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Muskoka residents with Bell turbo hubs will receive credits during coronavirus pandemic

PARRY SOUND-MUSKOKA — As many people are working and studying from home during the coronavirus pandemic, Bell Canada is helping users by waiving overage fees and extending its relief measures.

On March 16, Jen Morgan of Utterson created an online petition on change.org to advocate for Bell Canada to waive overage charges for rural customers during the coronavirus pandemic, since Bell’s original announcement did not include customers who have rocket hubs, and often live in rural locations.

“This policy currently does not extend to its mobile internet plans (rocket hubs), which for many rural customers are the only available option for internet service. Most of these plans max out at 100 GB per month, with overage fees of $5/GB once you go over,” she wrote on the petition page.

Read more here….

Unifor is fighting to protect workers from COVID-19

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We are living in unprecedented times. The window to flatten the curve is closing fast, and so is the opportunity to minimize the economic fallout of a pandemic. COVID-19 has created an uncertain and challenging situation for all working people, including Unifor members across Canada.

In hospitality and gaming, education, retail, airlines and more, we are facing mass layoffs. Health care workers, already pushed to the breaking point, are preparing to bravely treat patients of this pandemic, and prevent further spread in long-term care homes. In many sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, in grocery stores and pharmacies, vital work continues and workers need protection.

Unifor has created a task force, led by National Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne, to provide you the latest information, including our list of demands from government to keep you healthy, and to mitigate financial hardship.

Resources

The webpage unifor.org/covid19 is your one-stop hub for union information about the pandemic. For Quebec updates please visit : www.UniforQuebec.org/COVID19. You will find resources and new, printable, sector specific information sheets along with regular updates from the task force.

Unifor has adopted an all-hands-on-deck approach to supporting members during these challenging and uncertain times. We have worked every day to answer questions, communicate with employers, and call on governments to flatten the curve and respect working people in this time of crisis.

If you have questions about EI sickness benefits, work absences, in-person meetings, and refusing work – we have answers. Read our Frequently Asked Questions on COVID-19.

For the latest public health information, contact your local health agency, listed here on our resources page.

We have also compiled a COVID-19 Checklist for income replacement that sets out the possible measures that may be available for income replacement during COVID-19-related work absence due to self-isolation, quarantine or family care obligations, and layoff or business closures.

Protecting Workers

Unifor’s position is that federal and provincial governments are not acting fast enough to properly stop the spread of the coronavirus before our health care system is completely overrun, and before more Canadians get sick.

Jerry Dias wrote to the federal government on March 12 to make key demands that would protect workers.

Without the adequate response measures in place, too many workers will face a difficult choice between going to work while sick and making ends meet.

Our demands of all levels of government are:

  • Institute a minimum of 14 days of paid sick leave whether a worker has been formally quarantined by a health official, or been asked to self-isolate
  • Establish special provisions that provide workers paid leave to care for children affected by government-mandated school and daycare closures
  • Establish direct, emergency income assistance measures to all workers and families –

including those ineligible for Employment Insurance benefits

Federal Demands:

  • Waive the one-week waiting period for regular Employment Insurance benefits and temporarily eliminate the qualifying hours needed to access benefits to ensure more workers – especially vulnerable workers in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors – have access in the event of job displacement
  • Waive the EI regular benefit requirement for seven consecutive days without work or wages in the previous 52 weeks to provide workers suffering from reduced work-hours access to EI benefits
  • Increase the duration of EI sick leave from 15 to 26 weeks
  • Waive the one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits, which the Federal Government announced on March 11
  • Waive the hours requirement for EI sickness benefits and the requirement for a medical certificate
  • Expand EI coverage to include workers who are caring for children affected by mandatory school, daycare and other child care facility closures
  • Implement emergency special income assistance payments to vulnerable workers (including precarious workers, and independent contractors), who otherwise would not receive EI benefits
  • Introduce special “income relief” measures for full-time and part-time workers in the health care sector (as was done during the SARS outbreak), who are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19
  • Ease federal Work-Sharing rules, to maximize eligibility, and enhance benefits to mitigate job losses especially within vulnerable sectors (like tourism). The federal government should actively promote work-sharing across workplaces, and commit to accelerating the approval process (Federal Government announced enhanced Work-Sharing, extended eligible weeks from 38 to 76)
  • All jurisdictions should waive requirements for employees to produce doctor’s notes in cases of illness (at the very least, consider other less onerous ways to substantiate absences due to illness)
  • Provide special assistance to workers returning from maternity and parental leave who have exhausted their EI benefits and do not have enough hours to cover lay off benefits
  • Implement enhanced EI or other wage replacement measures that accommodate those workers whose income is partially derived from gratuities, including those employed in hospitality, gaming, and the taxi industry
  • Service Canada must issue a directive to employers to code layoffs as “Layoff/Shortage of Work” instead of “other” to ensure no administrative bottlenecks prevent impacted workers from receiving money
  • Expand the number of Service Canada staff in order to process claims in a timely manner
  • Staff should be hired and on-boarded immediately, given the extreme demands placed on the system.

