‘Infuriating’ new COVID-19 measures ignore science table advice on stricter lockdown, paid sick days

The workplaces hardest hit by COVID-19 outbreaks remain untouched by new provincial measures that also fail to provide paid sick days for low-income workers most likely to contract the virus.Premier Doug Ford’s Friday announcement came hours after Ontario’s Science Advisory Table urged the province to shut down all non-essential work and ensure adequate paid sick leave for those in essential sectors. While non-essential construction will temporarily shutter under the new orders, manufacturing and warehousing — where existing data shows most workplace outbreaks have occurred, and where many workers do not have paid sick days — will continue with no restrictions.The regulations define essential construction as projects in health care, municipal and provincial infrastructure, electricity generation and education. It also includes projects in manufacturing, warehousing, residential construction and residential projects or commercial excavation started before April 17.“Today’s announcement doesn’t really get at the crux of what’s causing our COVID-19 case counts to increase,” said palliative care physician, health advocate and University of Toronto lecturer Naheed Dosani — adding that paid sick days are a crucial part of containing the virus.“People will get sick and people will die because of the lack of government action around this.”Labour advocates and health experts, including every health unit in the province, have demanded legislated paid sick days to ensure workers have immediate access to time off at no loss of income in order to slow the spread of the virus.In a statement, Ontario Federation of Labour president Patty Coates called Friday’s announcement “infuriating.” “Doug Ford’s handling of this pandemic has been an abject failure and absolute disaster. It is far past time for this government to introduce paid sick days, guarantee paid time off for vaccinations, and ensure that all front-line workers have priority access to vaccines.”A recent study of COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) found a 51 per cent growth rate of the variants in neighbourhoods with the highest density of essential workers, double the rate of communities with the lowest concentration of essential workers, according to the study led by McMaster University associate professor of medicine Dr. Zain Chagla.Ford has said paid sick days would duplicate a temporary, retroactive federal sickness benefit which maxes out at $450 a week after tax and cannot be used immediately by a worker who may be experiencing COVID symptoms.“We don’t need the federal government to fix the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to make it better. We need the provinces to legislate paid sick days,” said registered nurse Carolina Jimenez, a member of Decent Work and Health Network.In response to questions about why hard-hit manufacturing and distribution sites will see no restrictions, Ford said supply-chain issues prevented any closures. In Peel Region, manufacturing has seen 37 per cent of the region’s workplace outbreaks — the single largest share. Similarly, in Durham Region, the sector made up a third of all outbreaks since the pandemic began. Manufacturing also has the largest number of active workplace outbreaks declared this week in Toronto. Warehousing has also been hard hit, especially in Peel: there are at least 1,600 cases associated with workplace outbreaks in the sector; at least 900 workers at three Amazon facilities in the region have contracted the virus.A Star analysis of lockdown regulations earlier this year found they left 65 per cent of workers in the GTA designated “essential” — about 2 million people.Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist and partner at ETIO Public Health Consultants, said anything short of a complete shutdown would be “unwise,” calling restrictions implemented — and then lifted — earlier this year “mock-downs.”“If you’re (going to) do it, do it properly,” he said.Much of Friday’s announcement flies in the face of an earlier briefing in which Science Table Advisory Board chair Dr. Adalsteinn Brown said “only essential workplaces should be open right now.”“We need to stop infection coming into our essential workplaces to keep them open,” he said. “Many people may need extra and easy-to-access support to stay at home when they’re sick.”Deena Ladd of Workers’ Action Centre said Ford’s announcement ignores workers who must continue to go to work, focusing instead on those who can stay home.“There are a lot of options on the table that he is not considering because of his … politics,” she said.This week, the Ministry of Labour said it would visit 1,300 construction sites to check for COVID-19 compliance.“We’re shutting down some non-essential construction, like shopping malls, hotels, and office towers,” McNaughton said Friday.“However, there are still projects that are critical to our health, like building our homes, our hospitals, assessment centres, and long-term-care homes. And we need to ensure those on these sites are be

‘Infuriating’ new COVID-19 measures ignore science table advice on stricter lockdown, paid sick days

The workplaces hardest hit by COVID-19 outbreaks remain untouched by new provincial measures that also fail to provide paid sick days for low-income workers most likely to contract the virus.

Premier Doug Ford’s Friday announcement came hours after Ontario’s Science Advisory Table urged the province to shut down all non-essential work and ensure adequate paid sick leave for those in essential sectors.

While non-essential construction will temporarily shutter under the new orders, manufacturing and warehousing — where existing data shows most workplace outbreaks have occurred, and where many workers do not have paid sick days — will continue with no restrictions.

