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Are workers in danger if they're not told about COVID-19 in the workplace?

NDP calls on Ontario government to be more transparent about COVID outbreaks

The health and safety of Ontario workers has come into question at Queen's Park for the reason that the Ontario government is not revealing the names of businesses or companies where a COVID-19 outbreak might be happening.

The issue was raised by Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates, the NDP critic for workplace health and safety. He said the government needs to be more transparent if and when on outbreak occurs. Gates spoke out during question period on Monday. 

"Workers in Ontario have the right to know their workplace is safe, yet this Conservative government will not disclose when or where COVID outbreaks happen in workplaces. This means that if there is a workplace outbreak, workers and the public won’t know," said Gates.

He said it puts workers at risk and increases the chance of spreading the virus in the community.

"We need to find COVID hot spots and stop the spread. Nowhere was it more clear than with outbreaks and deaths on farms, in meat-packing plants and in long-term care," said Gates.

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton responded by saying his ministry works every day to protect the health and safety of all Ontario workers. 

"We have spared no expense to protect families, the public and workers in every workplace and on every job site in this province," said McNaughton. 

"In fact, we have increased the number of inspectors going out. I am proud to say that as of today, we have done about 24,000 investigations related to COVID-19. We’ve also doubled our phone line capacity. If any worker out there is afraid for his or her health, they can call the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, and we will investigate every call that comes in."

The answer did not satisfy Gates.

"That response had nothing to do with the question," said Gates. "But I will say to the minister, if there is an outbreak at Queen’s Park, we’re all told. Why are we any different than any other worker in the province of Ontario?"

McNaughton responded that most Ontario companies are to be commended for taking steps to protect their workers. 

"The overwhelming majority of them stepped up during this pandemic to work with their workers and their workplaces to protect everyone," said McNaughton. 

"Mr. Speaker, I think back to the very beginning of the pandemic. The very first health and safety guidance document that we put out was for construction. While the opposition wanted to shut down construction and put 550,000 people out of work, we worked with the largest labour leaders in this province, representing hundreds of thousands of workers, to keep everyone working safely. That’s a record I am proud of."

McNaughton added that Ontario is hiring more workplace inspectors and there are protective measures in place for workers. 

"We have spared no expense to protect the health and safety of every worker. Just in the next number of months, we’re going to have 507 inspectors on the ground—that’s the largest amount of inspectors in the history of this province—to communicate guidelines and to work with businesses. But the most important thing is to protect the health and safety of everyone," said the minister.

About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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