In the midst of pandemic, bold action is required

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We are living in unprecedented times, and the window to flatten the curve is closing fast, and so is the opportunity to minimize the economic fallout of a pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic presents a tremendous challenge – both to human health and to the economy.

The solution to protecting our health, by closing the border and asking Canadians to stay home, is a wise move to prevent the spread, but it will have a swift and devastating effect on businesses who will be forced to issue massive layoffs or reduce hours.

Many economies are expected to fall into recession, and governments must respond quickly. The potential economic damage could exceed that of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Remember, at that time, the Harper government was slow to act. When they did, they pledged to spend the equivalent of two per cent of Canada’s GDP to kick-start the economy. The package was modest– the US, Australia, Italy, Germany and South Korea all spent more.

This time, government has a chance to act faster and be smarter. They should commit to a much more ambitious and strategic stimulus program – as large as four or five per cent of GDP – and make sure as much of it as possible gets directly into the hands of working people, to kick-start  consumer spending and help individuals  pay their bills.

Economic damage has been swift. In a matter of days, stock values have plummeted and resource prices have crashed. In workplaces across the country, shifts are being cancelled, and layoffs loom. Some factories have temporarily stopped production.

We have two major asks of government. First, protect public health and improve workers’ rights by ensuring all workers have access to paid, job protected sick leave as well as proper health care and income assistance. Second, act quickly to deliver a fiscal stimulus package to mitigate job losses in the near term and get people back to work in the long term.

Federal supports to expedite EI sick leave benefits and expand Work-Sharing are welcome first steps, but much more must be done.

Employment Insurance must be made more accessible by reducing, or even eliminating, the hours required to qualify. Increasing the benefit rate to cover a greater share of lost earnings, say 80 or even 100 per cent, is also needed in this time of emergency. The waiting-period for economic layoffs must also be waived.

Governments must also enact special measures to supplement the lost earnings for the large number of precarious workers historically denied EI benefits, including some part-time, gig-based, and temporary migrant workers.

Some of the emergency measures may prove so effective that they become permanent. That is more than worth considering.

Once this acute phase of the pandemic has subsided, governments must double-down on investment in social infrastructure. Supports such as universal childcare, a critical economic stabilizer that promotes gender equality and creates jobs – good ones if government focuses funding on higher wages and benefits. They must also deliver, immediately, on Universal Pharmacare.

Any fiscal stimulus package must move rapidly on long-overdue investments in physical infrastructure too, including expansion of public transit systems, guided by a new National Public Transit Strategy, along with wastewater treatment, road construction, public utilities, and other vital public works projects. They should use this opportunity to end long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves.  Requiring that tools, materials and equipment are sourced from Canadian suppliers, wherever possible, would stimulate domestic production.  To be clear, with historically low interest rates, Canada has substantial fiscal room to do all of this and more.

As governments plan their responses, they must also recognize that crises will become more commonplace. Climate-related events will have a comparable and damaging effect on our economy in the future. Now is the time for big and bold ideas to stabilize our economy with an eye to sustainability.

Canada needs a massive, historic investment in clean technology, green infrastructure and associated job creation. Focus a permanent transit fund on emissions free technology, build and retrofit affordable housing, invest heavily in zero-emission vehicle technology and production capacity for the auto sector and clean up abandoned wells in Alberta while investing in the skills and abilities of oil sands workers to meet our future energy needs.

This pandemic has front-line workers bearing the weight a chronically underfunded health care system, making us all vulnerable. Our opportunity – to which governments must rise – is to invest in programs and infrastructure to strengthen our ability to stand strong in the face of whatever crisis comes next.

Unifor has launched a hub for member information about the pandemic at unifor.org/COVID19 and encourages members to check the site regularly for updates.