May 28, 2020 - No. 37
37th Ontario Injured Workers Day June 1
Injured Workers Fighting for
Their Dignity and Rights
Solution to Crisis of Health Care System Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All
• Crisis in BC Long-Term Care Homes Highlights the Need to Increase Investments in Social Programs Including Care for Seniors
- Barbara Biley
• Jean Gagnon, Representative of
Pre-Hospital Sector of Health and Social Services' Federation,
Confederation of National Trade Unions
• Benoît Taillefer,
Vice-President, Occupational Health and Safety, Workers' Union of the
Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre,
Workers' Right to Safety at Work
• Opposition in Saskatchewan to Spurious Claims by Deputy Labour Minister Regarding Workers' Rights and Workplace Safety
37th Ontario Injured Workers Day June 1
Injured worker activists' May 2, 2020 front lawn picket in London, Ontario during COVID-19.
June 1, 2020 is the 37th Ontario Injured Workers Day.
The day celebrates the collective strength of injured workers and
commemorates June 1, 1983, when more than 3,000 injured workers
forced a government committee looking at major changes in Ontario's
workers' compensation system to move their public hearings outside onto
steps of the Legislature so everyone present could participate.
year, for the first time since 1983, because of the COVID-19 pandemic,
injured workers will not gather at Queen's Park and in other locations
across Ontario. Instead, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups
is calling on everyone to join them June 1 for an online rally
featuring stories, speeches, and messages of hope and
struggle. The Women of Inspiration vigil held each year May 31, on the
eve of Injured Workers' Day, will also take place online. (See calendar
above for details)
As on many fronts, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the
demands of injured workers for the renovation of the compensation
system as a public system that covers all workers for the full time
that they are unable to work, all the more necessary and urgent.
In their call-out for Injured Workers' Day the Ontario
Network of Injured Workers' Groups states "Ontario's health and safety
and workers' compensation systems are broken. Coronavirus has not
created these problems, but it has brought them clearly into focus, and
we cannot go back to how things were. This June 1st, we stand together
look towards the future. It is time to create meaningful change to keep
workers safe, and to show once and for all that WORKERS' COMP IS A RIGHT!
"We know what is needed to fix the system:
"Workers MUST be protected on the job;
Those who do get sick MUST be covered by workers' compensation without hassle or delay; and
The compensation board MUST end their harmful practice of deeming, or
pretending injured workers have jobs that they do not in fact have and
Injured workers' advocates point out that in addition to
workers already forced to fight for the compensation that is theirs by
right, many workers will need to file claims for compensation because
they contract COVID-19 at work. The families of workers who die from
workplace exposure to COVID-19 also have a right to be
compensated and taken care of by the compensation system. In the case
of COVID-19, rather than presuming that frontline workers have
contracted the illness at work, Ontario's Workplace Safety and
Insurance Board has so far insisted on adjudicating each worker's case
separately, which has resulted in the approval of just 513 out of
Compensation Is a Right!
Justice for Injured Workers!
Our Security Lies
in Our Fight for the Rights of All!
Solution to Crisis of Health Care System Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All
Comox meeting on the crisis in BC seniors' care, February 24, 2020, prior to pandemic.
The terrible tragedy of the precious lives of seniors
lost in long term care homes has not escaped British Columbia,
particularly the densely populated area of the Lower Mainland. In fact,
the first cases of COVID-19 in Canada and the first death was at the
Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. There have been outbreaks
COVID-19 in over two dozen long-term care homes in three of the five
Health Authorities into which the province is divided. The two regions
that have had no long-term care home outbreaks are Northern British
Columbia and Vancouver Island.
Long-term care homes in British Columbia have been under increased scrutiny
over the last few years thanks to the actions of unions, including the
Hospital Employees' Union "Care Can't Wait" campaign which drew attention
to the need to increase investments so as to increase staffing levels
in long term care homes, and, especially, courageous
public advocacy by family members of residents of long-term care homes.
The activism of unions and families contributed to the investigation by
the Office of the Seniors' Advocate into how long-term care homes are
funded and how the funds are allocated. The report of this investigation, entitled A Billion
Reasons to Care, was issued on February 4.
hundred people on Vancouver Island took part in public meetings in
February to discuss the crisis in long-term care and put forward
proposals for change. By the time those meetings took place, the
conditions in four long-term care homes run by Retirement Concepts had
resulted in four different medical officers of health, three on
Vancouver Island and
one in the Interior, ordering the Health Authorities to take over the
operation of the homes. Families of residents in several Retirement
Concepts homes in BC had already applied for certification of a class
action suit regarding the care of seniors, against the company and the
Ministry of Health, which is pending. The Retirement Concepts chain
includes 20 homes in BC and Alberta. In 2017, Retirement Concepts was
purchased, with federal approval and the acquiescence of the provincial
government, by the Chinese multinational insurance
company Anbang. Another Retirement Concepts home, Millrise Seniors
Village in southwest Calgary, was taken over by Alberta Health Services
on May 4 by order of Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health.
