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

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Unifor is calling on federal and provincial governments to work together to implement immediate measures to protect workers as COVID-19 spreads around the globe, including 14 paid sick days for workers who are placed in quarantine or asked to self isolate.

“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 National President Jerry Dias.

On March 5, Dias sent a letter to Filomena Tassi, Minister of Labour and Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, containing several recommendations to urge the federal committee dealing with this crisis to work proactively with the provinces to mitigate impacts on workers from the pandemic and resulting economic slowdown.

Yesterday Prime Minister Trudeau announced a $1 billion COVID-19 response package that included Unifor’s recommendations to waive the one-week waiting period for Employment Insurance and to ease federal Work-Sharing rules.

“Waiving the one week waiting period for EI is a good start but much more must be done to protect financially jeopardized workers, especially those who don’t qualify or are precariously employed in the gig economy,” said Dias.

The union will continue to advocate for the implementation of its remaining recommendations to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on workers including:

  • increasing duration of EI sick leave from 15 to 26 weeks;
  • providing emergency special EI payments for vulnerable workers
  • reducing qualifying hours for EI to 360 (from 420 and 700 hours)
  • creation of a special fund for workers who don’t qualify for EI
  • providing special “income relief” for health care workers, as was done with SARS
  • urging provinces to legislate paid sick days
  • urging employers to waive requirements for doctor’s notes to substantiate sick leave

"With more than a hundred 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, Dias said. “This is a pandemic and we expect the government to act to protect workers in hard hit and vulnerable sectors.”

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 all levels of 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.

In addition, Unifor is taking many precautionary measures.

“We want to flatten the curve, and do our part to minimize impacts,” said National Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne. “As a result we are undertaking a number of internal measures including cancelling or postponing meetings, limiting non-essential travel and we are monitoring our response on a daily basis.”

Payne is leading a working group on Covid-19 that will send regular updates to Unifor staff and locals.