Listen to Quebec Health Care Workers!

Labour Court Vindicates Workers' Demands for N95 Masks

On March 23, three unions -- the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), the Interprofessional Health Federation of Quebec (FIQ) and the FIQ-private sector -- announced that they had won their case before the Administrative Labour Court (TAT) with regards to N95 protective masks. The TAT acknowledges that the precautionary principle should have been applied considering the serious risk of aerosol transmission of the virus which has been widely proven. It agrees with the unions in their demands that their employers in the health system and the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) must act responsibly in protecting workers.

As of now, employers in the health care system must provide all personnel caring for residents suspected of having COVID-19 with respiratory N95 masks, in warm zones as well as in hot zones. Until now, employers and the CNESST refused to apply the precautionary principle and to provide health workers with the adequate protective equipment. In the first wave alone, 13,500 health workers were infected. The risk of being infected by COVID-19 was ten times higher than for the rest of the population.

The TAT stated that employers must set up warm and hot zones with teams assigned to each zone and reiterated the importance of the precautionary principle. In light of this decision, unions point out that the Vigi-Santé centre and the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre in the Outaouais violated their obligations pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and that the government showed indifference by refusing to be proactive as prescribed by law. They are revolted that they have had to fight so that a judge would finally acknowledge the obvious. The National Director of Public Health passed an order to hinder access to N95 masks and continuously challenged the legal actions taken by unions regarding their health and security concerns at the workplace. In spite of the risk of aerosol spread of the virus and the repeated requests of unions to apply the precautionary principle, the government and managers relentlessly refused to consider their demands.

The unions state: "It was our responsibility to ensure that the health and safety of the healthcare professionals and health of the residents was respected. In the face of a potentially deadly threat for which the world has deployed extraordinary health measures, the government and employers have tolerated that those who are the backbone of the network are sent to the front lines with the bare minimum to protect themselves and their patients. They were particularly negligent when they were responsible for a clientele known to be very vulnerable to the virus. They should have made it their priority."

The Quebec government must be held to account for its criminal negligence, a course it is pursuing in spite of all the evidence of their harmful activities, passing laws such as Bill 59 which, rather than helping to improve health and safety at the place of work, will make the situation worse, further endangering workers and those in their care.

(Photos: NNU, FIQ)

This article was published in

March 29, 2021 - No. 23

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