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OPSEU President Thomas confers with BPS health care chairs

President Warren (Smokey) Thomas reported that while not all recommendations are being followed, the Ford government has been closely listening to OPSEU on the best ways to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Thomas held a conference call Sunday with the health chairs of OPSEU’s broader public sector (BPS), along with a number of Executive Board Members, to update them on the latest developments on the recent government emergency orders relating to coronavirus situation.

Thomas said OPSEU has been using both press releases and direct contact to influence the government. The government has been listening and has followed some of OPSEU’s recommendations offered, in some cases within a few days.

He also indicated that in addition to health care, there have been a number of meetings with provincial government officials to deal with issues and hotspots in many different areas within the OPS and Corrections, our college and university sectors, as well as the BPS.

Some of those meetings included the Premier, his staff and select ministers.

Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act announced late Saturday, there are impacts on health care-related collective agreements.

Some of the areas that could potentially be affected include the issue of transfers, redeployment, cancellation of certain types of leaves, and a potential classification movement.

Thomas stressed that, although the order will have effects on some collective agreement rights, it does not override all provisions.

Sector leaders were also briefed on the triage network OPSEU has set up and were told how it worked in each region. Thomas says staff from many different units have been assigned to the regional triage teams to assist members in every sector. He also mentioned the triage teams will have a central hub or office in Toronto to help co-ordinate across the province.

Thomas spoke about the importance of co-operation across the union and between unions, noting that the two unions that represent OPSEU staff are being supportive. As an example, OPSSU has agreed to waive overtime rights during the crisis. Thomas also spoke about the importance of co-operating with employers and government during this time, while ensuring that the health and safety of workers remains at the forefront.

President Thomas said he was pushing hard for personal protective equipment and N95 masks, where required, to protect members working in health care. He added that OPSEU has suggested in cases where some workers may be facing layoffs, that they be redeployed to other areas of need within the system. Thomas stressed to sector leaders the importance of working together and praised them for the work they are doing.