They made doors, gum and jerry cans. Ontario’s ‘essential’ workers in manufacturing accounted for more workplace COVID deaths than any other sector — even health care workers.
“I did not feel like my health was the critical issue,” a worker tells a reporter. That’s not unusual. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down.
“The essential workers are the first to go. And then, after they get that first paycheck, it changes everything,” says Robert Kavcic, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
Kavcic says those essential workers — essential because they’re the first to get sick — pay the heaviest price in all this.
“They are the ones who save lives by not touching the sick and not touching those who can pass on the virus,” Kavcic says.
On March 2, after a long public engagement process, provincial Premier Doug Ford and federal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Ford would introduce the new Ontario Coronavirus Aid Fund. The province would begin drawing down $100 million from its $3 billion reserve for essential workers, and Ford promised to expand access to medical care for all.
Ford’s announcement coincided with a major move by the federal Conservatives: the federal government had just given $8.3 billion to the Ontario Nurses’ Association, with a $5.3-billion payment to the Ontario Trillium Health Network and the $1.6-billion payment to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. It marked the third consecutive year that Ottawa has provided the provinces with billions in funding.
The federal money helped to buy thousands of ventilators and other life-saving equipment, as well as testing kits, protective gear, masks and other personal protective equipment, like gowns and gloves. But more importantly, millions of dollars were freed up to offer assistance to Ontario’s essential workers.
Ford’s new fund will not provide a single cent to the Ontario Nurses’ Association or the Ontario Trillium Health Network, two public health agencies on which the Ontario Nurses’ Association and Ontario Trillium Health Network rely for funding.
But the Ford government says that will not be an issue.
“We have a strong commitment to essential workers,” said Jennifer Do