Issues About Work and Workers Persist Before Potential Re-opening

The extended state of emergency in Ontario comes to an end on Tuesday, which means that businesses across the province might be given a chance to re-open in some capacity as soon as the middle of next week. But while everyone waits for the announcement, some people in Guelph are demanding clear direction for the re-opening rules, and a new commitment to support workers.

“In the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, it is difficult to think beyond confronting the immediate demands of COVID-19,” said Guelph Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Shakiba Shayani in a statement Friday. “It is never too early to start planning how our province and economy can emerge stronger while doing everything necessary to avoid further lockdowns.”

The Chamber shared a list of 10 priorities they’ve submitted to the Office of Premier Doug Ford that should, in their opinion, balance the health and safety of customers and workers with the creation of economic stability. Some of the suggestions are fairly straightforward like advanced notice, clear guidelines, and rapid testing. Other suggestions like new workforce management systems, leveraging the private sector help with vaccine distribution, and continued business support to prevent further layoffs and bankruptcies may be more involved.

“As the government explores options to safely re-open the economy, it is worth noting that businesses already adhere to a number of existing health and safety protocols and will do their part to support a safe re-opening,” Shayani said. “The business community will continue to prove their commitment to safety protocols to protect their worker and customers to keep their doors open.”

As the Chamber was thinking about the business community, Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner was thinking about workers. The Green Party of Ontario leader live-streamed a conversation with Deena Ladd, who is the executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre. Their conversation focused on the work that needs to be done to ensure workers are safe when the economy re-opens.

“There’s lot of panic and stress about being infected, what to do when you’re infected, how to protect oneself, and how to hold on to your job, especially when there’s such mass unemployment right now,” Ladd said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of incredibly brutal ingredients right now in the labor market that are making it an incredibly stressful time for workers.”

Other ingredients Ladd mentioned included workers feeling uncomfortable bringing concerns to management, not having any sick days, having to take crowded public transit in order to get to their essential jobs, and uncertainty about government benefits meant to help people through. On that last point, Ladd pointed out that there’s a crunch coming when some benefits expire next month.

“I think it’s important to note that some of these benefits, including employment insurance, are all going to be running out in the third week of March, which is very scary,” Ladd said. “We’re certainly organizing around that and we want to ensure that things like the CERB, and caregiving benefits are extended to the end of the year and that some folks who have not been able to get access to it, like international students and those without valid social insurance numbers, can actually access it too because they’re jeopardizing their health right now having to go to work with no other choice.”

Some of those workers are migrant workers who will soon arrive in Ontario for the start of the growing season. Earlier this week, Schreiner released a statement calling on the government to do more to protect migrant workers who were among the people most drastically effected by the pandemic last summer.

“We need to treat migrant workers as the essential employees they are. That means the government needs to step up to ensure that workers coming into Ontario are able to quarantine, that paid sick leave is in place, and that living and working conditions are safe, including support for farmers to upgrade bunkhouses,” Schreiner said. “The government cannot afford to make the same mistakes as last year that led to over 1,700 cases and three deaths among migrant workers in Ontario.”

You can watch the full discussion between Ladd and Schreiner below.

REMINDER: All elementary and secondary school students in Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph will be allowed to return to in-person learning on Monday along with much of the province. The Ontario government has enacted new measures that students and parents should keep in mind before the morning bell on Monday:

  • Province-wide access, in consultation with the local PHU, to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff;
  • Mandatory masking requirement for students in Grades 1-3, and masking requirement for Grades 1-12 outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained;
  • Providing 3.5 million high quality cloth masks to schools as back-up supply for Grade 1-12 students;
  • Enhanced screening for secondary students and staff;
  • Guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school; and,
  • Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.

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