Priority Responses to COVID-19

Priorities_for_Action.png

The following recommended solutions and resources are a non-exhaustive list and represent the urgently needed supports for all workers in the GTA, especially those most vulnerable among us. These required responses have been compiled with input from affiliated members, OFL, CLC, and from community partners.

Please Note: As this situation remains fluid, and upon further discussion, these demands are subject to change. Governments are adopting some of these recommendations as they respond to the crisis on a day-to-day basis.

Priorities

The labour movement is an important partner in helping make decisions and communications during this health and economic crisis. We call on all levels of government to ensure at a minimum that workers have incomes they can count on during and after this crisis, child care if they are able to work, work that is healthy and safe, and stable housing. We emphasize to governments, employers and communities the need for continued social solidarity with the goal that no one is left behind during the crisis or afterwards.  It is important to recognize that Canadians don’t all start from the same place – we have a high level of inequality including the racialization of poverty and exploitation of some due to their immigration status.

All leaders must show thoughtful, selfless guidance so that workers will have confidence after the crisis subsides to participate fully in our economy and our society.  We can do this if we take on the collective fight against epidemics, climate change and inequality.

We outline eight priorities to communicate to governments (click to jump down):

Health and Safety

Ensure the health and safety of all workers – particularly frontline workers that cannot work remotely. This includes health workers, grocery store workers, transit workers, social service agencies, public sector workers and others who regularly interact with members of the public. We will push governments to:

    • Ensure that hygiene and sanitation protocols are adapted to all workplaces to allow safe working conditions (e.g., construction sites with no current access to running water; workplaces with large crowded lunchrooms)
    • Provide the necessary equipment and supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and an adequate supply of appropriate N95 respirators on hand as well as PAPR (for aerosol-generating procedures, e.g. intubation) and other personal protective equipment.
    • Work closely with health and safety committees and unions to provide accurate and timely information to employees about accessing benefits and support.
    • Provide compassionate care and bereavement leave support to employees, as well as mental health counselling and support. 
    • Conduct a risk assessment to determine all points of potential entry (and how to restrict them) and other points of potential exposure for workers (e.g. screening, triage, isolation rooms).
    • Ensure full workers’ compensation to any worker who interacts with the public and that contracts health conditions related to Coronavirus/COVID-19.
    • Ensure the right to refuse unsafe work is protected.
    • Establish a stabilization fund to provide financial support for non-profits that are on the frontlines, especially for those organizations that cannot enforce social distancing for operational reasons.

 

Paid Sick Leave

Workers need access to paid sick leave through enhanced employment standards legislation at provincial and federal levels. At a time when Ontario should have been moving forward, Doug Ford’s government chose to cut the meagre protection the Liberals had put in place that ensured two paid sick leave days for employees.  The following initiatives would recognize the need for special measures at the current time plus ongoing protection to address the normal illnesses employees may experience. The Province must:

    • Provide at least 21 paid emergency leave days now - all workers need a minimum of 7 paid emergency leave days as a basic and permanent labour right, but during emergencies such as the current global pandemic COVID-19, workers need an additional 14 days of paid leave.
    • Eliminate sick note requirements for all workers (including migrant and undocumented workers) since it puts unnecessary strain on our health care system
    • Ensure all workers have full job protection during this crisis (i.e., their jobs are not at risk for following health care advice, or by taking self-isolation measures as prescribed by public health officials, or for taking time off work to care for their children while schools and daycares are closed).

 

Employment Insurance

Significant changes have been proposed by the federal government to the EI system and supplementary supports for those who do not qualify. However, governments must undertake the following steps in order to maximize the impact of the changes:

    • Implement changes immediately to get money into workers’ hands
    • Waive the one-week waiting period for regular EI benefits
    • Reduce number of hours to 360 to qualify for EI
    • Increase benefit levels from 55% to 60% of income
    • Provide a minimum benefit for those with the lowest earnings
    • Ensure migrant workers have access to all forms of benefits from the time of their arrival in Canada
    • Speed up access to work-sharing
    • Speed up access to EI’s Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Program and allow provisions to make approval retroactive
    • Make all benefits (EI Regular, EI Sick, Emergency Care Benefit, Emergency Support Benefit) retroactive to the beginning of the crisis in Canada
    • Delivery must be nimble and accessible: Ensure access to information, the application process, and payment of benefits is prioritized by increasing staffing levels, adding phone lines, and considering non-online application processes for those who are not computer literate or have no access to computers while libraries are closed to the public and Service Canada locations are turning people away
    • Open direct communications with employer groups and unions so they can operate with full and accurate information and facilitate information sharing with employees
    • Remind the federal government of the need to maintain universal non-means-tested programs

 

Public Services, Including Childcare, for Essential Workers

    • Ensure that public services (including health care and child care) are properly funded, accessible, and affordable for all workers – particularly for frontline workers who cannot work remotely, and for those healthcare workers that are working to keep Ontarians healthy and safe during this crisis.
    • For parents who are reluctant to take their children to a childcare provider offering multifamily services (and childcare workers who are reluctant to risk multiple exposures), consider having customized child care.
    • We also need more health care capacity – staff must be increased in hospitals, long term care, and home care.

