rights of all are upheld. The first story came in from women workers at a large grocery chain who took action to instill calm in the people at the store who were being caught up in panic buying. They took charge of the situation and everyone was served in an orderly manner. Client after client thanked the women profusely for not only establishing calm but showing that the workers have a very important role in setting how the current crisis plays out.

The workers cannot merely demand that governments uphold their rights but must take action to make sure both their rights and the rights of all are defended, no matter whether or not authorities show good faith. Working people are taking action in all sectors, first and foremost the health care sector as well as to sort out how parents, teachers and families will make sure children of parents who are not able to stay home are looked after. In Ontario, the government announced the closure of not only schools but also all licensed day care centres without explaining what measures it is putting in place to make sure people who have to go to work are not left to fend for themselves. It shows that it is up to the working people to take collective action to take matters in hand in a manner that is advantageous to them. There are many ways to make sure governments accede to the demands of the workers

Today, March 18, Prime Minister Trudeau announced economic measures the government is taking. Workers' Forum calls on workers' organizations and collectives as well as individuals to rely on themselves to understand what these measures mean for them and make sure the demands put forward by unions and district labour councils are fulfilled adequately and not lost through deferrals and other ways which force everyone to fend for themselves just to access what they should be receiving as a matter of right. The demands of unions include the following: 

- Paid sick leave for all workers, including paid leave for all workers who are quarantined, or required to self-isolate;
- An immediate moratorium on all evictions;
- An immediate moratorium on rent and mortgage payments for workers quarantined or required to self-isolate in relation to COVID-19; and
- Removal of the waiting period for workers accessing Employment Insurance as a result of COVID-19-related layoffs, and extension of EI benefits for those who are unemployed and have exhausted their benefits, and for those who do not qualify for EI because of lack of hours. 

Also, remuneration for all workers including contract and self-employed people laid off or otherwise deprived of income during this crisis. It is also clear that a national supply chain should be activated on a permanent basis. Such a thing will go a long way to humanizing the natural and social environment and mitigating the financial crisis which is expected as a consequence of the emergency measures.

Workers' Forum calls on all its readers to be in constant touch with family members across the country, co-workers and organizations in their neighbourhoods to look after the homeless, the elderly and those in need. All kinds of initiatives are being taken such as posting information in lobbies of apartment buildings or elevators and bulletin boards at workplaces, on social media and keeping lines of communication open in other ways. Even at places of work social distancing should be facilitated and practiced wherever possible along with hygiene measures.

Crises reveal what a people are made of. Canada can establish its own internal supply chain and there is no need for empty shelves and never a cause for hoarding or panic -- usually caused by private interests that seek to profit from the situation. The spread of coronaviruses does not mean that the working peoples of all countries cannot establish their own programs to make sure the situation is brought under control and exercise control over the situation. Making governments accountable to them is a matter of practical stands to make sure the crisis is resolved in favour of the people.

In this issue, Workers' Forum is bringing to your attention the statement of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), "Strict Comprehensive Measures Urgently Recommended to Contain the Disease and Protect the Population" excerpted below.

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Time for Workers to Act

Humanity's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic requires that workers play their leading role in making sure that necessary measures are implemented to contain the disease and protect the population and that no one is left to fend for themselves.

Recent weeks have shown definite features of the workers' response.

Workers and their unions have declared that fighting the pandemic is the movement's top priority and unions across the country have postponed conventions, labour negotiations and strike votes that were scheduled to take place in the coming weeks and months so as to concentrate efforts on facing the pandemic.

Workers broadly support the strict comprehensive measures that the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised to contain COVID-19 and to protect the population, including quarantine, testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and direct population/community mobilization. Workers are advocating that governments at every level in Canada must take full responsibility for implementing the WHO's recommendations responsibly.

In taking up their own responsibility, workers are paying particular attention to the plight of the front-line workers in the health care system and in all public services, including in public transportation, so that they remain healthy and able to keep looking after the people. The issue of these workers being provided with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is a critical one, as is the issue of taking time off work if one suspects having been infected with the virus, without being penalized financially or otherwise. The issue of PPE is also becoming a major issue in areas of the private sector such as big retail trade chains, which people shop at in their thousands, especially to buy goods that are needed in the conditions of the pandemic.

Workers are tackling the issue of sustaining workers' livelihood, in conditions where it is affected by their being quarantined, or without work because of the closure of institutions that employ people, or cancellation of cultural and other events for which people are employed on a casual basis and so on.

