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March 16, 2020

SENT VIA EMAIL
Hon. Premier Doug Ford
Hon. Christine Elliott
Hon. Rod Phillips
Hon. Monte McNaughton
Dr. David Williams

Dear Premier, Ministers and Chief Medical Officer of Health:

Further to your announcement this morning regarding forthcoming emergency legislation to assist workers and those impacted by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, we respectfully request that the Government of Ontario take immediate action by including the needed and recommended solutions outlined below.

As you can all appreciate, the fluidity of the situation requires that we collectively take measures that are commensurate with the monumental task at hand. Now is not the time to be worried about balancing the budget; in the short run, critical next steps, resources and protections are required, and required immediately.

The following recommended solutions and resources are a non-exhaustive list and represents the urgently needed supports for all workers in Ontario, especially those most vulnerable among us. These required responses have been compiled with input from our affiliated members and from our community partners.

  • Provide at least 21 paid emergency leave days now – all workers need a minimum of 7 paid emergency leave days as a basic and permanent labour right, but during emergencies such as the current global pandemic COVID-19, workers need an additional 14 days of paid leave. To the extent that the government is not prepared to provide general protections beyond the current pandemic crisis, the legislation should provide for at least 21 paid leave days to all workers reasonably required to take time off as a result of the pandemic.
  • Eliminate sick note requirements for all workers (including migrant and undocumented workers).
  • Ensure all workers have full job protection during this crisis. The emergency legislation should provide that all workers have full job protection during a pandemic including no reprisals, and a right to an unpaid leave of absence for taking reasonable time off as a result of the pandemic. This protection should also apply to any employees who need to be away from work to care for elders, dependents, including children because of school or day care closures relating to the pandemic.
  • Ensure full workers’ compensation to any worker who interacts with the public and that contracts health conditions related to Coronavirus/COVID-19.
  • Create an emergency fund to provide a non-repayable living allowance for vulnerable populations, including precarious workers and workers in the gig economy, seniors, social assistance recipients, and students – paid through provincial and/or federal general revenues.
  • Provide free health care – including in COVID-19 assessment centres, community clinics, and hospitals – for all (regardless of status), without health card or wait period requirements as well as remove barriers such as registration fees and bills, and implement appropriate staff training.
  • Develop a clear and explicit public messaging campaign to inform people that assessment and care is available to all residents, without charge.
  • Ensure that public services (including health care and child care) are properly funded, accessible, and affordable for all workers – particularly for frontline workers that cannot work remotely, and for those healthcare workers that are working to keep Ontarians healthy and safe during this crisis.
  • Ensure the health and safety of all workers – particularly for frontline workers that cannot work remotely – by providing the necessary equipment and supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Ensure immediate access to clean water for all Indigenous communities so that individuals can practice short-term prevention measures and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Fund the Anti-Racism Directorate to end xenophobia and racism as workers – especially Chinese, Iranian, and other groups of racialized workers – are more likely to experience loss of income during this pandemic, and to suffer the effects of racism.
  • Instruct all provincially-regulated institutions to extend and relax payment requirements on financial responsibilities facing consumers and households, including OSAP, rent, mortgage payments, gas and electricity bills (as other jurisdictions have).

Ensure that labour, community, and migrant organizations are included in the planning and implementation of the COVID-19 response to ensure that no one is left behind. In addition to the suite of recommended resources and solutions outlined above, we implore you to advocate for needed enhancements with your counterparts in the Federal Government, specifically as is related to accessing Employment Insurance (EI) and additional needed supports.

The reality is that while the recent changes announced to EI will accelerate access to sickness benefits, they will not change who qualifies for it. Less than 40 per cent of unemployed workers receive EI when they need it, and lack of access disproportionately affects women, newcomers, workers of colour, and others facing discrimination in the labour market. In addition to increasing access to EI, the OFL echoes the demands of our national counterpart, the Canadian Labour Congress, to raise income support levels particularly for low-wage workers; to waive the requirement for a medical certificate for sickness benefits; to eliminate the requirement for workers to be in Canada to be eligible for EI benefits; and to expedite EI Work Sharing applications – among others.

Premier, Ministers’ Elliott, Phillips, McNaughton and Dr. Williams – the solutions recommended above will require great resolve and attention to implement. We plead with you to work across political lines, and with labour and community groups that represent working people and vulnerable populations – to ensure that we do all that we can during these unprecedented times. As the Premier indicated during his comments earlier today, “nothing is off the table”. It is in that spirit, that we identify these urgent and needed supports.

We remain willing and able to meet, to further identify required next steps or to clarify any of the solutions we have outlined above.
In summary, while your announcement today that emergency support is forthcoming is welcomed – the details that we are aware of at present, are woefully inadequate.

We urge you all to heed the advice provided above, and together – let us work to provide real, meaningful and needed support for Ontarians as we all work and do our part to flatten the curve and spread of COVID-19, and keep our province healthy and safe, and our economy viable.

Sincerely,

PATTY COATES
President
Ontario Federation of Labour

COPE 343

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