June 11, 2020

Media release: Trudeau government to criminalize workers for following public health directives, while COVID-19 workplace outbreaks soar

‘Reckless employers are the ones who should be facing prison time,’ says worker advocate

TORONTO, June 11, 2020 -- “Criminalizing and penalizing workers who followed public health advice and stayed home by collecting CERB is not only cruel, but dangerous,” said Deena Ladd, Executive Director of the Workers’ Action Centre. “From farms to long-term care homes and factories, hundreds of people continue to be exposed to COVID 19 every day due to unsafe working conditions. Reckless employers are the ones who should be facing prison time.”

On June 10, the federal government tabled bill C-17, which if passed may impose fines and jail time up to 6 months for workers who may have received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) despite being ineligible. The legislation also seeks to restrict access to the $2,000-per-month income support for people who don’t return to work “when it is reasonable to do so or decline a reasonable job offer.” 

"Opposition parties have rightly pressed pause on a bill that fails to address the most critical issues facing our communities," said Pam Frache, Coordinator of the Fight for $15 & Fairness Campaign. "The real problem right now is not an oversubscribed program or mistaken access to CERB, but rather, the fact there has been no comprehensive plan to ensure workers return to safe workplaces. Workers want to return to work. But no one should have to risk their lives to do so."

Recent news coverage revealed that only 23 out of the 5,700 complaints about unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19 filed in Ontario and Quebec were upheld by the respective Labour Ministries. The two provinces together account for more than 87 per cent of the country’s 97,312 COVID-19 cases.

As more workplaces open, Fight for $15 & Fairness Campaign and the Workers' Action Centre are calling on all levels of government to take immediate action to protect workers by creating rapid response processes for workplace outbreaks, legislating 10-days of employer paid sick days, ensuring access to PPE as needed, funding safe public transit to and from work, providing safe and accessible childcare as well as extending CERB for 16 more weeks for workers who cannot yet return to work.

“The blatant disregard for workplace safety has been the biggest gap in Canada’s pandemic response and C-17 will only make matters worse by placing the risk and burden of return to work on employees who have the least power. Mark my words: cutting people off from CERB to force them back into dangerous situations will have deadly consequences,” said Frache. 

“On our confidential hotline we hear from workers every day who are having to work with no protective equipment or proper social distancing,” said Ladd. “Giving employers the power to take income supports away from people who are desperately trying to survive this crisis is frankly shameful. We need real political leadership to enforce workplace safety, not scare people with fines and prosecution."

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For more information or to arrange interviews:
Nil Sendil
Communications Coordinator, Fight for $15 & Fairness
info@15andfairness.org l 647-710-5795