The regulations define essential construction as projects in health care, municipal and provincial infrastructure, electricity generation and education. It also includes projects in manufacturing, warehousing, residential construction and residential projects or commercial excavation started before April 17.

“Today’s announcement doesn’t really get at the crux of what’s causing our COVID-19 case counts to increase,” said palliative care physician, health advocate and University of Toronto lecturer Naheed Dosani — adding that paid sick days are a crucial part of containing the virus.

“People will get sick and people will die because of the lack of government action around this.”

Labour advocates and health experts, including every health unit in the province, have demanded legislated paid sick days to ensure workers have immediate access to time off at no loss of income in order to slow the spread of the virus.

In a statement, Ontario Federation of Labour president Patty Coates called Friday’s announcement “infuriating.”

“Doug Ford’s handling of this pandemic has been an abject failure and absolute disaster. It is far past time for this government to introduce paid sick days, guarantee paid time off for vaccinations, and ensure that all front-line workers have priority access to vaccines.”

A recent study of COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) found a 51 per cent growth rate of the variants in neighbourhoods with the highest density of essential workers, double the rate of communities with the lowest concentration of essential workers, according to the study led by McMaster University associate professor of medicine Dr. Zain Chagla.

Ford has said paid sick days would duplicate a temporary, retroactive federal sickness benefit which maxes out at $450 a week after tax and cannot be used immediately by a worker who may be experiencing COVID symptoms.

“We don’t need the federal government to fix the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to make it better. We need the provinces to legislate paid sick days,” said registered nurse Carolina Jimenez, a member of Decent Work and Health Network.

In response to questions about why hard-hit manufacturing and distribution sites will see no restrictions, Ford said supply-chain issues prevented any closures.

In Peel Region, manufacturing has seen 37 per cent of the region’s workplace outbreaks — the single largest share. Similarly, in Durham Region, the sector made up a third of all outbreaks since the pandemic began. Manufacturing also has the largest number of active workplace outbreaks declared this week in Toronto.

Warehousing has also been hard hit, especially in Peel: there are at least 1,600 cases associated with workplace outbreaks in the sector; at least 900 workers at three Amazon facilities in the region have contracted the virus.

A Star analysis of lockdown regulations earlier this year found they left 65 per cent of workers in the GTA designated “essential” — about 2 million people.

Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist and partner at ETIO Public Health Consultants, said anything short of a complete shutdown would be “unwise,” calling restrictions implemented — and then lifted — earlier this year “mock-downs.”

“If you’re (going to) do it, do it properly,” he said.

Much of Friday’s announcement flies in the face of an earlier briefing in which Science Table Advisory Board chair Dr. Adalsteinn Brown said “only essential workplaces should be open right now.”

“We need to stop infection coming into our essential workplaces to keep them open,” he said. “Many people may need extra and easy-to-access support to stay at home when they’re sick.”

Deena Ladd of Workers’ Action Centre said Ford’s announcement ignores workers who must continue to go to work, focusing instead on those who can stay home.

“There are a lot of options on the table that he is not considering because of his … politics,” she said.

This week, the Ministry of Labour said it would visit 1,300 construction sites to check for COVID-19 compliance.

“We’re shutting down some non-essential construction, like shopping malls, hotels, and office towers,” McNaughton said Friday.

“However, there are still projects that are critical to our health, like building our homes, our hospitals, assessment centres, and long-term-care homes. And we need to ensure those on these sites are being kept safe.”

The ministry has conducted 46,000 COVID-19-related inspections since the start of the pandemic; since January it has issued 500 fines to rule breakers. Last year, the ministry fined one employer for violating COVID-related safety rules.

McNaughton said the ministry will be ramping up enforcement of law offices and other white-collar professions where some employers are still allowing remote work, despite lockdown measures.

“For our employers and employees, take note, this is your last warning,” McNaughton said.

Experts expressed deep concern about another form of enforcement central to the Ford government’s new plan: policing.

“There is a long history of over-policing, in communities where low-wage, racialized people live, often where our essential workers lives,” said Dosani.

“It also sends a message that the vast majority of COVID-19 infections are related to transmission in places like parks, for example, when we know that that’s actually not the truth.”

“We know that COVID-19 is being passed on” in plants, factories, and in the “kinds of places where essential workers are working so that they can pay their bills,” he added.

Taken as a whole, Friday’s measures address things that “(don’t) need to be fixed,” said Jimenez.

“It’s just like in medicine — if I’m not treating the source of the infection, a person is ... going to get sicker and sicker, until they die,” she said.

“And it’s the same thing here.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour-related issues for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

Rosa Saba is a Toronto-based business reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rosajsaba

Source : Toronto Star More