OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is asking bosses at the Ministry of Labour why it has taken so long to provide Ontario’s health and safety inspectors the proper equipment, training, and directives during COVID-19.
“We wrote to Minister of Labour, Training, and Skills Development over a month ago to insist that inspectors be given the necessary protection to safeguard against COVID-19,” says Thomas. “Where is it? Why is it that PPE equipment and training still hasn’t reached all inspectors?
It is unacceptable that lives are still being put at risk, adds Thomas.
“While senior government managers drag their feet on following the Premier’s directives, workers around the province continue to get sick, or worse, perish because not all that could be done has been done.”
Inspectors have been visiting workplaces across Ontario, including long term care homes where Ontario has seen its largest outbreaks of the virus. Only last week did those inspectors begin receiving the pandemic training and PPE they require.
“It is ridiculous to expect these dedicated professionals to do their jobs the way they have been, without proper protections, and also be expected to be the driving force behind the COVID-19 recovery,” says Thomas. “How can Ontario beat this when our health and safety inspectors, who exist to protect worker health and safety, aren’t being protected themselves?”
This is a failure to plan, says Neil Martin, chair of OPSEU’s Ministry Employee Relations Committee.
“Health and safety inspectors do not have magic wands. They know what they need but unfortunately they aren’t getting all they require. Still, they go out and do their jobs while putting their lives at risk with only what they have – which isn’t much.”
Recent comments by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) blaming inspectors for all the problems in long term care homes is not productive and underlines the need for sector reform, adds Martin.
“We all rely on health and safety inspectors to protect our family members and our friends in their workplaces. Suggesting that people are scared about going out is not helpful or productive. Of course people are scared. Our members are concerned for their safety just like the SEIU members are.”
“The bottom line is supply issues are governing the day, not worker health and safety,” says OPSEU First Vice President Treasurer, Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “The government knows that if it were up to inspectors, the precautionary principle would be a foundation in any workplace inspection. But plain and simple, inspectors are not being allowed to do their important jobs.”