Every year, on June 1, injured workers and allies gather at Queen’s Park for Injured Workers’ Day to celebrate a history of resistance, and collectively recommit to fighting for much-needed improvements. For the first time since 1983 we won’t be able to do so – but not because the issues we raise have been resolved.
This unprecedented health and political crisis has in fact deepened the concerns and challenges injured workers and allies have long underscored. And, while it’s true that the pandemic did not create the problems with our health and safety and compensation system, it’s exposing them every day and jeopardizing our capacity to handle these unprecedented times.
Over the years, the Ontario government has reduced health and safety inspections in our workplaces, unnecessarily exposing workers to risks, seen and unseen. The Ford Conservatives, specifically, scrapped paid sick days just after forming government, forcing workers to choose between a pay cheque and the health and safety of themselves and their communities. They put a hold on workplace inspections across the province and ignored our vocal warnings about the state of sites like our long-term care homes.
Today, in the midst of a pandemic disproportionately impacting front-line workers and the Ontarians who rely on the services they deliver, Premier Ford’s words feel hollow. Despite his declaration that he would “move heaven and earth” to protect our communities, his government has failed to provide all front-line workers with the PPE they need. And constant changes at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) have made it harder for injured workers to access the benefits they have every right to receive.
But, there are signs of hope embedded in this crisis. Public opinion has changed. People’s eyes have opened to the harsh realities faced by so many Ontarians – and especially those who become ill or are injured at work. There’s now a widespread recognition that we can’t allow any government to continue to put workers in danger and to drag its feet when it’s time to act.
And this provides all of us with an opportunity we can’t let slip away.
We need to continue to push the province to ensure the health and safety of the front-line workers – front line workers they rightly call our “heroes”.
We need to be able to fully enact the right to refuse unsafe work, especially during a pandemic. Which is why CUPE Ontario joins others in calling for more protections from the province’s Minister of Labour
And, when workers do get sick or injured at work, we need comprehensive supports provided immediately.
We need paid sick days, something we’re proud to say a large coalition of groups is calling for.
We need changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act so that if a worker contracts the virus, it’s understood that it was due to the nature of their work.
And, following the lead of the Ontario Compensation Employees Union, members of CUPE 1750, we need to expand WSIB coverage to nearly 1.7 million workers in Ontario who are excluded today.
These are just some of the many immediate actions we need in this province. And we know that with a continued shift in public understanding, through collective action culminating in political pressure, we can achieve them – and more – together.
On Injured Workers Day, and always, our communities deserve nothing less.
Fred Hahn, President
Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer