Ontario health care workers plan work interruption in response to emergency orders

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HAMILTON – A union representing Ontario health-care workers said Tuesday it’s planning a series of escalating political and legal actions, including brief work interruptions, in response to the province potentially extending its emergency powers.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, a division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said it does not want the province’s emergency order extended in its current form because it suspends collective bargaining.

Union president Michael Hurley said his members will start their protest this week by sending their MPPs emails explaining how the order damages their workplace rights, and will escalate from there.

Read more: Health care unions considering political action over Ontario’s COVID-19 emergency act

“People are angry, they can’t believe it and they’re strongly prepared to push back,” said Hurley, who confirmed 98 per cent of the union’s membership voted in favour of action. “They’re a little bit resentful, frankly, that they have to turn their attention away from caring for people in hospital and caring for people in long-term homes.”

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The union held a news conference outside of Hamilton General Hospital on Tuesday morning. Similar events were planned for Sudbury, Ottawa and Toronto over the rest of the week.

Hurley said the union is also planning to hold rallies outside of its workplaces on Friday, and members will vote next Monday night on whether to hold a brief work stoppage the following day.

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Hurley said that while the orders were acceptable to health-care workers in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the measures have become less palatable as the situation improves in much of the province.

“They’re just exasperated that the government is continuing to use these extraordinary emergency powers which were given to it in order to deal with the COVID-19 crisis but they’re using them to override the basic rights that health-care workers have,” he said.

Hurley said the suspended agreement means hospital staff have been moved from site to site, had their shifts changed, and vacation requests denied. He said these workplace rights are being ignored even in hospitals and long-term care facilities that do not have any active cases of the coronavirus.

According to the Ontario government there are currently 137 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province. There were 111 new cases in Ontario reported on Tuesday and 122 were declared resolved.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday that 28 of the province’s 34 public health units were reporting five or fewer cases.

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The Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill last week that would allow it to keep some emergency measures in place in the months ahead.

“This proposed legislation is part of the government’s plan to cautiously reopen Ontario in a way that recognizes the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 even after the provincial declaration of emergency has ended,” said a statement from the Ministry of Health.

“The bill, if passed, would allow Ontario to continue its path to recovery by easing restrictions where appropriate, while maintaining important select tools to address the ongoing threat of this deadly virus and protect Ontarians.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Tuesday she understands why health-care workers are upset, and that she’s concerned about the “draconian nature” of the ongoing orders.

“There are different pieces to the emergency orders and so there may be some parts of the emergency orders that need to stay in place while there are others that the government should probably consider doing away with,” said Horwath. “It’s extremely important that people are able to exert their rights at work.”

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