Today for the first time during the COVID-19 crisis Ontario health care workers are openly protesting provincial government decisions they say divide the workforce into those who are front-line heroes and those whose vital contribution goes completely unrecognized.

Outdoor protests by hospital staff represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are happening this afternoon in Ontario’s communities – Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Mississauga, Guelph, Sudbury, Oshawa, Kingston, Oakville, Oshawa, Peterborough, Lindsay, Milton among many others. Workplace actions which will not impact care will also take place inside hospitals and some long-term homes across the province.

“A team fights COVID-19 and every one of them is at risk,” says Hurley. “All hospital workers are subject, under emergency order, to be redeployed anywhere within the hospital to fight COVID-19 and subject to redeployment to long-term care homes that have the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. Now on top of the anxiety of working with COVID-19 in a climate of very high health care worker infection, we have the problem of a morale crisis caused by the government turning its back on the important contribution of the many on the team fighting this virus.”

The government’s decision to call some hospital staff “front-line” and to single them out for the pandemic pay while others are excluded means cooks are considered essential, but dietary aides, who deliver meals to COVID-19 patients, are not. Maintenance staff who support the negative pressure rooms are not included, nor are the staff who maintain the air systems or who ensure the building is functional. 
No clerical or administrative staff are included. The ward clerk on the COVID-19 unit or in the ER or the clerical staff in the screening centres or the registration clerks or medical records staff are excluded. Also not included are staff sterilizing ventilators or other medical equipment, those distributing masks and other vital equipment, pharmacy, and lab staff and almost all the technologists.

“The list of those excluded from pandemic pay includes half the hospital workforce,” says Hurley. “We hope that once the Premier is aware that tens of thousands of hospital staff weren’t included in recognition pay, this will change. Hospitals only run well on teamwork when all staff are doing their part. Everyone should be included in the pandemic pay.”

Infections among health care workers are very high, particularly in long-term care. At eight deaths and 3,500 health care worker infections, Ontario has one of the highest rates of death and infection in the world.

“Health care staff will do everything in their power to help. They have the backs of the people of Ontario. But they must be treated fairly and be fully protected from infection,” says Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario. “Better protections include the government revising its safety protocols for COVID-19 to recognize that the virus may be transmitted by air and that health care workers should have access to the N95 mask when they are in proximity to a person who may have COVID-19. All they ask is that all possible steps be taken to keep them and the people they care for safe.”

To deal with the personal protective equipment shortages Ontario is experiencing, CUPE has consistently called on the province to order General Motors to immediately begin production of the N95 mask in Oshawa, as they are doing in Warren Michigan.