In the context of the COVID-19 emergency, British
Columbia was the first province to take specific action to address some
of the problems in long-term care homes. Orders from the Chief Medical
Officer of Health Bonnie Henry and from the Minister of Public Safety
General Mike Farnworth were issued on March 26 and April 10
and put in place the requirement that workers in long-term care homes
work in only one home, that workers be paid for the hours that they
would normally have been working before being restricted to working in
only one home. Regarding wages, the orders stated that all workers in
long-term care be paid at the
rates in the collective agreement between the Health Employers'
Association of British Columbia (HEABC) and the Nurses' Bargaining
Association, and between the HEABC and the Facilities Bargaining
Association, the "master agreement" which covers all workers in BC
hospitals, long-term care homes owned and operated by the Health
Authorities, and many of the homes operated by not-for-profit
The measures taken to address the low
wages and prevalence of precarious work, both part-time and casual,
which force workers to have multiple jobs in different facilities to earn full-time wages, are a necessary
stop-gap response to the immediate crisis. The devil, however, is in
Although the "single-site" order was issued on March 26 and the
order of the Solicitor General that permitted the variance of
collective agreements to allow for the wage top-up for workers outside
the nurses' and Facilities Bargaining Association (FBA) agreements, was issued on April 10, the
implementation, which is complicated, is still not complete. In most
cases the single-site
order was in effect by May 11 but in most seniors' homes operated for
private profit the wage top-up has not taken place. Such a major
undertaking is obviously complicated but there are also reports that
some owners are simply refusing to pay. Of greater concern is the fact
that the requirement that workers, once restricted to working in only
home, have not had their hours and wages increased to match what they
were earning before the single-site order was enforced. These "heroes"
have been acknowledged for their work caring for some of the most
vulnerable people in British Columbia. In spite of all the best
intentions many are now facing not an increase but a reduction in their
to the analysis of the Office of the Seniors' Advocate, of the $1.4
billion of revenue generated in the contracted care sector (all but the
Health Authority operated homes), $1.3 billion comes from the
provincial government. The province funds all operators, public,
not-for-profit and for-private-profit, at a level sufficient to pay FBA
and nurses' pay rates to all staff. Private operators sign contracts with
the Health Authorities based on what they consider acceptable
profits, but then those profits are increased immensely by paying wages
up to $7.00 an hour lower than the FBA and nurses' rates. And all of this is
perfectly legal. Both the current crisis and the inability of the
government to take care of the immediate needs of the workers reflect
the fact that the system is organized to serve the narrow private
interests of the operators and not, as Canadians expect and demand, to
take care of residents and those who look after them.
Seniors who live in long-term care residences and the
workers who care for them
have claims based on the value that they produce for society, the
seniors on the basis of the capacity to work that they contributed
during their working lives, the workers on the basis of their capacity
to work that is purchased by the operators today. The ruling elite who
control the means of production and distribution do not value the
work of those who work in long-term care homes and consider those who
are past their productive years to be a burden. Resolving the crisis in
care for seniors requires the determined effort of the entire working
class to increase the portion that workers receive of the value that
they create, both in the form of higher wages and increased
investments in health care, education and other social programs.
May 24-30 is Paramedic Week. On this occasion, our greetings to all
the paramedics and all the workers providing pre-hospital emergency
services in Quebec and Canada, who are on the front lines of the
fight to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. We are pleased on this occasion
to publish an interview with a representative of the Quebec paramedics Jean
Workers' Forum: Jean, please speak to us about your
concerns and demands at this time of intense crisis.
Thank you. Our first concern, with regard to the place that COVID plays
in our lives, is contamination, particularly the fear of contaminating
our loved ones. That is why it is so important that we have the right
equipment, the appropriate equipment to protect ourselves. Our work is
complex. We have to consider
the patient's condition, and take into account the environment as well.
When we go into a long-term care facility, the airborne load of the
virus is very high, and when we go into an apartment, which is an
enclosed space where there are people with COVID-19, the presence of the
virus in the air is much greater, so we need the appropriate
A huge concern we have right now is that with
de-confinement, we don't want to end up with a second and third wave.
And there's also the high temperatures we're experiencing these days. The heat
and the high humidity is very overwhelming for our members who have to
wear this personal protective equipment (PPE). That adds to the exhaustion
our response time. Our members need rest time and vacation time,
especially since the number of calls will increase. It's also difficult
for our emergency medical responders who receive, sort, and dispatch
calls, and in the heat of the day they're just as likely to be
overworked as our paramedics.
