Tens of thousands of
workers in Canada and
Quebec have contracted COVID-19 at their workplaces. More than 600
workers at the Amazon distribution centre in Peel Region, over 200 at
the Gateway Postal Facility in Mississauga, and almost 1,000 workers at
the Cargill meat processing plant in High River, Alberta have
tested positive for COVID-19. There are currently outbreaks at 12
oilsands sites or camps in or near Ft. McMurray, with 738 active cases
as of April 26. These are just four examples of hundreds of
Workplace outbreak statistics do
not include health care settings
where outbreaks affect both workers and patients or residents of
long-term care homes and other congregate living settings so do not
properly reflect the number of workers infected at work.
curb the spread of COVID-19, there are increasing demands from health
care professionals that vaccinations should be prioritized for workers
who cannot work from home and whose workplaces have remained
starting with those most affected. One of the reasons that governments
have not made such decisions is that to do so
would be to acknowledge that the government, which is in charge of
vaccine delivery, has a responsibility to keep workers safe at work and
to enforce laws and regulations that employers must follow to keep
workplaces safe. It would mean deeds that match the fine words, "We've
got your backs. Oh thank you, thank you essential workers" that
are sounding more like mocking every day.
insult to injury, there are widespread reports of workers
being told by their employers not to file compensation claims but to
instead apply for the federal government's Canada Emergency Response
Benefit (CERB) or the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), as well
as of large numbers of compensation claims being denied. The
rate of acceptance of COVID-19 claims varies from province to province,
with a high of 95 per cent in Quebec and a low of 60 per cent in
Manitoba. Many workers report that claims are ended if a worker who has
had COVID-19 tests negative, even if they are still sick and their
doctor verifies that they are ill and unable to work.
Globe and Mail reported on April 13 that as of March
2021 there had been more than 20,100 claims related to COVID-19 filed
with Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and that
health services and long-term care accounted for 58 per cent, with
agriculture, food processing, manufacturing and retail workers
accounting for 25 per cent.
Data from Public Health Ontario reports nearly 1,900 outbreaks at
workplaces in Ontario from March 2020 to March 5, 2021. These numbers
of claims and exposure incident reports, according to union
representatives, are far lower than the actual figures.
Chezzi, a national representative for the Canadian Union of Public
Employees (CUPE) and Chair of the Occupational Health Clinics for
Ontario Workers Inc. was quoted in the Globe and Mail
as saying, "... Considering that workplaces accounted for as much as
one-third of all outbreaks during the second wave in Ontario,
the number of claims and exposure reports submitted to the WSIB should
be much higher." For example, there have been over 900 cases at Amazon
warehouses but not a single exposure incident report has been filed to
the WSIB for Amazon. The Globe and Mail
reports that as of April 12, according to WSIB data, there were fewer
five allowed claims and fewer than five rejected claims from Amazon
workers. No penalties have been assessed for Amazon and other employers
who fail to meet their legal obligations to ensure that claims and
exposure reports are filed.
According to Chezzi,
"Tens to hundreds of thousands should have
filed exposure claims. Why? Because it's potential exposure. You've got
hundreds of employees in any given facility. Exposure rates should be
through the roof, because anyone going to work where there is COVID,
you have been exposed. If a student or co-worker goes to
school with COVID, teachers have been exposed. Now multiply that by all
the schools in the province. Think of all the paramedics, frontline
nursing staff, custodians, grocery store clerks and people working in
the only province to have legislated presumptive
coverage for COVID-19 which means that workers who contract COVID-19
are presumed to have contracted it on the job if they work in an
essential industry or work in an environment which puts them at risk.
In other provinces workers may have to prove that they
were infected at work. Even with this, Worksafe BC reports that claims
are disallowed where the person was exposed or required to isolate but
ultimately tested negative, and the rate of rejection is close to 30
The anti-social nature of the so-called
compensation regimes are on
full display in the situation where every day corners are cut on safety
measures so that production rates don't suffer. With COVID-19, hundreds
of thousands of workers are working in potentially life-threatening
situations and employers are playing 'hot potato' with their lives.
Workers are directed to apply for federal emergency sick benefits or
CERB when they should be covered by compensation which in most cases
would mean no interruption in earnings. It's a back-handed scheme to
pay the rich through government payouts to workers that should come
from employers. The federal and provincial governments are
fully complicit in these schemes.
human-centred society would recognize that all workers have
the right to a livelihood and in emergency situations like the pandemic
what is needed is a guarantee of workers' income when they are sick or
forced to isolate or their workplace is shut down. No one should be
left to fend for themselves.
1. COVID-19 related claims
statistics from WSIB as of April 16, 2021 showed 21,133 claims allowed
(including 46 deaths up to March 31, 2021), 2,007 claims not allowed,
259 claims pending and 6,700 exposure incident reports received.
This article was published in
April 28, 2021 - No.