To IAMAW Representatives, Members and Employers:
The pandemic has been a learning curve in many respects and has exposed critical gaps in workplaces. We’ve become aware of those gaps and unpreparedness in workplaces our members work in, leaving some of them incredibly vulnerable. Many of our members continue to work despite the risks they face without access to PPE, sick leave and even a living wage. It is often the case that workers are not aware of the exact level of risk they are exposed to as risk assessments are not conducted, adding another level of unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty. Many employers do not have pandemic plans in place, and lack thereof has resulted in dangerous workplaces. There are many gaps which have been shown through the global pandemic and recommendations that have been made for years seemingly went unnoticed. As a union, we need to advocate for members and address gaps that are leaving members exposed to unsafe and uncertain working circumstances, but we must continue to do so once the pandemic ends.
While employers count on workers to put clients and the public they serve first, our members count on their employer to provide basic protections so they can do their job effectively and safely. It is concerning to us as the IAMAW that so many employers have foregone basic premises of health and safety at a time when it is exceedingly important. Lack of oversight with respect to health and safety has resulted in a growing outbreak of COVID-19 in long-term care homes, showing that the health of residents and workers is intertwined.
COVID-19 has also shone a spotlight on gaps in labour legislation, healthcare legislation, and has proven that funding in key areas, such as healthcare is essential as it’s the backbone of our communities. The IAMAW has time and again expressed the need for more funding and better regulations so that our members can provide the services that are essential for the well-being of their clients.
While public health officials cannot determine exactly how much longer the pandemic will continue, it is certain that for the next several weeks, possibly months, we will continue to work and live in a state of pandemic. It is time for all employers to make their workers a priority and do their part. The Government has committed unparalleled funding and has committed to ensuring the proper PPE will be available as needed; employers must now commit to workers and clients they service.
Workers that continue to provide services must be recognized for the extraordinary circumstances that they face every day at work and at the end of the day with their own families.
We are asking that each bargaining unit take into account the following proposals, and consider that monetary compensation does not only come in the form of wage scales, but can include the following;
- Priority access to COVID-19 testing for frontline workers
- Access to job-appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for workers as agreed to by the Joint Health and Safety Committee which cannot be less than recommended by the Medical Officer of Health
- Creation of full-time positions to comply with a provincial order for healthcare workers to be limit their work to a single care home.
- Increase the hourly rate for all employees in the workplace, especially those in high-risk areas, such as nursing homes, long-term care homes, retirement homes, people’s personal residences, and any other community setting health services
- 100% paid sick time for all workers along with continued medical benefits
- 100% pay for workers in self-isolation pursuant to the recommendations of the Provincial Health Officer or quarantined on the advice of a medical practitioner, including 8-1-1.
- An increase in paid sick days for all workers to ensure they would be fully covered in the event of a COVID-19 infection or self-isolation or quarantine as detailed above.
- Paid emergency leave: This would allow staff, especially low-wage workers, can take time off if they are sick or caring for loved ones. Workers who don’t have paid emergency leave days are more likely to work sick – this is what has created the conditions currently unfolding in our long term care homes and in workplaces across the country
- Continuing access to extended medical benefits regardless of age.
- The ability of all workers to access paid special leave, if they do not already have it, to fully cover any period of infection, self-isolation or quarantine.
- The ability for all workers subject to lay-off due to COVID-19 to buy back pension time split with the employer and to have health care benefits extended for a period of time
For facilities where there is a suspected outbreak of COVID-19 we are asking the following employers to follow directions found here: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/coronavirus/docs/LTCH_outbreak_guidance.pdf
Given the recent announcement by Ontario’s Premier that healthcare workers will be limited to working in only one care home during the outbreak, we recommend that those employers look at the creation of full-time positions to ensure staffing levels meet care needs during the outbreak.
Specifically, we ask that facilities ensure the following;
- Work with Health and Safety committees to develop measures, procedures, policies and training pertinent to COVID-19
- Ensure workers are properly trained and aware of procedures, protocols, and policies
- Review and update existing institutional pandemic plans
- Ensure PPE is readily available for workers who work with suspected cases of COVID-19 and that they are fit-tested for the N-95
- For those who have been fit-tested for the N-95 mask, ensure they are wearing identification of the size for the mask
- Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment
- Ensure isolation measures are in place for clients exhibiting symptoms
- Where applicable, ensure suitable structural barriers exist
- Ensure sufficient staffing is available to manage a possible outbreak in the workplace
- Implement cleaning protocols for all PPE, fit-tested N-95, face shields, gloves, impermeable gowns, head and foot protection and waste disposal protocols
- Ensure staff are using disposable equipment, while residents may use non-disposable equipment
- Create full-time positions to meet staffing level needs during an infectious disease outbreak
Once the pandemic passes, we will continue advocating for enhanced funding to improve wages and working conditions in healthcare. But, we also ask you to do the same in your conversations with employers. Some of our recommendations include;
- Increasing funding to long-term care homes through mandated and enforceable measures.
- Increasing funding to long-term care in the province to ensure the system can adapt to address increasingly acute care needs of residents while still meeting needs of those with less complex needs. Ideally, this would result in a long-term care system that has facilities that cater to different care needs.
- Staffing shortages must be reported to the Ministry of Health and posted in each home. There needs to be a reporting mechanism similar to one bargained between employers and nurses’ unions to track staffing levels and measure the effect on patient/client care, accidents and hazards.
- A provincial human resource recruitment and retention plan must be developed with clear, publicly reported timelines and targets, along with accountability to meet these targets.
- Development of thorough pandemic plans and policies that protect clients’ wellbeing and health and safety of workers.
- Provincial standards for PSW courses to ensure students are prepared for the real work environment.
- Tuition costs must be substantially reduced with access to grants, daycare, and other subsidies to support students.
- A publicity campaign to share a positive image of PSWs must be developed to increase retention and attract students to the sector.
- Management should make a priority of improving the culture within long-term care to respect and value the vital work of PSWs. This requires facilitating cohesion and cooperation in healthcare teams, emphasizing a clear role of PSWs and other healthcare workers within healthcare teams.
It is abundantly clear that minimum labour standards are simply not enough to protect workers, especially in a time of crisis. At a time when workers are putting their health and safety in danger and that of their families, employers must ensure working environments are safe for clients and workers.
Thank you for your efforts and your continued commitment to our members. The help and protection we offer our members can make all the difference in the world for those on the frontlines right now.