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Coronavirus: BCGEU concerned about members going back to offices

Click to play video 'One of B.C.’s biggest unions has serious safety concerns about return to work' One of B.C.’s biggest unions has serious safety concerns about return to work
One of B.C.'s biggest unions has serious safety concerns about return to work

One of B.C.’s largest public-sector unions is raising concerns about their employees being told to return to their offices just as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits.

The BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) represents 80,000 members, with a large number based in Victoria.

They say the B.C. Public Service Agency has started phasing out working-from-home options and bringing employees back into the offices.

Read more: Canadians working from home continue to stay ‘on the job’ while sick

“Certainly where we’ve seen the numbers sky-rocketing in the Fraser Health Authority and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the province has suspended return-to-office work but we’re starting to see numbers climb in a lot of different regions on a daily basis, [we’re] simply asking ‘is now the right time to be spending people back to offices to work?’ Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU told Global News Wednesday.
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Click to play video 'Frustration among nurses as pandemic’s second wave takes hold' Frustration among nurses as pandemic’s second wave takes hold
Frustration among nurses as pandemic’s second wave takes hold

The B.C. Public Service Agency says the recommendations for their employees to work from home only apply to the Lower Mainland because the COVID-19 cases are so high there.

Read more: 10 deaths and 762 new cases as B.C. breaks COVID-19 records again

“The Provincial Health Officer has noted that we will be living with COVID-19 for many months to come, and so it’s important that we adapt in ways that balance continuing to minimize transmission of the virus with the need to restore some of the benefits of interacting and collaborating in the workplace,” the agency said in an online statement.

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Each workplace implements its own safety measures that align with current health orders, including guidance on physical distancing and personal and workplace hygiene practices.

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Smith said they have heard concerns from many of their members but it’s not easy to just refuse to return to the workplace.

“There are very very strict procedures around refusing unsafe work,” she said. “And we don’t have the capacity to accept or reject an employer’s safety — that’s up to the health authority and worker’s compensation. Our job is to make sure those safety plans are followed to the letter, to work with our activists right on the ground, and to find out if they are working and if they are not, then to respond immediately.”

“We need in worksites, very very clear orders on what needs to be done to keep both members and the public safe — and that includes things like mask-wearing in all public shared spaces.”

Smith said they just want to see strict safety plans put in place to make sure everyone is kept safe and everyone knows how to follow those safety standards.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Will B.C. officials follow other provinces and announce additional restrictions?' Coronavirus: Will B.C. officials follow other provinces and announce additional restrictions?
Coronavirus: Will B.C. officials follow other provinces and announce additional restrictions?

British Columbia’s COVID-19 surge showed no sign of slowing down Wednesday, as the province broke another record with 762 new cases of the virus in a 24-hour period.

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In a written statement, health officials said there were 10 new deaths, bringing the province’s total to 320. It was the second day in a row that B.C. reported double-digit deaths related to the virus.