Day of Mourning

Courtesy of WCB Advocate Adam Picotte

I write this email on April 28, the day of mourning. A day when we remember the thousands of workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related disease. There is an urgency to this observance this year when each of us is either working in or know people working in essential services and putting their lives at risk for the people of British Columbia. Because of the pandemic, the day or mourning is being broadcast online and can be viewed at 10:30am at https://www.dayofmourning.bc.ca/#.

I will provide a brief WCB update in this email and then focus on my top three themes for managing workplace returns during COVID-19.

WCB Update

The Board is introducing a welcome change to their operation over the next few weeks as it will begin communicating with workers and representatives over email. With written consent, case managers will start to use email during the claims process to share information such as completed forms and return to work plans. The goal is to have this available to all workers by early May. I will provide further information about this as it becomes available.

Themes for returning to work

My top three themes for managing workplace returns during COVID-19 are the following: income security, balancing safety with economic stability, and balancing privacy with economic stability. While some industries such as health care have predominantly remained active because of essential services, many industries have been closed or reduced. However, even those that have remained open will be looking to implement policies that ensure focus on productive employment. To this end, employers will be looking to put the weight of the burden on workers. I will discuss each of these in turn and give my quick take on things to consider from a unionized perspective.

Income Security

Employers will be looking to return workers as quickly as possible with the least associated costs. They will want to maintain production or economic activity and not risk disruption due to an outbreak. My sense is that this will result in employers being quick to send people home without a diagnosis of confirmation of illness. So what steps can you take? Consider the following:

  • Allow for periods of paid leave when there is a suspicion of COVID-19. This will ensure workers do not attend work sites when potentially exposed and encourage early testing for the disease.
  • Given that many workplaces will be looking to bring in selective people from the workforce or may want to return employees outside of seniority, rely upon seniority provisions in your collective agreement to obtain the best result for your members.

Balancing safety with economic stability

This is arguably where labour will have the strongest ability to assert control over processes. Employers are required to ensure a safe and secure workplace and unions have recourse through both the WCB, Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, and collective agreements to ensure this takes place. In order to ensure worker safety, consideration should be given to policies that address the following:

  • What provisions are in place for personal protective equipment.
  • To what extent is social distancing required to ensure safety.
  • Can work be done safely at home or in an alternate setting.
  • Can alternative schedules be created to ensure those taking transit are not placed at increased risk.

Balancing privacy with economic stability

Privacy is one of the union’s strongest tools when dealing with employer overreach. I have already heard from a number of you about employer testing for temperatures and requiring medical clearance forms. Ultimately, what an employer can require needs to be balanced against the individual privacy considerations of each employee. We are living in uncertain times and this creates a greater emphasis on testing and medical clearance. My quick takes on this are as follows:

  • Meet the employer on the front end to work on policies for testing.
  • Ensure any policy is initially temporary and include provisions for revisiting the policy after a few months.
  • Any requirement for medical information must be for a specific purpose and must be limited in scope for the purpose it is being obtained for.
  • When negotiating these terms with employers, remember to rely upon anti-discrimination terms in your collective agreements and the incorporation of provincial or federal human rights code as the case may be.

Business Manager’s Update

Business Manager Jordan Streng and the Union’s staff want to ensure that the members are being kept up to date on the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic are having on our membership and our work picture. We will be updating the membership through regular notices such as this and will be posting on our Website and Facebook page. Updates may also appear on the nightly job-line if they are directly related to the work picture and of an immediate nature.

We will attempt to keep you up to date on the work, dispatch, and H&W side, but please keep informed through your local and national news feeds for all general information.

We continue recommending that all members be prepared for a considerable delay to the start of the spring shutdown season, and the work and pay cheques that come along with it.

