TORONTO: United Steelworkers (USW) Ontario Director Marty Warren says the lack of response from the Ministry of Labour to a union request for clarification on upholding workers’ rights during the pandemic is shameful.
“We asked for a response by April 28th, the National Day of Mourning for those workers killed or injured – and now those infected – on the job, but none was received,” said Warren, the elected leader of thousands of Ontario workers in every sector of the economy, both private and public.
“Instead, the media have now exposed that workers’ right to refuse unsafe work is being denied by the Ministry of Labour on the basis of what they say is not meeting their criteria. The right to refuse unsafe work is a right, not a request to be approved or rejected by a government department or an ad hoc committee made up of lawyers and managers,” he added.
“Our members died and went on strike for the right to refuse unsafe work nearly 50 years ago. There is a monument in Elliot Lake honouring them. Now, the memory of that hard-won victory in the 1970s is being dismissed at a time when exercising that right is at its most critical. Some workers are deemed essential. But none should be sacrificial.”
Warren told Labour Minister Monte McNaughton and the province’s Chief Prevention Officer, Ronald Kelusky, that the overwhelming number of inspectors’ field reports show that workplace investigations are not taking place on-site, but rather by phone or even video. The expectation appears to be that internal workplace processes with employers and the union will somehow suffice without ministry orders or enforcement of such orders.
“If a workplace is deemed too unsafe for an inspector to go on-site and do their work, how is it that workers themselves are expected to go to work?” asked Warren. “Calling in the MOL is usually the last line of defence for workers who cannot get satisfaction through the internal joint health and safety process.”
Warren said it appears the MOL and its committee of lawyers and managers have stopped ministry inspectors from issuing orders.
“This pandemic has exposed deep flaws in a system that is being manipulated to deny workers’ rights, not uphold them,” emphasised Warren. “Let the inspectors do their jobs!”