The BCGEU is working with employer, union and government counterparts to respond and plan around the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on our workplaces and workers in this unprecedented time. We are working with all stakeholders to try to ensure that all of our members have clear, updated information to ensure their health and safety in their workplace and community and to also ensure the continued provision of quality care and services to your clients in British Columbia.
General Health and Safety
As a starting point, our expectation is that employers must remain focused on the health and safety of both workers and the clients they support. That means that employers must comply with occupational health and safety legislation to prevent the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Employers should be supplying the appropriate protective and preventative equipment (masks where necessary, gloves, appropriate strength – minimum 60% alcohol -- hand sanitizer, etc.), as well as cleaning supplies to ensure that worksites minimize transmission of the virus. The federal government announced this morning that they would be providing additional funding to assist shelters who support people experiencing homelessness for the purchase of protective equipment and additional accommodations.
You must also do your part and follow the recommendations of the BC Public Health Officer (PHO) by washing your hands regularly, following proper coughing/sneezing protocols and using social distancing where possible.
Working from Home
Where feasible, employers may request that you work from home to limit the potential for spread of COVID-19. It is the employer's responsibility to ensure compliance with all occupational health and safety legislation, privacy obligations, and risk assessments for this purpose. For members who can work from home, they should receive their usual rate of pay. For most of you, however, working from home will not be a possibility.
In the event that you are ill for any reason, you should stay home and use your sick leave bank or short term disability plan under the terms of your Collective Agreement. It is vitally important at this time that workers not come into work when they are unwell.
The PHO has directed that employers should not require medical notes for the purpose of accessing members' sick leave banks as a result of COVID-19 or if directed to self-isolate by the Public Health Authority or your physician (see below re self-isolation).
In the event that your sick leave bank is depleted, you are eligible to apply for Employment Insurance benefits. The federal government has recently waived the one week waiting period to facilitate quick access to benefits for those who need them and this morning they extended additional program supports to assist families. Though the details of these programs are yet to be finalized, see the following link for further information https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/canadas-reponse.html
It is possible that an employer may require a medical clearance prior to your return to work. If that occurs, please contact the union for assistance.
Self-Isolation or Quarantine
If you have returned to Canada from any international destination, you must self-isolate for 14 days, even if you do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, pursuant to the recommendations of the PHO. In any other circumstance where a member believes that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, have symptoms of the disease, or have concerns about their own or a household member's vulnerability to COVID-19, you need to contact the Public Health Authority at 811 or your physician and follow their advice with respect to self-isolation.
The provincial government is presently adding to the capacity for 811 calls and to virtually attend for medical assessments. The directive that a member receives from the Public Health Authority or their physician should be noted and conveyed to their employer. Employees who are directed to self-isolate should be permitted to access their vacation, overtime, and, possibly, their sick leave banks. Employment Insurance is also available for this circumstance. There is an online tool for determining whether you need a COVID test or assessment at https://covid19.thrive.health/
We discourage members from international travel in accordance with the recommendation of the PHO on March 13, 2020. The border with the US will be shortly closed to non-essential travel.
It is important that you advise your employer(s) if you are self-isolating. The PHO is tracking all cases to continue to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19.
Refusal to Work/WorkSafeBC
If you have no symptoms of COVID-19 and you have not been directed to self-isolate by a qualified medical practitioner, you should attend work, while exercising the enhanced precautions recommended by the PHO. If you believe that your worksite is unsafe or that you may be exposed to COVID-19 at work you have the right to refuse unsafe work. If you contract COVID-19 at work, it may be a WorkSafe claim and may necessitate completion of the necessary forms for that purpose.
Worksite or Program Reduction in Service or Closure
If an employer is indicating that they may reduce or close a program, members should notify their steward and union staff representative immediately. The expectation is that employers will consult with the union before steps are taken to reduce or close programs and that employees may be deployed to other programs where they have the training required and health and safety is not compromised, work remotely, deliver services in alternate ways, or they could, if they so choose, utilize overtime banks, vacation, etc. before accessing Employment Insurance benefits. These issues should be resolved locally by the employer and union representatives.
Additionally, employers have and may continue to suggest that they will reduce programs to "essential services". This is not a situation where job action is occurring, this is a pandemic. BCCDC has produced guidance on what constitutes essential services at http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-Professionals-Site/Documents/COVID-19-Essential-service-workers-travel-determination.pdf Reduction or cessation of services is a matter that must involve the local union representative to ensure that, wherever possible and appropriate, delivery of services is continued.
Child Care Programs
For those of you in Child Care programs around the province, in the absence of an order from government that your worksites must close, individual agencies may make closure decisions independently. We understand the precarious nature of your work in this crisis and of your concerns around the safety and well-being of both yourselves and the children you care for. We will continue to provide site by site support to you as matters unfold. We will continue to monitor the provincial government's directives on child care programming and the federal government's initiatives on economic relief for individuals, families and businesses.
Your employer may decide that they will not book any further vacation at this time in order to ensure an adequate number of employees is available to meet the anticipated need to provide service to clients. If you have vacation already booked, you should consult with your employer to determine if this is still feasible and, as long as there is sufficient staffing, booked vacation should not be denied. If this is a problem speak to your steward or your staff representative.
The BCGEU will continue to work with stakeholders and individual employers to ensure that your interests are protected. We will update you on an ongoing basis as the federal and provincial governments respond and adapt and as issues arise for our members in the workplace. We will continue to press both levels of government to consider additional supportive measures on your behalf. Please watch for updates and bulletins in your emails, on your bulletin boards, and on the BCGEU website.
If you have specific questions about COVID-19, please send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org If you want to review current information from the BCGEU on COVID-19 please go to our information hub at www.bcgeu.ca/covid.
Andrea Duncan, Component 3 Vice-President
Download PDF of notice here
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