*Our website will be down for maintenance on Wednesday April 15th, 2020

 

  • Beginning April 5th we have reduced wages and allowances for Boilermaker Staff and the Dispatcher, and in combination with the recently announced Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), we will be seeking to reduce our overall office payroll cost by over 50%. This will be re-evaluated on an ongoing basis as further information about the CEWS is released, and further actions may be taken at the discretion of the BM/ST if deemed necessary.
  • The Health and Welfare Trustees have made changes to the H&W Plan to assist the membership during the COVID-19 pandemic and the work slowdown. These changes have been previously posted in our news section, please click here.
  • The Unfair Labour Practices that we filed with the BC Labour Relation Board against the BCA, CIMS, and all other contractors seeking to switch over to the CLRA agreement continues. The COVID-19 remediation practices have left the LRB in a difficult situation, as all in person hearings have now been postponed or cancelled. The Boilermakers, along with the BC Building Trades Council (BCBCBTU), are seeking to have the current BCA of BC agreement recognized as the enduring collective agreement for these contractors. We continue to work with our legal counsel, the BCBCBTU and their counsel, and the Labour Board to that end. The BCBCBTU has also rejected the application by the CLRA to use the CLRA-BM359 agreement on behalf of these employers, and BCBCBTU continues to support Lodge 359’s position. There have been many applications regarding standing in each case, and many submissions to date to put certain aspects of this complex case into abeyance until others are heard. We continue to emphasize to the Labour Board that our membership must have answers sooner than later, but we know our case is solid and that employers cannot just pick and choose whatever collective agreement suits them the best, without our express consent.
  • General Office Hours will remain reduced to Mon-Thurs 8am-3pm, Fri 8am-12pm. The office is closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday. The office remains closed for all walk-in traffic and staff is alternating between working remotely and in the office, to reduce personal contact. Staff emails can be found on our website.
  • Our shop members are now experiencing slowdowns and we expect this to continue. Peerless has recently announced a complete plant shutdown for 9 weeks beginning at the end of April. Shop members can email Jeremy directly if they have any questions or concerns.
  • We are continually speaking to contractors about ongoing and planned work, and we are encouraged that there may be some jobs available if they can meet the health guidelines of the Provincial and Federal Governments.
  • Emergency call-outs will continue to be dispatched as they occur. Some regular job orders may also be dispatched, since the trades are considered essential services for the ongoing maintenance and repair of industrial facilities. If you are called by dispatch you will be asked all the questions regarding your health, travel, and personal contact history and you must only accept the job if you are able. You may be asked to have your temperature taken at the gate and complete a COVID-19 health check form before being allowed onsite, and you must be both willing and able to accept the job.
  • The Union has received confirmation from Energy Safety Canada that the H2SAlive, Confined Space and Fall Arrest tickets that are to expire between January 1st, 2020 and September 1st, 2020 will now remain effective until September 1st, 2020.
  • Stay Safe out there.Fraternally, Jordan and Staff.

Helpful Links and announcements:

Call:  1-888-268-4319 (available 7:30 AM- 8 PM)
Text:  (604) 630-0300

PROTECTING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

These are challenging times, and we urge you to be mindful of your mental health as well as your physical health. As a member of the BC Building Trades, you have access to the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan, which offers a number of options to keep your mental health in check. CIRP offers long-term counselling to assist members dealing with depression, anxiety, substance use, pain management and other mental health concerns. All services are free, and available via video conferencing during this new working-from-home “normal.” 

Visit the CIRP website, email info@constructionrehabplan.com or call 1-888-521-8611 for more information.

WCB and Disability Law Update (COVID-19)

Discipline or termination for raising an occupational health and safety issue.

Many workers are concerned that employers will bring reprisals for raising COVID-19 OHS issues. However, under the Workers Compensation Act this is illegal.

Under the Workers Compensation Act if an employer discriminates (suspends, demotes, terminates, etc.) a worker for raising a health and safety issue including those related to COVID-19, then the worker can seek recourse through the WCB. These provisions are called discriminatory action complaints.

