September 13, 2021 - No. 82

Quebec Government Decrees Will Exacerbate the Crisis
in Health and Social Services

Only the Workers Can Decide the Conditions Needed to Keep
the Population Safe

Demonstration by Quebec health care professionals in Cowansville, August 30, 2021 against the silencing of their voices on their conditions of work and of patients' care.

Hospital Workers Conclude a Summer of Rallies in Defence of Rights
Ontario Lab Technologists Require Assistance Immediately

Affirming the Right to Education in the Context of the Fourth Wave
Discussion on Concrete Measures to Uphold Health, Safety and Rights as Schools Re-open

Quebec Government Decrees Will Exacerbate the Crisis
in Health and Social Services

Only the Workers Can Decide the Conditions
Needed to Keep the Population Safe

On September 7, the Quebec government announced that COVID-19 vaccination will now be mandated for all health and social services workers, and that all workers who have not been double-vaccinated by October 15 could be suspended without pay. They will be required to provide proof of full vaccination. If they do not, they will be reassigned to other duties, which seems impossible since all workers in the sectors are subject to the government's decision, or they will be sent home without pay. Volunteers will also be sent home if they do not have proof of double vaccination by October 15. Visitors will be required to show their immunization passport or they will not have access to patients.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said during the announcement that "we cannot accept that there are workers who put vulnerable people at risk." Premier François Legault denies his government's responsibility for the untenable situation facing Quebec nurses and health care workers, which has led to a massive resignation of nurses and all kinds of physical and mental health problems among staff. He made the irrational statement that the announced measure will be combined with an effort to bring nurses back into the system, including retired nurses.

Workers Forum points out that this new measure of the Quebec government will only add to the incoherence, anarchy and chaos in the Quebec health system. Instead of taking up its social responsibility to adequately fund and staff the healthcare system, end all privatization of services forthwith and provide universally accessible testing for COVID-19, the government takes all of this off the table and once again self-righteously attacks health care workers. These are the people who literally hold the system together.

Health care unions have argued that the blatant irrationality and disrespect expressed in this measure will drive more workers out of the system, especially nurses, who are fed up with the ministerial orders that have been passed over the past year and a half by the government. All the ministerial orders attack the dignity of nurses and other frontline workers who serve the public and deny their negotiated working conditions.

It is expected that if the government maintains its decision, even more nurses will leave, including double-vaccinated nurses.

The irrationality of the decision can also be seen in the fact that vaccination is presented as the ultimate measure to protect the population, not as one of the measures, and that it is accompanied by so-called "flexibility" measures that the government has decreed. In particular, health care workers oppose the recent government decision to weaken infection prevention and control rules in health care institutions. They are particularly concerned with the end of the designations of hot, warm or cold zones which grouped patients according to whether they had COVID-19 or not and according to its severity, with the staff themselves working only in the one zone to which they were assigned. Staff will now go back to moving throughout the hospital, without quarantine or other preventive measures. In emergency departments we are back to the situation of having patients with COVID-19 not isolated but in beds in hallways with only a curtain separating them from uninfected patients who may be extremely susceptible due to other conditions.

Workers also report that workers with no symptoms of COVID-19 are no longer being tested after being in contact with a patient who tests positive.

While vaccinating the population is an integral part of modern medical protocols, as has been the case throughout the neo-liberal anti-social offensive, these measures are being mandated without informed public discussion and without the consent of the workers who deliver the services. Pro and con positions are imposed to divide the population while alternatives which would protect the population and unite the people are deliberately left off the agenda.

It is up to the workers and their collectives to discuss and decide what measures are needed to protect themselves and the public in health care facilities. They are the ones who defend the public interest and they are also the ones who have earned the respect and the confidence of the public by their dedication and courage under the most difficult conditions. This applies to the current mandates as well -- what to do with them is up to the workers themselves.

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Hospital Workers Conclude a Summer of
Rallies in Defence of Rights

On September 10, hospital workers from across Ontario rallied in front of the Ontario Hospital Association's (OHA) head office in downtown Toronto. The OHA's head office was chosen as the location for the rally because over 70,000 hospital workers, members of OCHU/CUPE (Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/Canadian Union of Public Employees) and SEIU Healthcare (Service Employees International Union) are attempting to negotiate the renewal of their collective agreements with OHA.

The theme of the rally was Respect Us! Protect Us! Pay Us! and No To Concessions! The rally was the culmination of over 60 actions that were organized by hospital workers across Ontario during the summer in defence of their rights and dignity.

Leaders of the two unions and frontline workers spoke. They made the point that Ontario health care workers are protecting the health and the safety of the public and that since the start of the pandemic more than 24,000 health care workers contracted COVID-19 and 24 died. They spoke about the exhaustion and mental health problems that are affecting so many of them as a result of their untenable working conditions. This makes the Ford government's provocation unacceptable.

In 2019, the Ford government passed Bill 124 which dictates that total compensation for a broad section of workers in the public sector, including Crown agencies, school boards, universities and colleges, hospitals, non-profit long-term care homes, cannot exceed one per cent per year for three years. It also covers Children's Aid societies, social service agencies and the electricity and energy sectors. Hospital workers estimate that with this wage cap policy the Ford government is actually cutting their wages. A wage increase of one percent would mean an actual cut of nearly $1,500 this year alone when inflation, currently well over three per cent, is taken into account.

But the cap on compensation impacts far more than wages. Included in the one per cent is everything that government and employers consider a cost, including any improvement in vacations, leaves of all kinds, health benefits and more. It impacts workers' access to counseling and mental health supports that are urgently needed in conditions of the pandemic.

Participants in the rally made it clear that they consider this to be a violation of their right to negotiate wages they deem acceptable. It is also an insult to workers who have made and continue to make great personal sacrifices to care for and protect the public in the conditions of COVID-19.

Showing utmost insensitivity to the plight of the workers, a spokesperson for the president of the Treasury Board wrote, in an email to CBC News, that it is "inaccurate to suggest" that Bill 124 caps wages at one per cent annually, as "Ontario's public-sector employees will still be able to receive salary increases for seniority, performance, or increased qualifications."

"Bill 124 is designed to protect public sector jobs and vital front-line services, which are essential in our fight against COVID-19," he also wrote. "We believe this is a fair, consistent, and time-limited approach that will enable us to protect front- line jobs and workers."

Wage progressions in collective agreements have nothing to do with the basic wages of workers and do not apply to all of them. The very idea that attacking the rights and the conditions of those who deliver the services is protecting services and workers is irrational and a further provocation. It shows that the Ford government's only response to the problems of the health care system is to impose further chaos, increase the attacks on workers' rights and open up the system to further privatization.

The anger of workers increased, speakers said, when the OHA negotiators came to the bargaining table to meet with the union bargaining committee and presented concessionary demands including attacks on seniority rights and pensions and others that would permit increased contracting out of their work.

Throughout the summer, health care workers all across Ontario organized actions to present their stands to the public and explain what is actually going on in the health care system. They are speaking out and mobilizing public opinion for a solution to the crisis in health care that favours the people.

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Ontario Lab Technologists Require
Assistance Immediately

Ontario laboratory technologists are speaking out about their working conditions and the crisis in the health care system which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

In speaking to CTV News on September 11, Michelle Hoad, president of the Medical Laboratory Professionals' Association of Ontario, made it clear that immediate assistance is needed. She reported that 92 per cent of lab technologists are working overtime and 97 per cent of labs are short-staffed. Over 66 per cent have not been able to take vacation. The association also found that 87 per cent of their members are experiencing burnout and almost half, 42 per cent, are contemplating leaving their jobs. On top of that 41 per cent will be eligible to retire within the next two to four years.

To add to the crisis, U.S. companies are offering signing bonuses of $10,000 to $20,000 to entice workers to leave Ontario.

The association has made a concrete proposal to the Ontario government on how to solve the problem. They are calling for a $3.6 million investment over three years to train more lab technologists by creating clinical placements for students. They are calling for an investment of $2.6 million over three years for labs in rural remote areas in Northern Ontario. Lastly they ask for the province to develop a simulation laboratory, a training laboratory where students get hands-on experience, focussing on rural, remote and northern communities.

The pandemic and the government's response has exposed and exacerbated problems in the health care system that require solutions. By speaking out about their working conditions and making their demands, health care workers are defending not only their own rights but the rights of all.

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Affirming the Right to Education in the Context of the Fourth Wave

Discussion on Concrete Measures to Uphold Health, Safety and Rights as Schools Re-open

On August 29, 2021 Education is a Right Podcast held a virtual forum to discuss what is on the minds of educators, parents and students across Canada with the opening of school amidst a fourth wave of the pandemic and ongoing vaccine rollouts. Participants attended from Alberta, Ontario and Quebec and included elementary, secondary and post-secondary educators, students and parents.

The main theme was how to take up social responsibility in the schools and communities as schools re-open. Participants received a presentation on the guidelines for safe schools being put forward by Health Canada and then discussed the situation in their parts of the country and how they are planning to deal with the reality in the class. This was followed by a session on how to ensure that Orange Shirt Day 2021 (September 30) is made an important project for the youth in every class so that they are part of truth and reconciliation, and it is not left up to chance.

The forum ended with discussion on the federal election and the importance of involving the youth in getting their own experience with the political process despite the terrible timing of the election.

A key thread throughout the three-hour plenary was the importance of educators taking their own initiatives to involve themselves and their students in working out how to uphold the health and safety of their class and their families and by extension their community. This was also the case with Orange Shirt Day and the federal election: it is important to take up our own organizing and initiative so that the pandemic doesn't lead to either nothing being organized or things that just come from on high without the participation of the people.

Three decisions were taken by those in attendance:

1) that the proceedings of the conference be published as podcasts in the months of September and October
2) that in September episodes be dedicated to Orange Shirt Day
3) that participants get back together virtually over the December break to review what has taken place and prepare for the next phase of the school year.

The opening presentation on guidelines for the re-opening of schools and the discussion have now been published as podcasts here:

Episode 108: Planning for the 2021-22 school year in the context of the fourth wave

Episode 109: Discussion on a Safe September

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