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Public Health Ontario data reveals devastating pandemic effects for health care workers

July 16, 2020 - 12:00 AM

July 16, 2020

TORONTO – Provincial COVID-19 data released by Public Health Ontario shows the cost of years of ignoring health workers’ demands, and the risks of continued inaction.

Health care workers were severely overrepresented in the data, representing more than 17 per cent of all cases, with 5,800 positive cases and 13 deaths between January 15, 2020 to June 22, 2020.

“Ontario’s healthcare system is a dangerous place to work, far beyond what is reasonable,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “The risk to the health of workers across the system, and specifically in long-term care, can be fixed if the Ford Government makes the systemic changes that workers have demanded for years.”

More than 38 per cent of COVID-19 cases among health care workers are workers in the long-term care sector. While the data indicates only 302 cases were personal support workers, Public Health Ontario only started collecting data on that classification on May 29, 2020, months after the pandemic began. Many other classifications of workers who work in close proximity of COVID-19 patients, like porters, housekeepers, technicians and technologists, and unit clerks are not tracked at all, referred to only as “unspecified HCW occupation”.

“Receiving this data months into the pandemic while there is still no comprehensive plan from the government to repair our broken health care sector is an insult to front-line workers whom the Premier has repeatedly called heroes,” said Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario Regional Director. “We have known for years that Ontario has a long-term care staffing crisis, and that cuts have left health care services over-crowded and at risk. This data shows the devastating effects of those choices.”

Recent announcements from the Ontario Government have failed to provide any real solutions for the issues raised by front-line workers, including those in the Unifor and Ontario Health Coalition December 2019 report Caring in Crisis: Ontario’s Long-Term Care PSW Shortage.

Instead, the Ford Government continued to push most of the public money for long-term care beds to for-profit operators, haven’t addressed the staffing shortage, but have imposed a cap wage of 1 per cent across the broader public service, and is extending the emergency orders for health care workers for up to a full year under Bill 195.

“Premier Ford must improve safety, wages and all working conditions in long-term care now, to bring workers back to the sector,” continued Dias. “Instead, his government is making an already difficult job harder with Bill 195 set to wreak havoc on front-line workers’ schedules, vacation and even their ability to earn their pre-pandemic wages as it pertains to having more than one workplace.”

Adding insult to injury, pandemic pay for front-line health care workers is scheduled to end in August. Many have yet to receive the pay promised almost three months ago, and many more are excluded altogether.

“Nothing that is happening right now leads me to believe that we are at all prepared for a second wave of this pandemic,” said Dias. “Now is the time to rebuild Ontario’s public health care system. Unifor, and Ontario’s health care workers are fully prepared to participate in implementing the real solutions that patients and workers need.”

Information about the union's response to the pandemic, as well as resources for members can be found at unifor.org/COVID19.

For media inquiries contact National Communications Representative Shelley Amyotte at 902-717-7491 or shelley.amyotte@unifor.org.