A major concern is that the number of calls will
increase with de-confinement. Our call volume had decreased with
confinement. With an increasing call volume that will return to normal,
plus the addition of COVID cases, and the increased response time
because of putting on PPE, this could cause us a lot of serious
problems. We hope that
with de-confinement and the heat wave, the COVID cases will not explode
and the volume of calls will not explode. We must strictly follow the
recommendations of Public Health with respect to de-confinement. We
have to stick together and work together or we will not make it through
WF: Do you have the staff that you need to deal with the situation?
JG: Right from the start of the pandemic,
the Ministry of Health admitted that we were facing a shortage of staff
in the pre-hospital sector. The only thing that kept things from
getting out of hand was that confinement reduced the number of calls.
Otherwise, it would have been catastrophic, there's no doubt about it.
we've been in a staffing shortage situation for years, people are
exhausted, so it's more important than ever to maintain rest periods,
vacation time, if we don't want people to start collapsing.
In the pre-hospital sector, as in the residential and long-term care centres and
elsewhere, if we had normal working conditions considering what we have
to do, a normal workload, the system would have been able to have some
leeway to deal with the crisis, but the pre-hospital system is so
backed up against the wall that this leeway does not exist.
In a normal workload in our area, paramedic call time is
50 per cent of the shift. Paramedics also have many tasks that are not
ambulance call time per se. However, at the moment, we are on call
almost all the time, and the workload is enormous. The only reason
we've been able to cope is because of the confinement.
To give you an example, let's take the on-call schedules [these
are schedules where paramedics are on duty seven days in a row for 24
hours a day followed by seven days off. - WF Ed. Note].
We remember that the pandemic first broke out in the Eastern Townships.
At that time, employers took the on-call schedules and turned them
into hourly schedules, because workers had to be able to sleep and
there was a shortage of paramedics. As soon as the number of calls
began to drop because of the confinement, they brought back the on-call
schedules. The basic problem is that there are not enough paramedics.
Plus, even last year, employers were reluctant to give
vacations. The means have never been taken to address the shortage. And
the task of paramedics is very complex. A paramedic is in the health
sector, and he is also in the civil security sector. For example,
paramedics are part of the security management of events when people
Hospital workers are not subject to being shot at, taken hostage or
involved in road accidents. Paramedics are. Working conditions must be
good to attract people to a sector as vital as the pre-hospital sector.
In addition, the hiring criteria for paramedics are much
stricter than they used to be. People must be highly qualified. If
wages do not keep up, people will not stay in the profession. Since
2007, there has been a lot of catching up that was done and we are now
owed a wage reassessment. This applies to both paramedics and emergency
responders, considering what is required of them. It is important that
this reassessment be done so that we can retain staff and attract new
WF: Is there anything you want to say in conclusion?
JG: Since the beginning of COVID-19, the
pre-hospital sector has made as few waves as possible so that everyone
can pull together to help the population. However, the government must
not forget this when the pre-hospital sector goes into negotiations and
asks for the wage increase that we are owed.
Workers Forum: In your
opinion, what are the main issues at the moment with the pandemic
crisis that is raging in the health care system, and particularly
strongly in the residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs)?
Benoît Taillefer: There are
several problems. There is the problem of bureaucracy at the
administrative level. Since we became an Integrated University Health
and Social Services Centre (CIUSSS), our operation has become a huge
bureaucracy with a huge administration. There is a general director and
an assistant director to manage the 26 sites that are part of our
CIUSSS, including five hospitals. That's way too big. When I started
working in the health care sector, there was one general director per
institution. It was easier to manage. It was the Liberals, the Charest
government in 2005, and the Couillard government and its Health
Minister Gaétan Barrette in 2015, who decided to implement and
then continue their reform that created giant institutions, saying
there would be more communication and care corridors. All that may be
true on paper, but in practice the results are the opposite. Our CIUSS
is too big to manage. There is too much administration and too much
bureaucracy. When you ask questions of the people responsible often you
don't get answers or the answers are inadequate. The person in charge
tells you they don't know what the answer is and the bureaucracy is
such that often they don't go and get the answer and come back to you
to get the problem fixed.
other problem that comes with bureaucracy is the lack of communication
between the various bodies, especially between the union and
management. The pandemic has been going on for two months, and I'm not
looking for somebody to blame for the crisis, I'm looking for
solutions, but we don't get answers to very basic questions.
