The federal government is drafting national standards to protect the health and safety of workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi spoke with her provincial and territorial counterparts during a conference call on Thursday regarding how they can best co-ordinate their response to the crisis.
“I think first and foremost the top priority is ensuring that employers are keeping employees safe,” Ms. Tassi told The Globe and Mail. “Now more than ever the importance of a collaborative approach is heightened.”
Ms. Tassi has asked the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety to draft the standards. Legislation would be required to make the standards mandatory for all employers under federal jurisdiction. However, Ottawa has not made a final decision on that front, said a spokesman for the minister.
As fear of the pandemic sweeps across Canada, Ms. Tassi said it is crucial to protect employees to ensure that essential goods such as food, prescription drugs and personal protective equipment are available.
The federal government launched the initiative as employers in several sectors are scrambling to adjust amid a lack of consistency across the country as to which employees should be ordered to hunker in their homes to avoid catching COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and which ones are expected to show up at their job sites.
Ontario and Quebec ordered all non-essential businesses to close this week to help contain the spread of COVID-19. But the list of essential workplaces is much longer in Canada’s most-populous province. Real estate agents, small hardware stores and bicycle repair shops can still operate in Ontario, but not in Quebec.
One big difference is that the Quebec government is allowing only emergency construction and maintenance on vital infrastructure, while the Ontario government has deemed the entire construction industry essential.
Labour unions have complained that the health of construction industry employees is at risk because their working conditions do not allow them to follow basic hand hygiene and safety regulations that health authorities say are crucial to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario has called on Premier Doug Ford to temporarily halt all construction in the province.
The $5.3-billion Eglinton Crosstown light-rail project in midtown Toronto, the biggest transit line being built in the country, temporarily shut down part of the site for disinfecting this week after three workers became sick with symptoms of COVID-19, one of whom has tested positive for the disease.
The workers are part of the track team responsible for installing communications systems at the West Portal site at Black Creek Drive and Eglinton Avenue West, said Kristin Jenkins, a spokeswoman for Crosslinx, the construction consortium building the line. These are the first known cases of COVID-19 on a construction project in Ontario.
Ms. Jenkins said in an e-mail that Crosslinx has notified everyone who may have been in contact with the three workers and has provided them with information on what they need to do based on the advice from Toronto Public Health.
About 50 people work out of the West Portal site, Ms. Jenkins said. The teams that the three workers are part of will not be at work for 14 days.
“Some [other] workers at the site have decided to self-isolate out of concerns of potential exposure,” she said. “Work is continuing at all of our other sites.”
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