In this, workers consider that these are all working people that must be defended and looked after, whatever the specific conditions they find themselves in, based on the trials and tribulations of this economy and the neo-liberal wrecking decisions which have prevailed for more than 20 years, over which the people are doing their utmost to establish control. 

Whether they are migrant workers, unemployed workers or workers in the gig economy and so-called self-employed workers, unionized workers or non unionized workers, or seniors, ways and means have to be found to make sure that their livelihood is sustained by the governments and the ruling elite. Everything has to be reviewed in a creative way to defend and affirm the human quality of all. Already, news is coming from Quebec that self-employed workers in the cultural events industry are organizing themselves in an organization that will, among other things, take up the issue of their livelihood while cultural events have basically all been cancelled for an undetermined period.

Press conference at Queen's Park, organized by health care professionals represented by the Decent Work and Health Network, March 12, 2020, calls for measures to protect all workers.

This is the time to organize, to make sure that information is obtained and distributed as events and announcements of programs by various levels of governments are happening very quickly, and to make sure that workers speak out on the claims that need to be made to humanize the situation by looking after the well-being of all.

Workers' Forum is opening its pages to this fight against the pandemic and the concerns, demands and initiatives that workers are taking to face the pandemic. In this issue of Workers' Forum, readers will find a series of interviews and statements from workers and unions on this.

(Photos: WF, UFCW 401, D. Ladd)

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For Your Information

Strict Comprehensive Measures Urgently Recommended to Contain COVID-19
and Protect the Population

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised strict comprehensive measures to contain the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) and to protect the population, including quarantine, testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and direct population/community mobilization.

On March 11, the WHO assessed that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. A pandemic is when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations. One distinction is that the spread of the disease in various regions is no longer attributed to travellers only. It is the first time that a pandemic is caused by a coronavirus. The WHO also says that it is the first pandemic "that can be controlled."

The WHO estimates the current mortality rate to be about 3.4 per cent. In the U.S. it is estimated to be about five per cent. Even if the mortality rate were one per cent, it would still be ten times higher than that of the normal seasonal influenza. Reports also indicate a marked discrepancy between officially diagnosed cases and actual cases. The time it takes for patients to get tested and other factors, including the extremely low rate of testing in the U.S., result in a gap between the reported number of cases and the real number. One can expect 10 to 100 times the reported number. This means there are already tens of thousands of cases in North America, if not more.

Strict, Socially Responsible Measures Needed

Globalization, including just-in-time delivery of goods, services and even human beings, has brought the world together in an unprecedented socialized way. Even though some countries have yet to see any cases of the disease, we are all in this together as one humanity with a common interest to contain the coronavirus and protect the population. The governments at every level must take full responsibility for implementing the WHO's recommendations responsibly.[1] All those who are working at home must continue to be paid in a normal manner. All those laid off as a result of the shutdown of workplaces must be compensated. Governments have been encouraging privatization, and contracting out and casualization of most work, especially in the service sector, and now they must guarantee that all contract workers and the self-employed receive remuneration during this special period. The workers who work in the so-called gig economy, including where private interests use software apps to favour their narrow interests and workers are expected to be available on demand to do one gig at a time, must also receive compensation during this special period if they too must stay in quarantine or be subjected to more restrictive conditions of isolation.

The modern reality and condition of a socialized economy and life demand that national governments must fulfill their social responsibility to contain this virus using the public health measures recommended by the WHO, given the lack of medical countermeasures at this time. They must put the full weight of the economy and all public and private institutions behind the successful implementation and protection of the population, making sure all those who need help receive it.

Where There's a Will There's a Way!

The adage "Where there's a will there's a way" applies under the circumstances. Despite the decrepit state of many health care facilities and dearth of beds and nursing and other personnel due to the vicious anti-social offensive governments have been imposing on our society to favour the rich, as in any crisis, facilities can be commandeered and equipped and qualified personnel can be hired and trained to deal with the matter at hand, taking every precaution required to protect everyone involved. It can be done and must be done!

Working people must unite in action at every level and determine how they can contribute to making quarantine, isolation and the other strict measures required effective and to asserting the claims they are entitled to make on governments at every level. Quarantining is a very important first measure and people can inform themselves of the guidelines they must follow. If they require assistance, they must call the public health care numbers they are provided with and describe their symptoms and follow the instructions. Full testing and treatment must be provided to everyone who needs it. By closing everything down for the two-week incubation period and then assessing whether the virus has been contained on the basis of verifiable results, and pursuing the instructions of the WHO meticulously, Canada can do its part to contain and mitigate this global pandemic.

