“We won’t let worker health and safety be sacrificed on the altar of UCP politics again!”
EDMONTON - A coalition of unions representing nearly 170,000 working Albertans has sent a joint statement to the UCP government demanding action to keep workers safe from the Omicron variant.
The unions say that during previous waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alberta government put politics, ideology and private employer interests ahead of the health and safety of workers in multiple industries including meat packing, retail, construction, education, long-term care, transportation and health care.
They also say the measures announced by Premier Kenney, Health Minister Copping and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw yesterday afternoon are just the latest examples of the UCP reacting too weakly and too slowly.
Speaking on behalf of the signatory unions, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan pointed out that “there’s still no formal recognition from the government that COVID is airborne; still nothing on ventilation and air filtration; still nothing on better masking or paid sick leave; and unvaccinated folks can still come to Christmas dinner.”
McGowan added that “we won’t let worker health and safety be sacrificed on the altar of UCP politics again.”
The unions say they are fed up with the government’s refusal to demand more from employers in terms of COVID safety in the workplace and of their constant pandering to a small but vocal fringe of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who are clearly driving the policy agenda at the expense of everyone else.
The joint statement lays out a 12-point plan for improving COVID safety in Alberta workplaces. The list includes acknowledging that COVID is airborne; mandating better ventilation and air filtration; mandating the use of better masks; and instituting 10 days of paid sick leave for the two-thirds of Alberta workers who don’t already have it.
The unions are also demanding that the UCP formally recognize all COVID variants, especially Omicron, as workplace health and safety hazards.
“The pandemic will not be brought under control until the Kenney government abandons the dangerous and counterproductive fiction that COVID is spread ‘in the community’, but not in indoor public spaces and indoor workplaces,” says the statement.
The unions also stress that Albertan’s need to firmly reject the notion that “personal responsibility” is the key to dealing with Omicron.
“We need to acknowledge that the COVID pandemic, like climate change, is a collective problem that can only be successfully addressed by collective solutions and collective action undertaken through governments,” says the statement.
“Individuals can’t make schools, hospitals and malls safer by requiring them to improve their HVAC systems to clean the air – only governments can do that. Similarly, individuals can’t mandate masks or vaccines – only employers and governments can do those things. Politicians who continue to suggest that ‘personal responsibility’ is the key to dealing with the pandemic are engaging in dangerous misdirection.”
The unions are demanding that the UCP government sit down with them to negotiate better COVID safety rules for Alberta workplaces. If the government refuses, as they have in the past, the unions say they will have no choice but to consider legal and workplace actions.
“Time is of the essence,” concluded McGowan. “The number of Omicron cases is doubling every two to three days. At this rate we’ll shatter all previous COVID records by January 1st and our health care system will be overwhelmed. We simply can’t allow that to happen. What the UCP has announced to date is wholly inadequate. It’s time for our government to step up and implement a strategy that is based on science, experience and caution, rather than the current approach that seems to be based on ideology, politics and ego.”
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