 

Economic Stabilizers

Consider the following types of initiatives to keep people working, stimulate the economy, and be prepared to serve the needs of a growing economy when the crisis subsides. The need for this is demonstrated by the abysmal failure of private business capital spending in recent years, indicating a growing role for public investment to lead the way:

    • Speed up public service infrastructure and other projects to act as a fiscal stimulus, create jobs, fill backlogs, and improve public services using low-interest loans or government bonds that are now an option:
      • TCHC building energy retrofitting and repairs
      • School buildings energy retrofits and repairs
      • Public transit systems capital expenditures and state of good repair
    • Offer incentives to “green manufacturing” with the dual purpose of stimulating the economy and helping meet Transform TO goals and Ontario’s international commitments
    • Encourage manufacturers to repurpose non-essential manufacturing to produce medical supplies including respirators
    • Clearly communicate flexibility measures to assist non-profits that receive funding directly from government as they manage their transfer payment agreements and provincially funded program requirements. This could include allowing funds to be moved between budget categories, postponement of administrative deadlines, such as reporting, and recognition that program outcomes may shift.
      • Ensure community-based training providers are supported while they are unable to meet deliverables so they survive to provide training as soon as possible once the crisis is in decline
      • Other social services that are required to temporarily discontinue services should continue to receive transfer payments and funding so they survive through the crisis
      • Local cultural organizations (which often act as pipelines to the larger entertainment industry in the GTA) should continue to receive grants so they survive through the crisis
    • Support development of local supply chains so that we are not as reliant on materials and parts from other countries

 Protecting Workers from Financial Ruin

At this time when incomes are reduced or precarious, government must take steps to protect people from precipitous changes such as bankruptcy or homelessness that could ruin their lives and add to societal precarity:

    • The federal government should instruct utilities, banks, landlords, credit card companies and financial institutions to extend and relax mortgage, rent and bill payment requirements, loan servicing obligations, and other responsibilities facing consumers and households.
    • There should be a moratorium on all credit card interest or a cap of 2% on interest rates
    • The provincial government should instruct all provincially-regulated institutions to extend and relax payment requirements on financial responsibilities facing consumers and households, including OSAP, rent, and mortgage payments.
    • The provincial government should provide a top-up to 80% of income for those receiving EI and Emergency Care and Support Benefits.

 

Impacted Communities

Recognize that health and economic crises affect communities in different ways. Push governments to:

    • Ensure all communities have access to current and appropriate information, establish dedicated COVID hotlines in different languages for all workers and employers
    • Fund the Anti-Racism Directorate to challenge xenophobia and racism
    • Implement an immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement (detentions and deportations)
    • Relax or remove work permit and permanent resident status rules and swiftly grant open permits to workers in transition

 

Avoid Austerity and Shock Doctrine Politics

The labour movement and our allies must be prepared for the politics of the Shock Doctrine and reject austerity measures. To a certain extent, growing inequality is fueling the health crisis: our lean healthcare system is the result of declining revenues brought about through massive tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals. At last year’s Stewards Assembly, Linda McQuaig reminded us that tax levels of 20 years ago would provide $56 billion more in annual revenue. Our society should be more equal – not less – coming out of this crisis.

    • Push back against tax cuts for the wealthy and demand tax fairness
    • American technology corporations – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google – pay no or little tax in Canada. We call on government to apply fair taxation to digital ads, which would bring in revenue, retain Canadian jobs, ensure more Canadian control over our culture
    • Demand public equity stakes in corporations as a condition of government financial support
    • Resist any claims that collective agreements are opened when an emergency is declared
    • Be on guard for promotion of a permanent ‘culture shift’ towards online transactions – from grocery shopping to education
    • Demand the federal government require banks to ease credit card interest rates. At the same time that Finance Minister Bill Morneau asks banks to extend liquidity to business, banks are still charging interest rates of 21% and more to individuals
    • Prepare for attacks on public pensions and good private pensions when business and pension fund managers call for reductions in benefits or seek to switch to defined contribution or target pensions following stock market declines
    • The Canadian Labour Congress and allies succeeded in enhancing coverage under the Canada Pension Plan. Since the value of many workers’ individual RRSPs have declined, press for further enhancements to CPP.
    • Make sure the full capacity of government and the central bank is used ambitiously and fairly
    • Commit to investments and policies which would lead to a stable, sustainable economy based on climate justice and a Green New Deal for Canada

Subscribe to the updates from the Toronto & York Region Labour Council