As for the working people, they can play their role by speaking out to lay the claims on society and the governments in charge that everyone is entitled to make. This includes compensation for the period they are off work because of closures and measures to protect those public service workers who do essential work in the health care and education sectors and in all aspects of social services, including home care, long-term care and care for the youth, elderly and others in distress. For those engaged in retail work related to the sale of essential items such as food, medicines and necessary hygiene products, in transportation or any other essential service, arrangements must be made to replace those workers who must quarantine themselves for whatever reason, undergo isolation at home or be hospitalized, and to protect those still on the job.

Nobody should be put in a situation of fending for themselves to find a direction and the means to cope as families and individuals during this pandemic. All social organizations -- especially unions, social clubs and associations of all kinds -- should go into action to make sure their members are informed and looked after.

The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) has called on its organizations across the country to inform themselves of the situation of their members and supporters to make sure everyone is taken care of and is informed, and to organize for the implementation of prescribed protective measures where needed not only in the homes and neighbourhoods but also workplaces and educational institutions.

All individuals and collectives are called upon to unite in action to play their part and act responsibly under all conditions and circumstances to humanize the social and natural environment, and to give meaning and substance to the necessity of activating the human factor/social consciousness and putting human beings in command of their condition. By taking conscious measures to make sure nobody is put in a situation of having to fend for themselves, working Canadians will proudly proclaim that this humanity is able to bring the problems facing humankind under control and that they have played their part.

All Out to Adopt the Measures Necessary to Contain COVID-19
and Protect the Population!
Hold Governments at Every Level Responsible to Implement the
Recommended Public Health Measures Fully and Responsibly!
One Humanity, One Struggle!
All Out to Defend the Rights of All!


1. According to the WHO, quarantine refers to "the restriction of activities or separation of persons who are not ill, but who may have been exposed to an infectious agent or disease, with the objective of monitoring symptoms and early detection of cases." It can be voluntary, which some refer to as self-quarantine, or mandatory, depending on the circumstances. Quarantine is different from isolation, which is "the separation of ill or infected persons from others, so as to prevent the spread of infection or contamination." Isolation means staying indoors and completely avoiding contact with other people to the greatest extent possible for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, are waiting to be tested or awaiting the results of their test. It is sometimes referred to as self-isolation when individuals act to implement the necessary measures on their own in their home or another place such as a hotel room when traveling.

The National Health Authority of Canada indicates that when quarantine and isolation/self-isolation are undertaken at an individual level, they are considered social distancing approaches, along with such measures as avoiding crowding, school and workplace measures and closures, public/mass gathering cancellations, etc. For further details, click here

For interim WHO guidelines for quarantining in the context of the containment of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), click here.

(Excerpted from TML Weekly, March 14, 2020)

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Mobilizing the Human Factor/Social Consciousness in the Fight Against
the COVID-19 Pandemic -- Workers Speak Up

New Brunswick Public Sector Workers

Workers and their organizations across the country are taking practical measures to mobilize themselves to flatten the curve of the pandemic.

Ten CUPE Locals in New Brunswick, representing 15,000 public sector workers, have collectively presented concrete measures to the provincial government to ensure their members are deployed in a conscious and effective manner to fight the virus and assist the people.

The provincial government has announced the shutdown of all non-essential government services. Only public sector workers doing critical work will remain on the job. The unions have presented and collectively agreed to a plan to redeploy and reassign non-critical public service employees to jobs that will assist the fight against the pandemic.

Simon Ouellette, CUPE Communications Representative, said the union locals have agreed to suspend elements of language in the collective agreement on the mobility of employees. This will ensure rapid response and deployment of public sector employees for reassignment to other work locations during this critical situation.

CUPE members from public sector parts I, II and IV could be reassigned confirmed Ouellette. These include:

Part I
- Local 1190: General Labour and Trades
- Local 1251: Institutional Care and Services
- Local 1840: Court Stenographers
- Local 1418: Rehabilitation and Therapy and Recreation and Culture Program Officers.

Part II
- Local 2745: Educational Support Staff
- Local 1253: NB Council of School District Unions

Part IV
- Local 5017: NB Community Colleges
- Local 5026: Collèges communautaires du N.-B.
- Local 963: NB Liquor Corporation
- Local 1866: Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission

Ouellette pointed out that union leaders are in close contact with their members in all areas of the public service. "[We] have vital, practical and current information on what goes on at the front lines. We are confident the government will see the importance of having us participate in the response discussions. CUPE members are proud to serve the public and will lead by example in these tough times. Rest assured, this crisis only increases our resolve to fight and win this battle."

