An update on the pandemic.

Ottawa (17 Mar. 2020) ― The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) would like to address how the union is dealing with COVID-19.

NUPGE monitoring the situation since January

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed COVID-19 to be a pandemic. NUPGE has issued multiple statements on COVID-19, including one in January that called on health care facilities to ensure they had adequate levels of personal protective equipment (PPE). NUPGE has also issued a joint statement with several other labour organizations calling for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and all provincial public health offices to protect health care workers and their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NUPGE has been monitoring the spread of COVID-19 with growing concern. The news is full of stories about “flattening the curve,” which simply means slowing the trajectory of COVID-19. Slowing the trajectory via social distancing (the practice of limiting non-essential trips out of the home and making efforts to maintain a distance of 1 to 2 metres from other people as much as possible) is key.

Employers must protect workers physically and financially

We know from reports all over the world that people can be carriers of COVID-19 without presenting any symptoms. These carriers are what presents the greatest threat to containing COVID-19, as a healthy person might continue to live their life as normal, without knowing that they’re spreading COVID-19. The Washington Post created digital simulations that demonstrate how social distancing can keep healthy people from coming in contact with someone carrying COVID-19, and how people carrying COVID-19 spread it to fewer people by staying home.

Some steps have been taken to encourage social distancing. We applaud the companies who have made provisions for their workers to work from home. Some companies that can’t facilitate working remotely have done the right thing and closed their business, but have taken an extra step to ensure the health and financial well-being of their employees.

But there have also been many instances of companies issuing layoffs, or penalizing those in self-isolation or quarantine by not paying them. To those businesses we say, Do better. There is not a single person in Canada who is unaffected by the pandemic. We understand that businesses must make a profit to survive. But businesses need to demand support from the government — not penalize their workers.

Canada at a crossroads

The government has done a good job at urging social distancing. But much more needs to be done, and faster. South Korea is a country that has done extensive work to flatten the curve. They opened drive through testing facilities that could process 10,000 people a day. Mass testing, along with other measures, such as a website that displayed locations where each identified COVID-19 carrier had been, a website where pharmacies could self-report their stock levels of masks, issuing cell phone alerts of new cases near the plan holder, and urging the cancellation of all mass gatherings. As a result, they were able to get ahead of the curve and prevent even more community spread from happening.

The Canadian government is not doing any of this. Currently, they provide a tally of how many confirmed cases there are in each province, but there is no way to see more detailed locations or get an idea of how fast it’s spreading in Canada. There must be more transparency for Canadians, since many of them can’t self-isolate, or are refusing to because they don’t see the severity of the crisis.

At present, only people who have been outside of Canada in the last 14 days and are presenting with symptoms, or those who have been in contact with someone who fits the aforementioned criteria. But we know cases of community-based transmission are present in Canada (CBC). Large cities like Toronto are particularly vulnerable to community-based transmission (CBC). Failing to take a more aggressive approach to testing will lead to greater community spread.

NUPGE office closed, work continues remotely

NUPGE is continuing to work with its component unions and allies in the labour movement to protect our members and all Canadians. We will continue to work on matters regarding COVID-19, as well as on our regular work. The Ottawa office has been closed for safety, but employees are working remotely. Please be patient if you experience delays. We are all doing the best we can to adapt to our new reality.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE