November 3, 2020
Hon. Doug Ford, MPP
Premier of Ontario
Premier’s Office – Room 281
Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
RE: Hospitals and hospital workers require your urgent attention
Dear Premier Ford:
I’m writing to urge you to act more boldly in the face of the growing risks Ontario’s hospital workers are facing on the frontlines of a dangerous, global pandemic. Simply put, this is no time for complacency. Case loads are on the rise. Hospitals are filling up. Our system requires urgent attention, now.
As a union strongly committed to our tens of thousands of members working in the hospital sector, we share the worrying sentiment expressed by Anthony Dale, CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association: “We’re back to where we were pre-COVID with the risk of hallway health care. And you can’t have hallway healthcare in a pandemic because of the need for infection prevention and control.”
Frontline workers throughout Ontario’s hospitals are facing an untenable burden of delivering care at the height of flu season, when hospitals are especially jammed in January and February, together with the unacceptably high number of COVID-19 cases filling our ICUs.
During this pandemic and into the future, there are steps we must take that are long overdue to make our healthcare system stronger and fairer for our workers.
Recent updates to Directive #5 have given more healthcare workers access to N95 masks – essential to anyone working in an environment where they could be exposed to COVID-19. We were pleased we could work with your government to strengthen the health and safety measures contained in Directive #5. While physical protection is essential for every worker, so is economic protection, including for those we call “healthcare heroes” who keep our hospitals running.
In advance of your pre-budget consultations, our union wrote to your government to carefully consider the following recommendations, among others, as you prepare the 2020 provincial budget:
- Support all healthcare workers for the full duration of the pandemic with “pandemic pay” including those essential job classifications previously excluded. Pandemic Pay has stopped but the pandemic is not going away anytime soon. Your government needs to address this disconnect and acknowledge that all frontline healthcare workers are working harder than ever to save people’s lives. Restarting and extending Pandemic Pay to all healthcare workers is the right thing to do.
- Guarantee adequate paid sick leave for all healthcare workers, not just for this pandemic, but also to limit the spread of the annual flu. Frontline healthcare workers coming face to face with COVID-19 every day are more likely to get sick, yet employers are not giving them enough paid sick days to safely recover from illness. Instead, they’re either obliged to quarantine at home without pay as the bills pile up, or forced to come back to work when sick because they can’t afford not to. Healthcare workers need guaranteed adequate paid sick leave if we’re going to get through this pandemic. If we can’t protect them, then they can’t protect us.
- Work with unions to implement universal wages and permanent wage increases for all job classifications. If your government truly believes our frontline healthcare workers are heroes, then it’s time to make any temporary pay increases permanent. Universal wages mean that all workers within a job classification should earn the same, fair, pay regardless of which hospital they serve.
- Introduce strict and enforceable financial penalties on health system employers who break Public Health Directives or violate standards, including refusals to distribute appropriate PPE supplies to staff. We wouldn’t ask firefighters to run into a burning building without fire resistant clothing. So why then would we expect healthcare workers on the frontlines of a dangerous pandemic to work without masks, gloves or face shields? There needs to be penalties for employers who put healthcare workers at risk by not providing essential PPE.
- Properly fund the transition from precarious part-time work to full-time healthcare jobs with a target of at least 70% F/T jobs across all sectors of the system. The pandemic has exposed the risks of having precarious part-time workers needing to treat patients at multiple healthcare facilities. Our healthcare system will be safer and more stable if we can transition these workers to full-time roles. One job should be enough for any full-time employee; therefore, these jobs must come with a fairer compensation schedule to ensure workers have the employment security they need to live a middle-class life (see item #3).
Hospital workers have done everything we have asked of them in this pandemic. They had our backs. It’s time the government has theirs. Let’s get this done.
I remain available to speaking with you and Minister Elliott at your earliest convenience so the government can deploy an action plan that supports staff in all their essential work.
Sharleen Stewart, President
Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
Hon. Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance