BOSSES ARE GREEEY, NEEDY AND RECKLESS. The COVID-19 shutdowns have again revealed that everlasting reality. Just ask workers in Ontario.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff did just that with a tweet on January 14. He asked workers to message him if their boss was forcing them to work in person, as if their work was essential, when it clearly wasn’t. Workers instantly messaged Freedhoff with more than 100 examples of bosses doing just that.
The examples showed that employers are greedy for profits, despite the pandemic; needy for the ego boost they get from reminding workers who’s the boss and wholly reckless with the health and safety of their workers.
Workers at work in a carpet factory questioned how making carpets was “essential.” A worker in a clothing store asked how being on hand to sell “stretchy black pants” could possibly be “essential.” A salesperson in a car dealership and workers shooting sitcoms for television also questioned how their work was in any way “essential”.
Freedhoff posted a message from a manager in a downtown Toronto office where work is “95% doable remotely” but where the bosses have ruled: “Everyone is essential, nobody gets to stay home, where we suspect they’re just slacking.”
Another message read: “The film industry is still open, which is not essential. My partner who works in a warehouse renting out equipment is considered “essential” and is asked to go in to work every day. ... His bosses don’t take the threat of covid seriously—some of them are anti-maskers. It’s awful and terrifying.”
HuffPost Canada also asked Ontarians to share their pandemic work experiences. All who did shared their stories anonymously, in fear of retaliation from employers. One, who was laid off from work after questioning their employer’s “essential” status, withdrew their comments out of fear that even speaking anonymously would land them in legal trouble.
For many, preferential treatment among colleagues ran rampant in their workplaces because their bosses had final say on defining “essential work.”
One law clerk told HuffPost that being called in to work when senior lawyers work from home “makes me feel that my life is not valued by my employer.”
An analysis by the Toronto Star in early February, calculated that over 65 percent of the working population in the GTA was deemed to be “essential workers.” This equates to more than 2 million people.
A recent study by the Institute for Work and Health, found that half of all essential workers surveyed believe that their employers don’t enforce adequate safety measures.
Employers have a free hand to call the all the shots. They can say who is essential and who is not. Workplace health and safety regulations are weaker than ever. The workplace inspection regime is a cruel joke.
The Ministry of Labour carried out 34,000 workplace inspections under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as of January. However the department issued just two fines for violations between March and December 2020. One of these fines was for a worker!
The Tory government continues to refuse to name businesses found in violation of workplace covid regulations, including those where mass outbreaks occur.
In one of the most notorious instances, public health officials refused to identify a business in Mississauga where 61 infections occurred last fall. The massive workplace outbreak led to an additional 49 infections in the community, and was part of a massive surge in COVID-19 infection rates throughout the entire Peel Region.
Protecting genuine essential workers from covid risk must be our first priority. Allowing employers to determine who is essential and who is not is the worst way to do it.
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