Hamilton

Bill to extend emergency orders repays sacrifices by stripping worker rights: union

Union officials say the sacrifices health-care workers made to serve Ontarians during the COVID-19 pandemic are being repaid by the Ford government with a new bill that will strip them of their workplace rights.

'It's uncalled for and it's unjust,' says CUPE 7800 president

Health-care workers protest against Bill 195 during a media conference outside Hamilton's General Hospital on July 14, 2020. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Union officials say the sacrifices health-care workers made to serve Ontarians during the COVID-19 pandemic are being repaid by the Ford government with a new bill that will strip them of workplace rights.

Bill 195 was introduced to the legislature last week. It is part of the government's plan to balance "cautiously" reopening the province with the ongoing effects of the virus, stated a spokesperson for the Minister of Health.

"The bill, if passed, would allow Ontario to continue its path to recovery by easing restrictions where appropriate, while maintaining important select tools to address the ongoing threat of this deadly virus," added Alexandra Hilkene.

But Dave Murphy, president of CUPE Local 7800 — which represents thousands of staff members at Hamilton Health Sciences — said unless it's amended the bill overrides worker rights in areas including vacation, hours of work and opens up the possibility of contracting out their roles.

"This is the way the government of Ontario pays back the heroes and heroines of this province by then stripping them of their vacation rights, their leave of absence rights, their seniority rights, their health and safety rights," he said during a media conference outside Hamilton's General Hospital Tuesday morning.

"It's uncalled for and it's unjust."

Murphy said many health-care workers have put off their vacations and endured stress during the pandemic. Now that the number of cases has dropped they need time off to re-charge, he said.

"We can't be burning out the frontline workers and taking away their vacation and time off because the second wave's comes and we need these workers to be fresh."

The government says the bill will ensure the province can remain flexible while protecting people and their safety as Ontario continues to reopen.

Extending the emergency orders will allow frontline staff to be redeployed to long-term care or retirement homes and care for vulnerable people and allow public health to redeploy staff to work in areas such as contact tracing, according to Hilkene.

"The Minister sought reassurances from hospital leadership that all efforts would be made to work cooperatively before using temporary powers," she wrote. "We continue to have that expectation."

CUPE Local 7800 president Dave Murphy says health-care workers have made sacrifices during the pandemic and now need to recharge before a possible second wave. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The government made the decision to introduce Bill 195 "unilaterally" and without consulting the unions, said Murphy.

Now they're calling on the premier to meet with them so they can share their concerns and call for it to be amended.

Murphy was joined by Michael Hurley, president of CUPE's Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, who stressed that thousands of health-care workers have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.

"Half of our membership stay in sheds, in their basements, trailers because they don't want to bring COVID home to their kids, to their partners," he said. 

Hurley said the bill basically tells those in health-care that the emergency is over, just not for them.

"We're here to beg the public … we have tried to come through for people and if there was another emergency … we will be there for people, we will give up our vacations, we will work extra shifts, we will do whatever we need to do," he said.

"But we do not understand and we will not accept the withdrawal of these basic collective agreement rights at a time when the government admits there is no emergency."

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