Concerned about the ongoing, serious occupational health and safety shortcomings, Quebec’s health and social services network union organizations are coming together to send a clear message to the government: It is imperative that the shortcomings be corrected in preparation for a second wave of COVID-19. In the best case scenario, there are three months left to prepare at most. These shortcomings, already major problems before the pandemic, are one of the main reasons that Quebec has had such a grim record in terms of contamination, deaths and work leaves.
The unions say that this fall, Quebec should do absolutely everything to prevent a new string of contaminations and work leaves among staff, who are already seriously weakened by the repercussions of the first wave. While the government is keeping some figures confidential, data from the field suggest that the situation is still difficult in some institutions and regions.
The first phase of the COVID-19 crisis was a failure. In addition to costing the lives of six health and social services network employees, the pandemic has shed light on prevention deficiencies in work settings, as evidenced by the fact that 5,000 network workers were infected. That is why union organizations are making the following demands:
- To have reliable data on the number of infected staff members per institution, mission, service, centre of activity and job title to better plan available resources.
- To have an accurate record of personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks to ensure adequate supplies and the highest level of protection for network staff.
- To have the means to ensure prevention in the field to limit the number of infections.
- To urgently apply all four prevention mechanisms as provided in the Act respecting occupational health and safety, in all network institutions, starting with
identifying a prevention representative. Once this measure is implemented, prevention programs and health programs should be introduced and health and safety committees formed.
“Occupational health and safety prevention is deficient in the network and the pandemic is making it clearer than ever. We need to turn things around and do what’s necessary to protect employees for the second wave. For this to happen, the government needs to do what’s necessary to identify a prevention representative in each institution. The representative must have the requisite powers to implement prevention measures as fast as possible,” explained Jeff Begley, President of the Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux (FSSS-CSN).
“Right from the beginning of the pandemic, it was clear that the INSPQ’s recommendations were influenced by the minimal PPE in stock. Quebec started this crisis ill prepared, poorly equipped, with a health network that was already hanging on by a thread. The Legault government refused to give us accurate information about available PPE stocks and several residences and CHSLDs lacked sufficient supplies. Healthcare employees were put at risk due to a lack of prevention. We will not tolerate this for the second wave,” warned Linda Lapointe, Vice-President, Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec – FIQ.
“After three months of this pandemic, it is unacceptable that we still don’t have a clear overview of the situation. To properly prepare the network for the second wave, we need an overview to understand what’s ahead. We urgently need a clear and accurate statistical report that allows us to determine how many employees were infected,” said Andrée Poirier, President of the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS).
“The first and most urgent step is to appoint prevention representatives in each work setting, who have all of the powers provided for in the Act respecting occupational health and safety’s regulations. These impartial and independent people will have the requisite powers to immediately inspect and prescribe corrective measures. It’s a very fast and extremely efficient way out of the current chaos,” declared Benoit Bouchard, President of the Quebec division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE-Québec).
“Since the beginning of the crisis, across institutions, existing health and safety committees and resources were reduced to a minimum. It’s utterly nonsensical! It’s now time to take a step back and increase prevention measures. These are extremely useful measures under regular circumstances, but during a pandemic, it’s a matter of life and death,” explained Sylvie Nelson, President of the SQEES-FTQ.
“The first wave of COVID-19 shed light on a considerable number of shortcomings in healthcare institutions. Even the minister recognized that the increasing mobility requirements imposed on employees since the creation of the megastructures, the use of independent labour from private employment agencies, and the many staff transfers between institutions have been a vector of transmission of COVID-19. In addition to adequate material, care team stability also needs to be a priority, not only in terms of ratios but in terms of dedicated teams that are able to develop and consolidate the requisite expertise. Action needs to be taken now and quickly,” said Claire Montour, President of the Fédération de la santé du Québec (FSQ-CSQ).
“We are aware that demand is high for PPE around the world. However, we get the impression that health guidelines vary based on equipment stocks and we are highly suspicious of the efficiency of certain PPE provided to staff. As such, it is not surprising that so many workers have been infected and died. We even believe that reassigned staff who are immunosuppressed or chronically ill are in greater danger than they think,” said Christian Naud, political representative for occupational health and safety at the Fédération des professionnèles (FP-CSN).