October 19, 2020 (OTTAWA, ON) – As consensus grows that COVID-19 is airborne, some employers across Canada are still refusing to provide health workers the personal protective equipment they need to prevent infection, in violation of provincial deals. This is according to reports received by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions from unions in most provinces.
“I am shocked to hear reports from across the country that health employers are still refusing workers’ requests for the equipment they need to stay safe,” said Linda Silas, president of the CFNU. “This is a violation of provincial PPE agreements and is inexcusable as more and more people accept that COVID‑19 is airborne.”
Several provincial governments have signed agreements with their respective health care unions, enshrining workers’ right to be provided with the minimum level of protection they request, based on their own assessment of the risk they face when caring for a patient. Currently all provinces, except for Nova Scotia and Quebec, have such agreements.
“Employers have no right to violate provincial PPE agreements and risk the lives of health care workers. Provincial governments need to rapidly enforce agreements when workers report employers are violating their rights,” said Silas.
Health care unions in most provinces have received reports from frontline members citing a range of issues accessing PPE, especially fit-tested N95 respirators, to prevent airborne infection. These issues include: absence or limited PPE supply; lack of training and proper respirator fitting (rendering them less effective); coercion to not use certain PPE; and employers’ outright refusing to provide PPE requested by workers. The most common concern employers have cited to unions is supply.
“We know supply remains a concern, but it is indefensible for employers to risk the lives of frontline workers by rationing PPE. We need to work together to ensure the availability of N95s and offer higher levels of approved protection,” said Silas.
Earlier this month, the CFNU released a report, A Time of Fear, revealing Canada’s systemic failure to protect health workers from COVID-19. Health workers make up about 20 per cent of Canada’s infections and 24 per cent of Quebec’s.
“Nurses and health care workers have been asking for 10 months now simply to have the basic PPE we need to stay safe. We are sick and tired of excuses. Being a health care worker during a pandemic should not be a death sentence,” concluded Silas.
The CFNU is Canada’s largest nurses’ organization, representing 200,000 nurses and student nurses, and advocating on key health priorities and federal engagement in public health care.