Union leaders for Ontario teachers have filed a formal appeal with the Ontario Labour Relations Board today, saying the health and safety measures in the plan aren't adequate.
The unions contend the government doesn't follow widely accepted standards and practices around workplace health and safety.
In the Aug. 24 meeting, Ministry of Labour officials repeatedly referred to personal PPE for teachers and education workers, as a key part of the government’s strategy. However, the unions say PPE is only one of many measures and the least effective control against a workplace hazard. Other measures, such as adaptations to the physical space -- including improved ventilation, or changes to policies and procedures -- are more likely to reduce a worker’s exposure to the hazard.
As of Aug. 28, the date upon which it said it would respond, the Ministry of Labour had failed to comply with these requests.
“Schools and classrooms are unique workplaces, with upwards of 30 people sharing small spaces,” says ETFO president Sam Hammond.
“Smaller class sizes would help make schools safer. Should teachers and education workers not be able to expect at least the same standards and precautionary measures as have been put in place in stores, offices, and other spaces across the province?” he continued in a media release.
“The anxiety Ontarians are feeling around reopening schools is directly related to the government’s lack of leadership and their haphazard, incomplete planning,” added OECTA president Liz Stuart.
“The premier and the minister of education say they will do everything possible to make sure schools are safe. All we are asking is that they make an honest, exhaustive effort to follow through on this promise,” Stuart noted.
“The accusation that teachers and education workers are not willing to step up and get back to schools is preposterous and insulting,” said OSSTF-FEESO president Harvey Bischof.
“No worker in the province of Ontario should be expected to sacrifice their health and safety, especially when there are such obvious measures the government could be taking to reduce the risk and prevent potential tragedies,” he added
The provincial government released their COVID-19 Management in Schools document last week. This guide was developed in consultation with Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Ontario's chief coroner, who is leading the mitigation efforts in a number of sectors, including education.
A return to school -- with staggered starts for students -- is set to start September 3.
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