Ontario must consult with workers on plans to reopen the economy: Union

Apr 28 2020, 7:39 am

Unions are cautioning the Ford government’s economic recovery framework on its lack of consultation with union members, resulting in a plan that does not address worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and Unifor, the largest union in the private sector representing 315,000 members, both cautioned the Ontario government, insisting it must consult with workers before proceeding with its plans to reopening the province’s economy.

According to the province, it is planning a three phase, stage-by-stage approach to reopening the economy to ensure there are appropriate measures in place so workplaces can open safely.

The framework also provides details of an outreach strategy, led by the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, to help inform the restart of the provincial economy.

The OFL says the committee must include the “Official Opposition” and consult with workers and the unions that represent them.

“Decisions related to economic recovery and a safe return to work in Ontario need to be made in consultation with workers,” Patty Coates, OFL president, said in a statement. “The labour movement’s ongoing advocacy on worker safety is an essential element of developing a safe and healthy method for reopening the economy of our province.”

For Coates, the economic framework needs the government to consult with labour on how best to protect the working people of Ontario through the pandemic in the months and years afterward.

“A committee tasked with determining the effect of COVID-19 on the economy of this province and ensuring post-COVID-19 job creation and economic growth must include the people who power this province’s economy: workers,” Coates said.

According to the OFL, workers and unions are “notably absent” from the list of consulting organizations.

Unifor agreed with the sentiments of OFL, stating the Ford government must listen to the concerns of the union members on re-opening the economy in the same way it did with health care workers on premium pay.

“We have to get this restart of the economy right the first time and that means workers must have confidence in the government’s return-to-work plans and its ability to protect their health,” Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, said.

According to Unifor, they have repeatedly urged the premier to consult workers in its health and economic policies before and during the pandemic.

The union also previously wrote to the Ford government urging it to consult with Ontario workers on plans to lift economic restrictions.

Specifically, Unifor cautioned the government that Ontario’s economy already suffered from a number of complex problems that were exacerbated by the pandemic, including “long-standing issues of social and economic inequality, lack of manufacturing capacity and investment in critical infrastructure, and insufficient labour standards.”

Approximately 91 Unifor members across Canada have been diagnosed with coronavirus to date, including 47 in Ontario.

On Monday, Ford unveiled the economic plan’s three stages.

The first stage will be for businesses that were ordered to close or restrict operations, opening select workplaces that can immediately modify operations to meet public health guidance. Opening some outdoor spaces like parks and allowing for a greater number of individuals to attend some events.

The second stage will be opening more workplaces, based on risk assessments, which may include some service industries and additional office and retail workplaces. Some larger public gatherings would be allowed, and more outdoor spaces would open.

And the third stage, will open of all workplaces responsibly and further relaxing of restrictions on public gatherings.

There is no set date on when the economy can reopen, as Ontario coronavirus cases are in the peak but are not yet declining day-to-day.