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OPSEU demands COVID-19 safety for court workers

COVID-19
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With Ontario’s courts set to reopen today, July 6, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is continuing to demand that the opening of unsafe courthouses be postponed until at least Aug. 4.

In the correspondence reproduced below, neither the chief justices of Ontario’s courts, nor the Ministry of the Attorney General, address the serious concerns OPSEU members working in the province’s courts have about the lack of COVID-19 safety measures.

In response, Thomas is urgently recommending a number of measures, including:

  1. Reports for each courthouse provided to all bargaining agents on the specific protocols in place according to [the Ministry of the Attorney General] Guidebook requirements.
  2. Regularly updated reports for each courthouse sent to the AOJ and Chief Justice, all bargaining agents and other stakeholders. These reports should communicate the implementation status of recommendations made from each risk assessment. They should be reviewed by bargaining agents and stakeholders and certified by them as complete and sufficient.
  3. Weekly meetings conducted between the Ministry of the Attorney General and the bargaining agents to discuss any issues with the implementation of the plans to reopen the courts.
  4. Representation of all the bargaining agents on the local Joint Health and Safety Committee.
  5. An independent and expedited summary dispute resolution mechanism, should any health and safety issues, including implementation issues, arise in individual courthouses.

Here is the correspondence between OPSEU, Ontario’s chief justices, and the Ministry of the Attorney-General:



June 30, 2020

Lise Maisonneuve
Chief Justice, Ontario Court of Justice
The Honourable Geoffrey B. Morawetz
Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice

Dear Justices Maisonneuve and Morawetz:

I am appealing to you to delay the reopening of courthouses until August 4, because it is unsafe to proceed with plans to resume courthouse operations on Monday, July 6.

OPSEU has been informed that July 6 was set by the Chief Justices for Ontario. We are concerned that our members will be working in unsafe conditions, despite the assurances of managers with the Ministry of the Attorney General that the courts are safe. We have been told that the ministry does not feel it can overrule your decision to open the courts next week. Ultimately, you are responsible for the decision to place the safety of our members and all other participants in jeopardy.

Every stakeholder group has asked the ministry to delay reopening the courts, including the presiding judges. The ministry has indicated that it will address the remaining health and safety concerns after the courts have reopened. This is unacceptable, because it puts everyone at risk.

OPSEU represents 5,700 employees at the ministry who have been supporting the justice system through these unprecedented times. Unfortunately, the health and safety risk assessments conducted in the courts did not even include many of the office spaces in which our members work.

The Ministry of the Attorney General has not prepared the courts and the workers in the courts to safely return. Risk assessments have produced numerous recommendations that have not been addressed. Training of staff has not taken place, and protocols have not been put in place. We have identified health and safety concerns that must be addressed before the courts open.

We await your response to these concerns.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union



July 2, 2020

Dear Mr. Thomas,

On behalf of Chief Justice Morawetz, I acknowledge receipt of your letter of June 30 and assure you that the leadership of the Superior Court of Justice has taken note of its contents.

Since you sent your letter, the Deputy Attorney General has issued a memorandum dated July 1 to all Ministry staff who work at or attend courthouses

Please let me know whether the information set out in the Deputy Attorney General’s memorandum causes you to change the views set out in your letter.

Thank you and regards,

Brian Gover
Stockwoods Barristers

Memorandum to: All MAG staff who work at or attend courthouses
Date: July 1, 2020
From: Irwin Glasberg, Deputy Attorney General

RE: Resumption of In-Person Court Services

I am writing in response to some of the concerns that we’ve heard over the last few days, regarding the resumption of in-person court services on July 6, 2020. Please be assured that the health and safety of the public and all court participants – including the judiciary, court staff, litigants and witnesses – is our priority. The ministry will not re-open a courthouse on July 6 if we have concluded that the health and safety of those that enter is not adequately protected.

As you know, local site assessments have been completed that have informed the precautionary health and safety measures being implemented in each court location. As a reminder, these assessments were completed by independent health and safety advisors from the Public Services Health & Safety Association and supported by local representatives from various justice partner organizations.

Additionally, the ministry has created a guidebook to provide information regarding the precautionary measures in courthouses for ministry staff, judiciary and stakeholders who are preparing to resume in-person appearances.

