May 2 – 8 marks North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. It’s a time to focus on workplace health and safety and to remind employers, employees and the public about the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community.
Immediately following the National Day of Mourning for workers who’ve been killed, injured or fallen ill while working, Safety and Health Week offers an opportunity to turn our collective grief into awareness and to turn from reflection to meaningful action.
In these COVID times, occupational health and safety has taken on renewed significance, as front-line essential workers face growing risks from simply going to work. Labour unions, like OPSEU/SEFPO, have been working tirelessly to keep front line workers safe – demanding better PPE and protections for our members, pushing for paid sick days and supporting a successful vaccine rollout, just to name a few.
And our collective efforts have paid off. This week, the Ontario government announced a new paid sick leave program that will allow workers to take up to three days off while they await test results or get vaccinated – so they can stay home, stay safe and protect their families and communities too.
No doubt paid sick days will help us overcome the COVID crisis. But we must recognize that the new provincial program isn’t perfect. COVID has made it clear: no one should have to go to work when they’re sick – not now, not ever.
In the coming months, it will take our collective efforts and strength to push for a paid sick days program that extends beyond our current crisis; to rebuild a province where paid sick days are the new norm.
Together, we can achieve a better, safer Ontario.
After more than a year of COVID-19, it’s time for our government to officially recognize the risks of airborne transmission and to update public health guidelines and directives accordingly, to ensure that all workers get the PPE and protection they need and deserve, especially those working in close-contact, crowded and confined workplaces.
So, while our union has achieved many workplace safety successes, our work continues. Occupational health and safety will continue to be our top priority as we navigate, and eventually overcome, COVID-19.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer