Through the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress, the Society has kept up pressure on all levels of government to take effective action against the spread of COVID-19 in members’ communities. Though the third wave is clearly declining from its peak, a fourth wave is still possible if appropriate public health measures are not used alongside ongoing vaccination efforts.
For more than a year, the Society has been part of calls to improve workplace health and safety to stop virus transmission. Particularly in the second and third waves of the pandemic, workplaces have been identified by public health experts as a leading source of infections in Ontario.
To drive down workplace infections, the Society has called on the provincial government to reduce the types of employers considered essential and therefore permitted to be operational during the pandemic. Additionally, the Society has called for at least two weeks of permanent paid sick days to ensure every worker can afford to stay home if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, get tested, and improved access vaccines for essential workers.
The Society has also advocated for improved workplace ventilation, more stringent requirements for employers to provide personal protective equipment to employees, and adapting public health guidance to reflect the overwhelming evidence that the coronavirus spreads through aerosol transmission rather than droplets.
As Ontario’s third wave intensified in April so did the calls for Ontario to introduce paid sick days. At the Society’s virtual Day of Mourning ceremony, then-Society president Scott Travers had harsh words for Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government.
“The provincial government has blood on its hands,” said Travers. “Essential workers continue to be infected with COVID-19 and die because the Ford government refuses to narrow its definition of essential work, shutdown nonessential workplaces, and provide basic protections like paid sick days to everyone who is truly essential.”
The afternoon following the Day of Mourning ceremony, the Ford government finally unveiled a paid sick day program but it fell well short of what experts had recommended. Rather than two weeks of conventional paid sick days, the provincial government is providing just three days at a maximum of $200 per day. The provincial program requires an application to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, which means that workers may not receive their full pay cheques and that pay is likely to be delayed.
While vaccines will have a major impact on society’s ability to return to pre-pandemic activities, experts say that it will take a long time to get rid of the virus completely and it may remain with us for good, similar to the flu. Given that new reality, and the fact that while extremely effective vaccines are imperfect and may be challenged by future variants of concern, improved workplace health and safety measures will be needed on an ongoing basis to limit the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks. The Society will continue to advocate for these measures in coalition with the labour movement and other allied groups.