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,
Montreal North

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 Workers Fighting for
Their Dignity and Rights

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 the steps of the Legislature so everyone present could participate.

This 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 to 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 cutting benefits."

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 almost 3,500 submitted claims.

Compensation Is a Right!
Justice for Injured Workers!
Our Security Lies in Our Fight for the Rights of All!

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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

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 of 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. 

Several 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 and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth were issued on March 26 and April 10 respectively 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 societies.

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 the details. 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 one 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 income.

According 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 capacity to 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.

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Jean Gagnon, Representative of Pre-Hospital Sector of Health and Social Services' Federation, Confederation of National Trade Unions

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 Gagnon.

Workers' Forum: Jean, please speak to us about your concerns and demands at this time of intense crisis.

Jean Gagnon: 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 equipment.

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 and 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 this crisis.

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. Because 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 are injured. 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 medical responders, considering what is required of them. It is important that this reassessment be done so that we can retain staff and attract new people.

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.

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Benoît Taillefer, Vice-President, Occupational Health and Safety, Workers' Union of the Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre,
Montreal North

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.

The 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 that should 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 spreading. 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 have a 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.

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Workers' Right to Safety at Work

 Opposition in Saskatchewan to Spurious Claims
by Deputy Labour Minister Regarding Workers' Rights and Workplace Safety

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 refuse work..."

"The 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 rights to the workers of this province," says Sandra Seitz, president of CUPE 5430.

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