However, in light of some ongoing concerns, I want to highlight some adjustments we are making to the guidebook and our proposed protocols. These include:

Face Coverings:

The guidebook will be updated to reflect the ministry’s policy that all entrants to a courthouse, including the public, justice sector partners, staff and members of the judiciary will be required to wear a face covering, with limited exemptions (eg. medical reasons).

Gloves:

While gloves were not recommended as part of the site assessments, they will be made available to all judiciary and MAG staff who wish to use them.

Enforcement

Courthouses will be monitored to ensure compliance with the communicated health and safety requirements and enforced where needed. Designated individuals will perform this function.

Screening

An active screening process has been developed that all entrants to a courthouse will need to complete. This tool will be available for completion online, in paper-based format, and verbally where required. All courthouse visitors will be required to complete the screening tool and confirm their result with security as they enter the courthouse. Individuals who are deemed inadmissible through the screening will be redirected to alternative processes. Ministry staff and members of the judiciary will be required to complete the screening tool as well but will not be required to provide the result to security personnel upon entry.

In addition to these adjustments, I also want to advise you that the HVAC survey reports conducted by Infrastructure Ontario were released to justice partner organizations yesterday.

Finally, I am pleased to inform you that the ministry has acquired a two-week bulk supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for distribution to each courthouse to open on July 6, 2020. These quantities will be sufficient to meet the needs of every employee that we anticipate will be working in these courthouses based on the risk assessments conducted. These supplies will be replenished as required. The initial supply includes:

  • Level 1 medical grade face masks for staff use: 211,000
  • Face shields for staff use: 10,500
  • Hand sanitizer (for individual staff use): 21,000 bottles
  • Disinfectant spray (for individual staff workspaces): 21,000 bottles
  • Face coverings for public use: 129,000

Each staff member who is expected to wear PPE must receive and review the mandatory training package before he/she will be permitted to use the PPE. This training package includes information on the practical limitations of PPE, care and storage, and instructions on how to properly put on and take off the PPE. This PPE training package was distributed yesterday.

I am hopeful that these adjustments and additional measures will reassure you of our commitment to protecting the health and safety of all Ontarians who will be accessing the justice system next week.

Thank you,

Irwin Glasberg
Deputy Attorney General


July 3, 2020

The Right Honourable Geoffrey B. Morawetz
Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice

Dear Justice Morawetz,

Thank you for the reply from your office, along with the memorandum to staff written by the Deputy Attorney General regarding the Resumption of In-Person Court Services.

Unfortunately, it addresses few of our concerns about safety and we strongly urge that plans to reopen the courts on Monday be postponed until August 4.

The information communicated in the Deputy Attorney General’s memo outlines some precautionary measures put in place, but numerous recommendations stemming from risk assessments have not been addressed and protocols have still not been put in place.

We recommend that the following additional measures to ensure safe working conditions be put in place ahead of reopening:

  1. Reports for each courthouse provided to all bargaining agents on the specific protocols in place according to Guidebook requirements.
  2. Regularly updated reports for each courthouse sent to the AOJ and Chief Justice, all bargaining agents and other stakeholders. These reports should communicate the implementation status of recommendations made from each risk assessment. They should be reviewed by bargaining agents and stakeholders and certified by them as complete and sufficient.
  3. Weekly meetings conducted between the Ministry of the Attorney General and the bargaining agents to discuss any issues with the implementation of the plans to reopen the courts.
  4. Representation of all the bargaining agents on the local Joint Health and Safety Committee.
  5. An independent and expedited summary dispute resolution mechanism, should any health and safety issues, including implementation issues, arise in individual courthouses.

Further, training of OPSEU members regarding implementation of COVID-19 workplace safety protocols and procedures as it pertains to Guidebook requirements is yet to be conducted. Before any courthouse in Ontario reopens, this training must be completed.

OPSEU is dedicated to ensuring that the courts reopen in a safe and timely manner. We are happy to hear that the Deputy Attorney General, as stated in his memorandum, is committed to not reopening courthouses if there are not adequate health and safety measures in place. We trust that we can work together to ensure the safety of our members, other stakeholders and the Ontario public.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)

cc:    Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve