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Ontario Federation of Labour calls on Ford government to better protect workers during COVID-19

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Firefighters train to respond to an ammonia leak. Practicing for an incident before it occurs is a critical part of being prepared. (Photo courtesy of the Ammonia Safety Training Institute)

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) reports that the Ford government is sidelining the ministry responsible for worker protections and calls for changes within the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

“The ministry is disturbingly inactive when workers call on them for assistance especially at this time when aggressive protections are needed for workers. This must change,” said Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “These are important requests for protections that must be taken seriously. The government must follow its own laws.”

They are calling upon the ministry to provide occupational health and safety first by addressing worker concerns based on up-to-date epidemiological evidence about COVID-19.

“The OFL has discovered that an internal ministry committee, the Work Refusal Advisory Committee, now known as the COVID-19 Advisory Team, rather than inspectors, has been making decisions on how the health and safety inspectors will address COVID-19 issues, including work refusals,” reports OFL.

“For example, work refusals have been downgraded to complaints; occupational health has been ignored in favour of less stringent public health directives, and advice from unions and workers has been ignored. The end result of committee decisions is that workers are not properly protected from exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The OFL notes that the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) supersedes any public health directives issued by the Public Health Ontario (PHO).

“The labour movement is calling on the Ford government to do better under COVID-19 than it did under SARS. It must avoid repeating a painful history that resulted in avoidable deaths in Ontario,” said Coates.

Recent Superior Court and Ontario Labour Relations Board decisions support workers’ rights at work and confirm employers’ duties under the OHSA.

OFL affiliate members are asking for better PPE, including N95 masks. Ministry health and safety inspectors must be equipped with proper protective equipment, training, and directives to do their job, the federation added.

The OFL has filed a Freedom of Information request seeking information on the Work Refusal Advisory Committee and the COVID-19 Advisory Team.

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