(With files from CUPE New Brunswick)

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Vancouver and District Labour Council
Outlines Emergency Action Needed for
Working People and Families

The Vancouver and District Labour Council Executive Board recognizes the danger posed by the present COVID-19 pandemic. The virus poses a serious risk to many in our workplaces and communities, and we applaud all measures to flatten the curve of this pandemic and prevent its further spread.

Cleaners aboard BC Ferries who are on the front lines of protecting ferry workers and passengers, win union recognition, March 15, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.

We recently announced our decision to cancel our March regular meeting in response to COVID-19. We are also cancelling all meetings to be held in our office space until further notice. We will continue to monitor the situation and assess the advisability of hosting other planned events. As our next upcoming Labour Education courses are scheduled in May and June, we are not anticipating the cancellation of these events at this time, however we will monitor the situation and notify registrants of any changes closer to that time.

We also want to take a moment to recognize the efforts of all front-line workers, with a special thanks to medical personnel and first responders who are on the front lines of addressing potential cases of COVID-19 and protecting the well-being of patients and the public.

But the pandemic poses a danger to more than our health. The financial well-being of working people is also at risk, exacerbated by previously existing affordability and housing crises. Today untold numbers of working people are at risk of not being able to put food on their tables, pay their rents or mortgages, and other hardships with potentially disastrous consequences.

While the Federal government announced $10 billion in aid available to businesses through the Business Development Bank of Canada, direct aid to working people has yet to be seen. A few days ago, we called upon the BC government, through the Minister of Labour, to enact paid sick leave so that workers who are feeling unwell, or are required to self-isolate, are protected. Action on this is critical to ensuring that workers are not forced by economic necessity to attend work while ill and put themselves and others at increased risk.

We are calling upon all levels of government to cooperate in implementing an emergency program for workers, including:

- Paid sick leave for all workers, including paid leave for all workers who are quarantined, or required to self-isolate;
- An immediate moratorium on all evictions;
- An immediate moratorium on rent and mortgage payments for workers quarantined or required to self-isolate in relation to COVID-19; and
- Removal of the waiting period for workers accessing Employment Insurance as a result of COVID-19-related layoffs.

We note that as this situation rapidly develops, additional consequences continue to reveal themselves. Therefore, it should be acknowledged that further actions may yet be needed from government.

Robust, proactive measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus and bold steps to protect the housing and economic well-being of working people are both urgently needed to ensure the best possible recovery from this pandemic. Now is the time for government to act.

(Photo: BC Federation of Labour)

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Ontario Health Care Workers
Demand Protective Gear

Ontario health care unions hold joint press conference, March 13, 2020.

The four major health care unions in Ontario point out that one of the best protections for Ontarians during the COVID-19 pandemic is to ensure that health care workers are healthy and provided with all that they need to keep working. They call for honest, frank collaboration from the Government of Ontario to make sure health care workers are provided with all the protection they need so that they can carry out their duties to the population.

The four unions which represent more than one-quarter of a million health-care workers in Ontario are the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

The workers' confidence lies in their ability to be active within the situation so that the claims they are entitled to make are met without delay. A statement issued by the unions on March 13 puts the main emphasis on the demand of the front-line workers for personal protective equipment (PPE). Supplies are not presently readily available in a number of workplaces. It goes without saying that appropriate protective equipment and training instill confidence in heath care workers who then help maintain a calm atmosphere in the population.

The unions bring to the attention of the public a leaked document that shows that the government is watering down guidelines regarding the appropriate level of personal equipment for front-line-health-care workers. They express deep concern about the "laxed guidelines issued and scarce availability and appropriateness of personal protective equipment (PPE) for protection during the pandemic."

The four unions urge the government to follow the precautionary principle, which means to err on the side of caution in protecting workers. PPE for contact, droplet, and airborne transmission must be provided to all front-line health care workers, the unions say. They point out that how the virus is transmitted is not yet fully understood. At this time, medical and infectious disease organizations say that there are a number of ways the virus may be transmitted, including droplets -- transmission through sneezing or coughing; contact -- transmission from an infected person by touch; or airborne -- small particles in the air. If the transmission is airborne, front-line health care workers should all have N95 masks, which Ontario paramedics are wearing. The N95 masks are the standard for protection against airborne particles. Surgical masks do not protect health care workers against these particles. They urge the Ontario government to stop being reluctant to provide this protective equipment on grounds that the medical and scientific community is not unanimous in agreeing that airborne transmission is the way that the virus is spread. It must be provided along with all other equipment they require, the unions say.

