The Honourable Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building, Room 281
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1
Dear Premier Ford:
Re: Assurance that workers in LTC can participate in the Commission without reprisals
Over the course of this unprecedented crisis, we have witnessed who has been the most impacted by the global pandemic. Among them are the elderly residents and front-line workers in long-term care homes.
As the pandemic progressed, we saw that residents and workers were most impacted in for-profit homes; where staffing levels were low and workers were stretched thin; and where workers were forced to take precarious shifts and multiple sites to cobble together a decent living. These conditions had a profound and devasting effect on elders – on people who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. This is nothing new to workers as we have been informing governments for more than a decade.
With that in mind, we welcome the launch of an independent LTC COVID-19 Commission. Its stated goal of investigating how COVID-19 spread within LTC homes; how that impacted residents, their families, and staff; and how we should evaluate the measures taken by the Province and others is a step in the right direction.
But we feel that there are critical components missing.
For instance, we have yet to find out if stakeholders will have an opportunity to present their experiences and findings to the commission or if front-line workers will have assurances that they will be able to speak freely without fear of reprisal.
Currently, there are no protections for speaking out. While the Public Inquiries Act protects witnesses against criminal charges for testimony given, there are no protections against employment consequences.
This is troubling because we’ve seen reprisals before. In 2016, one of our members, a nurse, was fired after she spoke about workplace violence at a nursing conference and was quoted in a union media release. Other instances led to a range of workplace disciplines.
As long as the possibility of reprisal remains, workers will not be able to give a full account of the conditions in these homes. This will undermine the stated goals of the Commission.
We’ve raised this concern before. And, previously, we were told that the Ministry of Long-Term Care would respond. That hasn’t happened yet.
Time is running out. We need effective action to deal with the crisis in LTC – and the most important step towards that is an honest evaluation from people who know the conditions best. For front-line workers to do that, we will need assurance that there will be no reprisals for speaking out.
The Honourable Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care
The Honourable Christine Elliott, Minister of Health
Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Official Opposition