In the News
Migrant Workers Take Action
Workers Speak Out
Several front line workers made presentations at the virtual Town Hall organized on January 11 by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change with Justice for Workers in Ontario. Some of these are reproduced below. The full proceedings can be found here.
Ayesha, a Personal Support Worker (PSW) and member of the Workers’ Action Centre
Many like me work for low wages. It is very physical and essential work. I have worked through temporary agencies since 2016 and the last two years as a PSW through an agency. It’s minimum wage always.
I was injured when working in a plastic factory but could not afford to take any time off. If I did, the agency would send someone else and it means you lose your job. If you are a new immigrant you work night shift, hard work and unsafe work on machines. My doctor prescribed physiotherapy but I had no money for those treatments. I have to watch every penny just to get by.
Everything costs more than I have. I cannot even afford a basement one-bedroom apartment. I still rely on food banks despite working one and often two different jobs.
Working through an agency I have no guarantee of how many shifts I get. Sometimes it’s only one shift, 12 hours, per week. PSW workers are injured all the time. We work long hours.
If I am sick I still have to go to work. The agency does not provide any testing for COVID. They only want to know that I am vaccinated. For my own mental health I go myself to get tested so at least I know. But the agency does not ask.
I know from my own experience, in many factories there is no physical distancing. There is only one small lunch room and one washroom. How can people stay safe?
But it is not just about me. What about the workers who have families and children. They have no sick days. We need proper paid sick days if we get sick. If we get injured we should not have to pay for medical notes. We need $20 an hour full-time work to make a living these days.
We are working class people. We want a better life but we are working all the time just to survive. We are frontline workers working with the most vulnerable people. We need to fight for a better life and that is why I am involved in this campaign.
Naheed Dosani MD, Decent Work and Health Network
COVID is not just a health issue — it is a health justice issue that has a disproportionate impact on poor and working people. Lack of access to PPE [personal protective equipment] or tests means there is no tracking.
Workplaces like Amazon and meat packing centres were epicentres of the pandemic in previous rounds but with Omicron they are not even considered high-risk settings anymore by the government. They are not eligible for testing. Lack of testing impacts our ability to see how this virus impacts our community.
Similarly, the recent decision to reduce the isolation period in Ontario from 10 days to five days is not based on scientific findings. It is a business decision, not a health decision.
Data shows that more than 10 per cent of infected people continue to transmit Omicron after the five-day isolation period. Recent studies from Japan show that people are at their peak infectiousness three to six days after diagnosis. So people are being misled to thinking they are in the clear when in fact they can be spreading the virus.
The government is asking people to risk their health and the health of others to save the economy. Omicron may not be as severe as the Delta variant but it is by no means mild. We are seeing record numbers of hospitalizations and ICU admissions from Omicron.
This hypothesis that Omicron is mild is being tested on precarious workers who are being required to go to work. Without paid sick days, workers are not able to follow public health guidelines.
By shortening the isolation period the government is disregarding the health concerns of the most vulnerable, older workers, immune compromised workers. And there is no consideration for the impact that the long term effects of COVID can have.
Brigit Umaigba RN, Decent Work and Health Network
Omicron is the fastest spreading virus in history. The pandemic is not over. As an ICU nurse, I am seeing many patients who are precarious workers, undocumented workers, factory workers, Uber workers, taxi drivers — people who cannot afford basic PPE such as N-95 masks to protect themselves and their loved ones. Sick days should be guaranteed in employment standards legislation with no disruption to income and no sick notes required.
The demand to immediately legislate paid sick days (10 permanent sick days now during the pandemic and permanently in the future, with an additional 14 emergency days during public health emergencies) is an important public health measure. We invite you all to get involved to win this demand. If you are a health worker, please join us.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 26, 2022)