Unifor urges Ottawa to proactively protect workers from COVID-19 virus

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March 5, 2020

Toronto - Unifor is calling on Ottawa to take immediate steps to protect workers as COVID-19 spreads around the globe.

“Emergency supports are needed now for all workers in workplaces affected by COVID-19, to protect their health and provide job stability and income assistance in the event of shift reductions or layoffs,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

Dias has written  Filomena Tassi, Minister of Labour and Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion to make several recommendations to urge the federal committee dealing with this crisis to work proactively with the provinces to mitigate impacts on workers from the potential pandemic and resulting economic slowdown.

With more than 30 confirmed cases here in Canada, the public health risks and demonstrable effect on the economy are creating uncertainty and hardship for workers, especially in the health care, hospitality, education, transportation and retail sectors.

“We represent thousands of workers in these sectors and we were relieved to see Minister Patty Hajdu confirm yesterday that workers will have a voice in federal response to this public health and economic crisis,” said Dias.

“Racial stigmatization has also created additional challenges for workers in the Chinese and other ethnically diverse communities across Canada.”

Many unionized workers have job and income security provisions in their collective agreements in the event of shift reductions, or the need to take sick leave, but not all workers have those protections. Dias is asking the federal government to prepare for sector-wide work disruptions by implementing protective health and awareness strategies for workers most vulnerable, and to take measures to mitigate financial hardship.

Unifor is asking Ottawa to take the following measures to ease the burden on workers:

  • waive the one-week waiting period for Employment Insurance
  • increase duration of EI sick leave from 15 to 26 weeks;
  • provide emergency special EI payments for vulnerable workers
  • provide special “income relief” measures for health care workers, as was done with SARS
  • reduce qualifying hours for EI to 360 (from 420 and 700 hours)
  • ease federal Work-Sharing rules
  • urge provinces to legislate paid sick days
  • urge employers to waive requirements for doctor’s notes to substantiate sick leave

Unifor’s Health and Safety Department has provided this fact sheet to all members and locals and is monitoring the situation closely.

For media inquiries please contact Unifor’s Director of Communications, Natalie Clancy at Natalie.Clancy@unifor.org or 416-707-5794 (cell).

Unifor has launched a hub for member information about the pandemic at unifor.org/COVID19 and encourages members to check the site regularly for updates.