Many Ontario health care staff lived through the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2004 and have learned many lessons about infection control and best practices. They have solutions and want collaboration and frankness with government during this difficult period.

Graphic posted by Canadian nurses.

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Public Transit Workers in Toronto and
Mississauga Demand Protective Gear

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, which represents around 12,000 public transit workers in Toronto and York Region is calling on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to increase health precaution measures for workers in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, including allowing workers to protect themselves by wearing masks on the job. The union is calling upon the TTC to worry less about public perception and focus on public protection. If TTC workers feel that it is in their health interests to wear a mask on the job, ATU Local 113 will fully support them, says the local. As things currently stand, TTC and Metrolinx employees are not allowed to wear masks on the job. (Metrolinx is the provincial agency charged with regional transportation planning in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.) Metrolinx executives are claiming that masks create the impression amongst customers that the risk is higher than it actually is and may deter people from adopting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices.

"Transit workers have the right to protect their health in the same way countless TTC riders do by wearing masks on subways, streetcars and buses," said the union in a statement dated March 6. The union is asking why, if there is no health hazard, the TTC is giving staff responsible for disinfecting vehicles protective gear and why the TTC asked its Wheel-Trans employees to wear masks on the job. It points out that if COVID-19 is hazardous for these workers, it is hazardous for all.

Workers organized in ATU Local 1572 in Mississauga are also demanding that their transit drivers be allowed to wear masks and gloves when they are at work. Workers' Forum recently talked with Local President Jack Jackson, who made the following comments:

"Our workers feel that they are exposed, just as they are on the front lines. A lot of our membership has sick and elderly people in their lives and they want to ensure that they do not bring anything home. We have actually had the Ministry of Labour in three times to try and address some of our concerns, and so far this has not worked to our benefit. We continue to push for masks and gloves in the workplace."

Jackson spoke about obtaining a quarantine process for workers as another major concern of theirs and of the union. "The employer has no plan or protocol in place to remove from the workplace those who may have been exposed, or anything of that kind. We're asking for protocols and measures to be developed and as of yet, there are none. What the employer is doing is to just carry on saying that they're going to rely on the Region of Peel or Health Canada. Essentially, if the government does not mandate our employer to do something, they're just going to keep the status quo. This is a problem," he said.

"For example we had a gentleman who was diagnosed with COVID-19. He rode our buses. We thought that the most logical thing to do was to immediately remove those people from service, those whose buses he was on, as well as anyone who did maintenance on the bus or who cleaned it. We thought that they should be removed, because you're talking here about a small number, in case any of them had been exposed, so that we're not putting the public or co-workers at further risk. Because it's a 14-day incubation period, someone may look fine for seven or even 10 days and then suddenly get the symptoms and by then it's too late, people have been exposed."

"There are a lot of concerns obviously at any transit authority, or at any workplace, but those are probably our most pressing concerns," he added. "We recognize that these are tough times, but I do believe that this is a time where you err on the side of caution to protect everyone."

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Todd Parsons, President,
Union of Northern Workers, Northwest Territories

There's still a lot of uncertainty for UNW members regarding COVID-19. We've been working with many of our employers to ensure that policies are put in place to protect workers. In particular, we've done this with our largest employers, such as the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and the Ekati Diamond Mine. Coronavirus has been with us now for several weeks, however [the situation] is evolving daily. The Government of the Northwest Territories has been in regular contact with us to address how this affects not just public services, but also the public at large.

Here in the Northwest Territories, we're a very small community with limited resources. A lot of health care support comes from Alberta or Ottawa. Many of our residents, when they are experiencing severe medical issues, get treatment outside of the Northwest Territories. In the territories there is limited ability to treat patients with severe respiratory illnesses. They do have respirators here although they are limited, and we are trying to better understand that situation with our employer. We are concerned about the health and safety of front-line workers. We have asked the employer to ensure that the appropriate personal protective equipment is in place and readily available for front-line workers. It's very important to have easy access to it in the health care field, and in all government services on a regular daily basis. We have to make sure that front-line workers are given the opportunity to have personal protective equipment while performing their duties.

