Ontario health care workers, angered that their workplace rights are being trampled on by the same government that called them heroes at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, will escalate political protests throughout the summer and fall.

Beginning August 17, 22 regional rallies are planned in communities across the province. The protests are in response to the passing of Bill 195, the Reopening Ontario Act (A Flexible Response to COVID-19), which suspends many fundamental workplace rights, although the Bill declares the pandemic emergency over.

“The PC governments recognized hospital workers as heroines one minute, then stripped away their basic rights at work the next,” says Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU/CUPE). “The Ford government calls these women heroines, but is actually hurting them very badly by taking away their basic work place rights.”

Under the Act, which was rushed through legislature, health care employees can have their shifts changed from days to nights, be reassigned to another job, re-located to another community, laid off without notice, and even have their parental leaves cancelled.

“The government is using the pandemic to gut the basic rights of this predominantly female workforce,” continued Hurley. “We’re not the only citizens alarmed by the government’s legislation—civil rights groups and others are taking action to restore citizens’ rights.”

At least 6,450 Ontario health care workers have contracted COVID-19 at work and approximately 14 have died. The rate of infection and death for health care staff in Ontario is one of the highest in the world. OCHU/CUPE will be surveying its more than 40,000 hospital sector members on their post-COVID-19 morale, anxiety, stress, and the government’s failure to adequately protect them from infection.

“Health care workers are bewildered and angered at the disregard this government has about workers’ health and safety—that anger is fueled by the circumvention of their most important workplace rights,” says Sharon Richer, Secretary-Treasurer of the OCHU/CUPE.

In addition to stripping many health care workers’ workplace protections, the Bill removes citizens’ rights broadly, such as the right to assemble and protest, and also lessens environmental safeguards. 

OCHU/CUPE is currently assessing with others legal challenges to the legislation. Recently CUPE hospital sector members held a 5-minute political protest at work, following workplace rallies across Ontario. Future community rallies will be held in Pembroke, Brockville, Cornwall, Kenora, Fort Frances, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ottawa, Stratford, Guelph, Halton, Mississauga, Cobourg, Peterborough, Oshawa, Lindsay, Windsor, Hamilton, Niagara, and Toronto.