‘The ministry is disturbingly inactive when workers call on them for assistance’
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) says that the province’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has not been doing its job of protecting workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
An internal ministry committee — the Work Refusal Advisory Committee now known as the COVID-19 Advisory Team — rather than inspectors, has been making decisions on how the health and safety inspectors will address COVID-19 issues, including work refusals, says the union.
The OFL says that work refusals have been downgraded to complaints, occupational health has been ignored in favor of less stringent public health directives and advice from unions and workers has been ignored.
“The ministry is disturbingly inactive when workers call on them for assistance especially at this time when aggressive protections are needed for workers. This must change,” says Patty Coates, OFL president.
“The government and the ministry must exercise due diligence and ensure that workers’ rights are respected, the [Occupational Health and Safety Act] is enforced, and that workers are protected.”
As of June 10, ministry inspectors had completed inspections and investigations for 10,156 workplaces and issued 5,792 orders, which includes 22 stop work orders, related to COVID-19, says the government.
The union also says that the law is very clear that when workers determine through their expertise that they require personal protective equipment (PPE), the employer has a responsibility under the act to provide it. This has been supported by recent decisions by the Superior Court and Labour Relations Board, says the OFL.
In March, Ontario saw 1,440 complaints about workplace safety related to COVID-19. That was up from just 14 in February, according to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
The Ontario Federation of Labour has also voiced concern about Ontario’s changes to employment standards legislation around temporary layoffs.