We also have protective language in our larger collective agreements such as the one with the Government of the Northwest Territories, that ensures that if there is a situation like this, employees have access to paid leave. It's important that not only our members, but also the general public is looked after. We're in a difficult situation and we're working with the government to provide public services that residents can rely on.

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Simon Lévesque, Head of Health and Safety, FTQ-Construction, Quebec

The problem of the spread of COVID-19 should not be trivialized. There are measures in place, but, as is usually the case, it seems that the construction industry is being left out.

We have a lot of questions. For a long time we've been saying that the issue of occupational hygiene in construction has been neglected. We have been fighting for years for adequate sanitary conditions. We received new regulations in 2016 that we are fighting to enforce. The regulations are very specific on the issue of washrooms. We are the only workplace in Quebec where we are obliged to specify that washrooms must be heated, ventilated, that there must be a flush toilet, warm water, soap, toilet paper, a trash can -- otherwise we will get nothing. Still there are employers who do not comply with the regulations. In addition, the regulations do not cover construction sites of 24 workers or less. There is no provision in these cases for the employer to be obliged to provide soap and water for the workers to wash their hands. The primary measure to prevent the virus from spreading is hand washing. And such sites constitute the vast majority of sites in Quebec. We are stepping up our work so that all construction sites have access to adequate toilets.

There are serious problems on big sites too. For example, sugar shacks have closed because people must not eat side-by-side, but on large construction sites workers eat in construction trailers and they eat side-by-side. The separation of one metre is not respected. The measures are declared inapplicable in construction and that is what we are fighting against. We are asking, for example, that there be suitable dining spaces that can accommodate workers while maintaining the necessary distance between them.

One problem we are facing right now is that as soon as there is a worker who coughs, they want to fire him. There are workers who smoke and who have been coughing for a long time. We are faced with a situation in which either no action is taken or we have measures like these where workers are attacked if they have a particular condition. Even today, a supervisor told a worker to leave the site because he was coughing.

We demand that everything the government asks of citizens and in the workplace also be applied to construction sites. In addition, it is necessary to follow the evolution of the situation with regard to the disease, and if we have to eventually reorganize the work, which involves a slowdown in production, we must prepare for it. You have to plan things right away.

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Opinion on a Matter of Serious Concern

National Emergency Announced in Quebec
Brings to Light What Is Missing

Given all the daily problems in the health care sector including the dire working conditions of health workers such as the cutbacks in staff and compulsory overtime, it comes to mind that health workers are already working under conditions of a national emergency. Those difficult conditions have direct repercussions on the quality of care for patients.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials are already calling on retired nurses to work at the 811 health line because of a lack of staff and call overload. Despite this call-up of retirees to fill a gap, some public officials insist the health system is ready to face a crisis and all the people need to do is practice social distancing, "self-isolate" and work from home, and the health system will take care of the rest.

The devil of all announcements is in the details. This does not take into account the concrete problems in the health sector from years of cutbacks or the direct experience of the people and their particular circumstances in terms of age, disability, family, day care measures, available emergency funds, living quarters or work situation. The possibility of working from home is all well and good when possible but a large majority of workers cannot. The same is true for many forced to fend for themselves in isolation. For quarantine to be effective, it has to be organized collectively where the needs of all are met. 

One thing is a real concern: when governments call on people to act responsibly, can they be taken seriously? Governments at all levels have been engaged in an anti-social offensive for decades using hollow excuses such as the deficits must be cut and the state debts must be paid before anything positive can be done.

In the face of the socially irresponsible actions of the ruling elite in control, everyone should take note that acting responsibly is what the working class does year in year out when it produces what is needed and provides the services the people and society require to exist. When working people put forward demands to improve their own conditions, their own health and security and that of the entire society, they are acting responsibly because it improves the social conditions for everyone.

Governments do not need to tell the working people to act responsibly; on the contrary, they should look in the mirror and assess the socially irresponsible actions they have been engaged in for the last 30 years.

This pandemic highlights the necessity to renew the political process so that in "normal" times as well as in times of national emergency, the needs, preoccupations, suggestions and views of all members of society and their collectives become integral to the decision-making process. And not in perfunctory ways, such as phoney consultations but in practical ways with new forms and actual democratic institutions where the active conscious participation of individuals and their collectives in decision-making is organized.

Today, decision-making is concentrated in the hands of the few who invariably serve the narrow private interests of the wealthy oligarchs they represent. The times are crying out for something different where the members of society and their collectives, and foremost those who are on the front lines as workers, represent themselves in government in practical ways and forms that they develop and which allow them to have direct control over the events that affect their lives.

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