For example, in our CIUSSS we have military personnel
who are helping us out. I have no objection to that. They are not care
attendants, they are military personnel. Now, our people who are
experienced, specialized, who work in hot zones [where people are
infected with COVID-19], are being told to go work in cold zones [areas
free of infection], and this within the same shift. That is something
never be done. They are being replaced by military personnel who have
no experience and who are being sent to work in the hot zones.
This is very incoherent. The only circumstance in which
this would be acceptable is in a situation where there is a breakdown
in services, an area where there are no attendants and we absolutely
have to find someone. On one shift you're supposed to stay where you
are. We try to keep people from moving to prevent the virus from
When I raised this problem with the responsible authorities the answer
was that it is not a serious problem, or they are not aware of it.
The second major problem is the lack of preparation,
particularly the lack of personal protective equipment [PPE]. We don't have
enough. We knew that one day we would face a pandemic, but nothing was
organized for a possible pandemic, to ensure the necessary reserves. I
am a care attendant and I know that we have to build up reserves in our
equipment. The neo-liberal bureaucracies did not plan things properly.
So we have a lot of outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.
There are CHSLDs in our CIUSSS where dozens of residents have died. Our CIUSSS has one of the highest number of deaths.
As the union's Vice-President of Health and Safety, I make sure to work
with the inspectors of the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace
Health and Safety Board (CNESST) to ensure that inspections are done
properly, to report situations that are not resolved, to make sure that
there is a follow-up, otherwise I report the situation to the CNESST.
We had a death of a worker in one of our CHSLDs. A
41-year-old worker, very dedicated, very much appreciated by her
colleagues. We are calling for an inquiry into her death. She had
developed the symptoms of COVID-19, had been removed from work for
this, and died the day she was to undergo a second test for COVID. We
very strong suspicion that she died from COVID-19.
The way to stop the pandemic is to make sure that the
safety rules are followed. We have to implement the public health
guidelines properly. There must be no lack of personal protective equipment.
We must regain the upper hand in the CHSLDs. We must
make sure that when a person dies there is complete disinfection of the
room before another person is admitted. Basic disinfection of all
CHSLDs must be ensured. This is difficult because there are so many
people waiting to come to the CHSLDs.
We have to come up with solutions that we haven't
thought of yet. Could residents wear masks, not all the time, but when
there is interaction between a staff member and the resident? We can
already hear the answer; that there are not enough masks. In my
opinion, if the political will is there these problems can be solved.
WF: Do you want to add something in conclusion?
BT: I think that if there's something
positive that has come out of this crisis it's that the workers -- who
work without public recognition, who are underpaid, undervalued, on the
front lines risking their lives -- have been brought to the forefront.
They must be valued in monetary terms, of course, but not only in
monetary terms. They must have good working conditions and
psychological recognition as well. We have to recognize the occupations
which are at the bottom of the ladder, such as care attendants.
It is also important to speak out publicly about what is
going on. This is a public health crisis. There is pressure from
employers to silence us. We cannot be silenced. We are the first
responders. We have to get things done for our people who are at risk
and for the public. Of course, we have to be objective, we have to look
for solutions. The
public needs to know what is happening in the sector.
Workers' Right to Safety at Work
In a press release dated May 19, Local 5430 of the
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is opposing the misleading
claims that were made by Deputy Labour Minister Donna Johnson regarding
workers' rights and workplace safety. In a recent article, the Deputy
Minister wrote: "If there's no reason to say that the workplace is
unsafe, then the employee essentially does not have any ability to
Deputy Minister does not have the right to pre-declare that a workplace
is safe," says Troy Winters, CUPE's Health and Safety Senior Officer.
"The right to refuse is just the start of a process that allows workers
to step back from a situation that could lead them to injury or
illness, if their health and safety complaints have not been
addressed before they are required to do a job."
The press release states that when a worker believes
their workplace or the job they've been asked to perform is unusually
dangerous, they then have the right to refuse. "Every situation is
unique, and a blanket statement about what is dangerous, is in itself
very dangerous," says Winters.
The press release points out that the Saskatchewan Employment Act actually
says that a worker has the right to refuse work "...if the worker has
reasonable grounds to believe that the act or series of acts is
unusually dangerous to the worker's health or safety..."
The right to refuse applies directly to the current
COVID-19 pandemic as many members of the local are
reporting that they do not get all the masks they need to work safely
for themselves and the patients. This "poses dangers which the worker
must have some control over," says the communique.
"COVID-19 is deadly. To make a blanket statement saying
it doesn't present an unusual danger is irresponsible. The Deputy
Minister should be more concerned about making sure all the workers in
the province have proper PPE [personal protective equipment] and that all employers are properly
training their employees how to use them. This is not the time to deny
the workers of this province," says Sandra Seitz, president of CUPE
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