These provisions are set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Part of the Workers Compensation Act. In brief, it sets out that if an employer’s disciplinary action is even tainted by a health and safety issue than a worker can bring a complaint to the Board. If proven the Board can order any of the following actions:

• Reinstatement;
• Payment of lost wages;
• Removal of reprimand from record;
• Out of pocket expenses;
• Anything else the WCB considers necessary to secure compliance.

This process can run parallel to a grievance process. However, resolution through one process typically means further recourse cannot be pursued through the other. What is helpful about the discriminatory action process is the following:

• Timeline for filing a claim is 1 year or 60 days for failure to pay wages;
• Focused expertise from adjudicators on OHS matters;
• Free mediation process paid by the WCB;
• Broad power to order remedy similar to the jurisdiction of arbitrators.

I’ve had a fair amount of success in both mediating and running discriminatory action hearings through the WCB and WCAT. If you have any specific questions please feel free to contact me to discuss.

WCB Prevention Department and COVID-19

The WCB is divided into two halves – Compensation and Prevention. Compensation is responsible for administering benefits for injured workers. Prevention is responsible for education and enforcement of worker safety in the province.

During Covid19, the WCB has focused on educating employers to ensure compliance with occupational health and safety regulations. The specific areas being focused on are the following:

• Identifying exposure hazards and developing measures of control;
• Controlling the number of people on site;
• Prohibiting workers who are sick and those returning from outside Canada from immediate return to employment.

Generally, the WCB is looking to ensure employers are minimizing risk of the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic. If an employer is not taking reasonable steps to instigate risk management, the WCB will take action to either education or write orders up to and including fines and shut downs.

Should an employer continue to violate safe protocols or fail to conduct reasonable assessments including JOHS committee members, consider contacting the WCB Prevention Line at 1.888.621.7233

Information for Specific Industries

The WCB has released industry specific information to assist worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The specific industries and the hyperlinks to the information are as follows:

Agriculture;
Construction;
Forestry;
Health Care;
Manufacturing;
Retail;
Transportation;

This information is helpful from both an educational perspective but also to ensure employers are maintaining their obligations during COVID-19.

COVID-19 In Construction

The following information has been provided by the BC Building Trades.

INTRODUCTION

The information on these pages is intended to assist you in providing relevant and reliable information to your members about COVID-19 and the services & supports that are available to them. It is not intended to replace the customized content you may already have, but rather to assist your efforts. Please feel free to use in whole or part where appropriate to inform website content, social media channels and member communication.

It has been provided as a Word document in order to facilitate “copying and pasting,” and hyperlinks are provided throughout directing members to more robust information.

It will be updated as our situation changes, with the date and version of each document listed clearly on the front cover.

For more information or to suggest edits, please contact:

Corry Anderson-Fennell

Director of Communications

COVID-19 GENERAL OVERVIEW

What the BC Building Trades and its affiliates are doing

We are working with provincial and federal governments to help the construction sector successfully navigate COVID-19. This includes:

  • Pushing WorkSafeBC to enforce occupational health and safety regulations to make construction sites safe. Our work has resulted in a special “inspectional initiative” to bring construction worksites into compliance with health and safety regulations.
  • Lobbying for financial supports for construction workers facing job loss due to COVID-19.
  • Co-ordinating the flow of accurate and relevant information throughout our networks so that our members can find it where and when they need it.
  • At the affiliate level, our local unions are variously helping their members access the many supports and services available to them, reaching out to retired and out-of-work members to offer help, assisting their communities manage the crisis by leveraging the unique skills of construction workers, and keeping their members informed about the near-hourly changes to the response to this current health crisis.

COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool

The BC Ministry of Health developed a self-assessment tool to help determine whether you may need further assessment or testing for COVID-19. You can complete this assessment for yourself, or on behalf of someone else, if they are unable. COVID-19 Self-assessment Tool

Self-monitoring & Self-isolation

The BC Centre for Disease Control offers information on self-monitoring and self-isolation on its website,

Self-monitoring means looking for new symptoms or signs of COVID-19 infection such as fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, etc.

