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Winnipeg Free Press

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Manitoba workers who fear the spread of COVID-19 while on the job, including postal workers who are deemed essential, are bombarding unions and labour groups with their concerns.

On Sunday, the Manitoba Federation of Labour said unions have been flooded with calls about the pandemic from workers worried their workplaces aren't doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The province has released a number of public health orders that focus on public gatherings, the hospitality, retail and transportation sectors, but did not speak to other industries that depend daily on large workforces, said federation president Kevin Rebeck.

Rules to reduce public gatherings are set to take effect Monday. Rebeck said that means Manitoba workplaces will have the largest congregations of people in our province, and ensuring they remain safe is critically important.

He also called on the province to reverse its decision to cut funding for workplace inspections, describing it as an absurd move during a pandemic.

The federation says the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health budget is to be cut $500,000 in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins April 1.

"We need our workplace safety and health officers to be well-equipped and fully resourced to be able to respond to workplace concerns about COVID-19, as well as to provide information to workers and employers to help them prevent the spread of the virus," federation president Kevin Rebeck said in a written statement.

The officers should be equipped with personal protective equipment when physically responding to workplace investigations, he said.

He said the funding cut to the branch will impair the ability of safety officers and staff to inspect workplaces.

"We know that Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health is receiving increased requests for information about how to keep workplaces safe during this pandemic, and workers are wondering about their right to refuse unsafe work," said Rebeck. "We hope that the Pallister government will do the right thing and increase funding for this important front-line service."

Also on Sunday, the secretary-treasurer of Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 856, which represents 1,500 workers in Winnipeg, raised concerns about working conditions faced by postal workers during the pandemic. Amanda Nicholls issued a letter saying Canada Post "has been slow to put into place safeguards" to ensure mail processing doesn’t spread the virus.

"In Winnipeg, there are roughly 300,000 unique points of call that approximately 600 letter carriers deliver to daily. That represents a great number of contact points and opportunities to spread the virus," she wrote.

She issued a list of demands, including that cleaning and safety equipment be available for all employees at the start of their shift; and dedicated cleaning staff be directed to disinfect high-traffic work installations that process and distribute mail.

She called for enhanced commitments for child care because workers are only guaranteed paid leave to April 10 and quarantine-leave coverage for temporary employees and on-call relief employees, who are not currently fully covered.

She sent the letter to Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, seeking his intervention to ensure Canada Post complies.