Ontario’s record of work refusals “appalling”
Global News speaks to Christine Davies about Ontario’s treatment of work refusals during the pandemic
Global News spoke to Christine Davies about the thousands of complaints made by employees of unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19.
Over 4300 COVID-related complaints about unsafe work have been made in Ontario since March. At least 265 requests for work refusals were made in that period under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. However, only one work refusal was accepted.
“There have been a disturbingly high number of cases of work-related COVID-19 cases where you see a lot of front-line workers, whether it’s in long-term care, but also emergency workers, health care workers, and people working in grocery stores,” said Christine Davies, a lawyer with Goldblatt Partners in Toronto.
Davies, the Toronto labour lawyer, called Ontario’s numbers “appalling” as almost every work refusal was not accepted.
“What you’re really talking about are [265 complaints] that have been escalated to the level of the ministry [and] have found to be unsubstantiated,” she said. “Those are cases where the ministry sided with the employer that the work was not unsafe.”
Advocates have been raising the alarm for months about the quality of investigations being carried out into workers’ complaints, Davies said.
She said the numbers don’t paint a complete picture, as many essential workers, like nurses and doctors, can’t typically file work refusals. Health-care workers, for example, can only refuse unsafe work if it will not endanger someone in their care.
“Industry and labour investigators apparently do not want to go on site, into many workplaces, to actually investigate the refusals in-person – instead conducting investigations over the telephone,” she said.