Self-isolation means staying home and not going to work or school, and monitoring for symptoms for 14 days. Some essential service workers may be exempt from the 14-day self-isolation period.

Check the BCCDC website for full details.

Who to call

  • Non-medical hotline: 1-888-COVID19 or 1-888-268-4319. The line is staffed from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, and information is available in more than 110 languages.
  • If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone known to have COVID-19, call 811 to speak with a health care professional.

Stay up to date

The B.C. Government has developed a COVID-19 Support application, which lets you receive the latest updates and alerts, and resources from trusted sources. The self-assessment tool is also embedded in the application. Download it from the App Store or Google Play, or access the web version here.

WORKING SAFELY

Construction is an essential service

Under the province’s Emergency Program Act, construction work has been deemed an essential service.

Essential services are those daily services that are essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning.

While the Provincial Health Officer has ordered some types of businesses to close, construction workers are considered non-health essential service providers. All construction work must continue to abide the orders and guidance provided by the Provincial Health Officer to ensure safe operations and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. This is not optional.

More information here.

Guidelines for construction

The BC Government has issued specific guidelines for construction sites operating during COVID-19. The guidelines include:

  • No more than 50 people in the same space in any circumstances.
  • Employees should maintain a distance of two metres apart.
  • Reduce in-person meetings and other gatherings and hold site meetings in open spaces or outside.
  • Increase the number of handwashing stations and post signage that identifies their location.

Find the full list here.

Occupational health and safety – washroom facilities on construction sites

The condition and provision of washroom facilities on construction sites and any other workplace is covered by Section 4.85 of the B.C. Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. This regulation requires workplaces to have either fixed or portable washroom facilities that include provisions for hand-washing, and that they are kept in clean and sanitary condition with the proper supplies necessary to use them.

We know that many construction sites are not following these rules, and we are in the process of working with contractors and government to address this issue.

If your construction site is not maintaining proper washroom and hand-washing facilities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we ask that you:

  • Email us (regardless of whether you are a member of one of our unions) at info@bcbuildingtrades.org so that we can compile information to advocate on your behalf AND
  • Call WorkSafe BC at 604-276-3100 (Lower Mainland) or 1-888-621-7233 (toll free) to report your site.

Right to refuse unsafe work

You have the right in B.C. to refuse unsafe work. WorkSafeBC provides the steps to follow in order to achieve a remedy here.

We realize that conditions of “unsafe work” have taken on new meaning in the context of COVID-19. If you feel you are being asked to work unsafely (social distancing and sanitation requirements and recommendations are not being met, for example).

In this case, you should consult your union for advice and direction.

Importantly, workers who voluntarily quit instead of being laid off are normally not entitled to Employment Insurance. However, if you have “just cause” for quitting – you can show that quitting your job was the only reasonable alternative – you may be paid regular EI benefits. Just cause may include occupational health and safety regulations, human rights or labour rights not being followed. See full information on the steps to take here.

Job-protected leave

The B.C. Government has amended the Employment Standards Act to provide job protection to workers who are unable to work due to COVID-19. This allows workers affected by COVID-19 to stay home as needed for the following reasons:

  • they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are acting in accordance with instructions or an order of a medical health officer or the advice of a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or registered nurse;
  • they are in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the federal Quarantine Act, or guidelines of the BC Centre for Disease Control or the Public Health Agency of Canada;
  • they have been directed by their employer to stay home because of concerns about their exposure to others;
  • they are unable to return to B.C. because of a travel or border restriction; or
  • they are providing care to their minor child or a dependent adult who is their child or former foster child, including when a school, daycare or similar facility has closed.

There is no limit to how long people can take leave. More information here.

Extension of Occupational Safety Certificates

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, WorkSafeBC is granting extensions on any occupational first aid, or equivalent certificates, that are due to expire between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020. These certificates will now be acceptable in the workplace for 90 days beyond their original expiry date. More information here.

Working at home

Construction workers can’t work from home, however, some administrative staff are working remotely due to COVID-19. WorkSafeBC offers guidelines for basic health and safety when working from home.

