Greetings to my fellow early childhood educators. Hopefully you saw Premier John Horgan's press conference on Friday announcing that childcare and education are entering Phase 2 of the government's Restart Plan. In that announcement, both the Premier and Minister Katrina Chen, Minister of State for Child Care, acknowledged the vital work performed by early childhood educators and child care providers. We know our work is critical and the BCGEU will continue to lobby government to ensure that your work is recognized and valued now, during this pandemic, and in the future.
For some workers in the childcare sector, your centres have maintained staffing levels throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; for others, your programs may have closed. In either case, entering this next phase under the BC government's Restart Plan will involve increases in children at your centres and ongoing pandemic adaptations in delivery of care. As we navigate this gradual transition in the childcare environment, your union will continue to stay in communication with your employer to ensure that the directives from the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), and WorkSafeBC are being followed.
The most recent guidance on the safe delivery of care in the childcare setting is contained in the May 15, 2020 BCCDC "COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for Child Care Settings", which can be accessed here. This document contains very detailed information on both the risks and the appropriate preventative measures in the childcare environment. You can be reassured that the BCCDC states that:
"COVID-19 virus has a very low infection rate in children. In B.C., less than 1% of children and youth tested have been COVID-19 positive. Most children are not at high risk for COVID-19 infection."
Further, the BCCDC states:
"Children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in child care facilities, schools or in community settings."
Please review the document for a full discussion of pandemic issues specific to the childcare context. For more general information on returning to safe operation during the pandemic, see WorkSafeBC's website: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/about-us/covid-19-updates/covid-19-returning-safe-operation. WorkSafeBC has informed us that they will be providing additional childcare specific information at this link early this week. To access this specific information, go to the link and click "Child Care" on the left drop down menu.
The information from the PHO, the BCCDC, and WorkSafeBC provides direction to employers in the development of occupational health and safety (OH&S) measures for workplaces (called either an exposure control plan or a COVID-19 Safety Plan). These measures need to be put in place to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 in the childcare setting. Many employers are working cooperatively with OH&S representatives and stewards in the development and finalization of these important measures and procedures.
Please review your workplace's plan so that you are familiar with the protocols that your employer has put in place to ensure compliance with health and safety directives from the PHO, the BCCDC and WorkSafeBC. In the event that you or a colleague feel that the proper processes are not being followed, you should first bring the matter to the attention of your supervisor or manager to try to come to a resolution.
If the situation is not resolved or if you feel unsafe, B.C. Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 3.12 gives you the responsibility and requirement to refuse unsafe work. The process of exercising this right is outlined here: Refusing unsafe work
If you are unsure if you should be refusing unsafe work, or if you have any other questions, contact your shop steward or OHS representative so that they can advise you on your next steps.
Looking for additional resources on workplace health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic? Visit the OH&S section of the BCGEU COVID-19 Information Hub or information specific to the childcare environment at: https://www.bcgeu.ca/covid_19_information_for_community_social_services_members.
Andrea Duncan, BCGEU Component 3 Vice-President
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