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Ontario gives hospitals sweeping temporary powers over staffing amid COVID-19

Ontario is using its state of emergency declaration to give hospitals temporary new powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including overriding collective agreements to redeploy staff without notice.

Measures are temporary, supersede collective agreements

Hospitals in Ontario will be able to immediately redeploy staff to work in COVID-19 assessment centre or different areas of the hospital under the new order, which is currently in place for 14 days. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

Ontario's government is using its state of emergency declaration to give hospitals temporary new powers to respond to the pandemic, including overriding collective agreements to move staff between locations and to COVID-19 assessment centres without notice.

Hospitals can now immediately redeploy staff to different hospital areas or work assignments, change schedules or cancel vacations, the health ministry said in a release on Saturday night.

Hospitals can also employ volunteers or extra part-time or temporary workers, including for unionized work, the ministry said. They can also assign non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to do union work, the ministry said.

These plans "temporarily supersede" collective agreement rules, the government says, including for lay-offs, seniority and bumping.

"For example, currently a hospital would be required to post a lay-off notice and wait a period of time before being able to move a nurse or other unionized employee from an emergency department to a COVID-19 assessment centre," the government said in a release.

"These measures would allow for the redeployment of staff to address the containment of COVID-19 without restriction or delay."

Valid for 14 days

The new government order is currently in place for 14 days as of Saturday, under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

Ontario's ministry of health announced 47 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to 424. 

The numbers rise as health experts plead for people to practice social distancing, with the Ontario Hospital Association president saying critical care services could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases in a few weeks "unless we all act now."

The new order will let hospitals cancel and postpone services to free-up space and staff, identify staffing priorities, and create redeployment plans, the statement said.

Solicitor General Syliva Jones said that while normal protocols are "important in routine times, these extraordinary steps will ensure our health sector workers are there, where and when they are needed, to care for Ontarians and support our extensive efforts to contain this virus."

In a statement, Health Minister Christine Elliott thanked nurses, doctors and frontline care workers for their "extraordinary dedication and commitment."

 "These temporary measures are necessary to ensure hospitals are able to effectively deploy personnel to where help and support is needed most in their facilities," she said.

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