The employer should ensure a basic health and safety policy is in place to work remotely and that each party understands their role, duties and responsibilities.

More information here.

WorkSafeBC claims

WorkSafeBC continues to provide services related to work-related injury or disease, including for new and outstanding claims. All call centres remain open.

Information on work-related injury claims for workers is available here.

PROTECTING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

These are challenging times, and we urge you to be mindful of your mental health as well as your physical health.

As a member of the BC Building Trades, you have access to the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan, which offers a number of options to keep your mental health in check.

CIRP offers long-term counselling to assist members dealing with depression, anxiety, Substance use, pain management and other mental health concerns. All services are free, completely confidential, and available via video conferencing during this new working-from-home normal.

Visit the CIRP website, email info@constructionrehabplan.com or call 1-888-521-8611 for more information.

FINANCIAL RELIEF 

Employment Insurance

The Government of Canada has made changes to Employment Insurance in response to COVID-19, including waiving the waiting period for those who qualify for EI Sickness Benefits, as well as waiving the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access these benefits. Members should apply for Sickness Benefits if they are unable to work due to illness, injury or quarantine.

If a job is cancelled or suspended because of COVID-19, members out of work are on an economic lay-off and the current waiting period for EI still applies. We hope this will change, and we are currently lobbying government to eliminate the waiting period altogether. Members who have lost their job through no fault of their own and do not qualify for EI Sickness Benefits should apply for Regular Benefits.

For those who do not qualify for paid sick leave or EI benefits, a new Canada Emergency Response Benefit will provide a taxable benefit of $2,000 a month for up to four months to:

  • workers who must stop working due to COVID19 and do not have access to paid leave or other income support.
  • workers who are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19.
  • working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children that are sick or need additional care because of school and daycare closures.
  • workers who still have their employment but are not being paid because there is currently not sufficient work and their employer has asked them not to come to work.
  • wage earners and self-employed individuals, including contract workers, who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance.

Workers who are already receiving EI should not apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

For information on this and additional federal supports, click here.

A provincial Emergency Benefit of $1,000 is available to workers, regardless of their eligibility for Employment Insurance and any other federal income top-up. Applications will be available in April, with a one-time payment in May.

Rental relief

A new temporary rental supplement of $500 a month for four months is available to help tenants. Evictions have also been halted and rents have been frozen. The benefit will be available to low- and middle-income tenants who do not qualify for other rental assistance. Funds will be paid directly to landlords on behalf of tenants in order to ensure landlords continue to receive rental income during the pandemic. More information is available here.

In addition, the government has placed a moratorium on all evictions for non-payment of rent.

Utility relief

BC Hydro customers can defer payments or arrange for flexible payment plans without penalty. They can also access grants of up to $600 to pay their hydro bills using a Customer Crisis Fund.

Car insurance relief

ICBC customers on monthly payment plans can defer payments for up to 90 days without penalty.

Tax relief

Deadlines for various tax payments have been extended.

  • Personal income tax filing deadline changed to June 1
  • If you owe taxes, ability to defer tax payments until August 31
  • Business tax filing deadline changed to July 31

Student loan relief

Starting March 30, 2020, B.C. Student Loan payments are automatically frozen for six months. In addition, there is a moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans.

Community Savings Credit Union line of credit

Community Savings Credit Union is offering a special line of credit for workers facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Those facing job losses can have access to an interest free $2,500 line of credit.

Due to the current economic situation, the credit union is also maintaining a degree of flexibility for applicants in terms of work history and current employment status. You can still apply for it whether you are receiving EI or other income supports.

Importantly, these offerings are for current or new members of Community Savings only. Workers must join the credit union in order to leverage these options. This is an easy process and although Community Savings has branches throughout B.C., workers do not need to live near a branch in order to sign up; they can apply on the website.

For more information, visit the website or call:

  • Lower Mainland: 604-654-2000
  • Victoria: 250-385-8431
  • Toll Free:1-888-653-2000