Workers need enhanced presumptive legislation during COVID-19 pandemic

“We must recognize that in this extraordinary, unique, and surreal moment of crisis, workers are experiencing unprecedented mental health injuries arising from work-related stress.” ― Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (20 April 2020) ― The National Union of Public and General Employees is calling on all levels of government to adopt enhanced presumptive coverage for all workers employed during the COVID-19 emergency. At a time when the public is required to work at home, self-isolate, and engage in social distancing, there are many workers who cannot. These workers are literally risking their lives every time they go to work, and we must recognize the impact of this stress on their mental health.

Extraordinary, unique, and surreal moment of crisis: Workers under tremendous stress

“We must recognize that in this extraordinary, unique, and surreal moment of crisis, workers are experiencing unprecedented mental health injuries arising from work-related stress,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. “It's imperative that we acknowledge that all the existing presumptive legislation, which works in normal times, is inadequate in this unprecedented moment of crisis,” he added. “We need special accommodations for workers under stress.”

When we talk about presumptive coverage for mental health, there are many workers suffering from stress-related mental injuries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, NUPGE members are still working on the front lines, putting themselves at risk to provide many services to Canadians who need them. Workers in corrections facilities, long-term care facilities, youth detention centres, social workers, as well as transit workers, and food retail workers, for example, don't have the option of working at home.

But it’s not just these front-line workers. Workers in essential retail sectors like alcohol and beer, grocery store workers, and ferry workers are also showing up to work every day. They are also risking their lives, and the stress is no less onerous.

In some instances, social distancing is quite impossible for these workers. We cannot minimize the impact the constant fear of contracting a potentially deadly virus is having on them.

Not just front-line workers

Then there’s the category of workers who are at home, and who have children or elderly family members to care for. These workers are also under stress because they are overwhelmed by child care, homeschooling, the health and well-being of the children or elderly family members, the stress of getting groceries and basic necessities. These people working at home are also dealing with the mental health issues of family members who are finding it difficult to cope in such confined spaces, and the feeling of being overwhelmed by the strange events.

Heightened need for mental health services

“When the crisis is over, and things start to return to normal, there will be an increased need for mental health services,” said Brown. “However, I think recognizing the special toll this is taking on people who have to continue working under stressful conditions is appropriate.”


NUPGE

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