August 12, 2020

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Health-care unions considering political action over Ontario's emergency act

TORONTO - Unions representing Ontario's health-care workers say they're consulting with their memberships about taking political action in response to the province potentially extending its emergency powers.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, a division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said that under the emergency orders, their collective bargaining agreement with the province is suspended.

The Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill earlier this week that would allow the province to keep some emergency measures in place in the months ahead.

Michael Hurley, president of the OCHU, said that while that was acceptable in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's now a detriment to health-care workers.

"The act makes it clear that the emergency is over — that's explicit in the legislation," said Hurley. "The case count in Ontario has dropped dramatically.... The number of cases is perhaps a fifth of what it was in March when the emergency was declared."

As of Friday, there were 117 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario, down from a peak of 1,043 in March. There were 4,309 active cases in the province, according to the Ontario government.

Hurley said that with the emergency orders in place, nurses and other care workers can have their shifts changed, be moved from site to site, or have vacation requests denied. He also pointed out that the act applies to the entire province, but many public health units are out of an emergency situation.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Friday that 30 of the province's 34 public health units — every region except Peel, York, Toronto and Windsor-Essex — are reporting five or fewer new cases, with 17 of them reporting no new cases at all.

The health-care worker unions said they will have meetings with executive board members, stewards, and members over the weekend and on Monday to decide on a course of action by Tuesday. Options available to the membership range from wearing stickers to work, organizing a rally or even an interruption of work.

"What is the most painful thing of this is that no one wants to turn their attention from providing patient care to having to defend some basic workplace rights," said Hurley. "That's the last thing anyone wants to do, so we're hoping that the government reconsiders its position."

The union also said the Ontario government announced its plans to extend the act without consulting them.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2020.

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