The Administrative Labour Tribunal (TAT) sided with the unions affiliated to the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec–FIQ and FIQ | Secteur privé (FIQP). In a decision rendered on October 19 last, the Tribunal reiterated the importance of unions and employers forming a partnership in eliminating dangers at the source, as stipulated in an Act respecting occupational health and safety (OHS Act). Hence, the TAT ordered Vigi Santé Ltée and the CISSS de l’Outaouais to give the unions access to workplaces to inspect the ventilation systems and analyze the air quality, and share all the documentation related to the maintenance of these systems with the latter.
Legal saga to protect workers
The decision rendered by the TAT came after a series of appeals filed in Superior Court by the union last May, demanding that the employer at Vigi Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Vigi Reine-Élizabeth carry out an inspection of the air in their CHSLDs. “We learned from the employees that the ventilation system at the CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal was defective and a viral RNA was detected in the air. This CHSLD had one of the worst outbreaks in Québec with 100% of its residents infected, 223 residents with 68 deaths. We were very concerned because a large number of employees working there also tested positive for COVID-19. There was a major health and safety issue for our members, but also of prevention”, stated Sonia Mancier, President of the FIQP.
Their backs against the wall because of the union’s appeal in Superior Court, Vigi Santé Ltée was forced to act quickly to comply with their legal obligations, and urgently gave a mandate to three ventilation and air quality inspection firms. The latter also had to commit formally in Superior Court to provide the inspection reports to the FIQP.
Moreover, the Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de l’Outaouais (SPSO) also filed a complaint at the CNESST because of the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak at the CHSLD Lionel-Émond de Gatineau. A large number of employees were contaminated and one of them died last spring. Then, the union joined the appeal. “It is absurd that unions have to go to court to protect workers from health risks because on several occasions, several individuals, including CNESST inspectors had to intervene, sending correction notices to employers so they would implement the court’s decision”, added Patrick Guay, President of the SPSO.
Prevention and partnership for preventing risks
The employer refused to send the documents related to the inspection and maintenance of the ventilation systems to the unions and the latter had to go to court quickly to get them. The TAT, in its decision, stated unconditionally the pertinence of involving the union in maintaining the workplace and air quality, and the employer’s obligation to collaborate with them and send the essential information for protecting workers.
“This is very positive for the healthcare professionals to hear the TAT confirm the union’s role in applying the OHS Act, whose main objective is prevention by the elimination, at the source, of dangers to the health, safety and physical well-being of workers. That the union participate in inspections and take note of the maintenance reports is a minimum. Protecting workers is a partnership, as the Law stipulates. Whether they are public or private employers, they have the same obligations and are accountable and responsible for the health and safety of their employees. We are entitled to it, and we will continue to be vigilant to protect workers!”, concluded Sonia Mancier and Patrick Guay.