With the provincial state of emergency ended, and nearly all of Ontario entering Stage 3 of reopening, front-line workers are still subject to unnecessarily prolonged emergency orders with the recent passage of Bill 195, according to CUPE Ontario.

As of this Friday, residents in Toronto and Peel region, two of the areas in the province with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, will be able to attend live arts shows, attend theatres, dine at indoor restaurants – and larger gatherings of people will be permitted.

“The heroic efforts of front-line workers are a big part of how  we’ve gotten to this place - but the Ford Conservatives are repaying them by continuing to rip up their Charter rights and extend damaging restrictions in their workplaces,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “Bill 195 prolongs extraordinary, undemocratic, and unprecedented powers over the working conditions of front-line heroes – and it can’t stand, especially when all other Ontarians are simultaneously seeing restrictions removed.”

There are at least 200,000 front-line workers in the province, both unionized and non-unionized who are covered by the unprecedented measures in Bill 195. CUPE Ontario represents over 100,000 front-line workers in municipalities, social services, and health care who are impacted.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Ontario government declared a state of emergency. This allowed them to pass many emergency orders, most of which allowed employers to ignore sections of collective bargaining rights. These orders were meant to be temporary measures to handle a fast-changing crisis, according to CUPE Ontario.

On July 21, in under two weeks and without public consultation, the Ford Conservatives pushed through what Hahn calls “a massive abuse of power” with Bill 195. While the legislation ends the state of emergency, and Ontarians will see an easing of restrictions, the government is extending workplace restrictions for front-line, public sector workers.

The emergency order permitted by the legislation allow employers to override key parts of front-line workers’ contracts indefinitely. Layoff and reassignment rights; all leave rights, like parental leave; and contracting out provisions can now be violated. The legislation also empowers employers to change workers’ shifts at the last minute with no consultation.

“Front-line workers – who kept us safe and delivered the services we needed more than ever during the most challenging days of the pandemic deserve better than unnecessary attacks on their Charter rights,” said Hahn. “They deserve to have their rights restored today.”