It’s been awhile since my last update, and MAHCP has been very busy working on your behalf to make sure you’re supported and protected through this challenging time. With so much happening all at once, I wanted to provide just a few updates here, but you should always feel free to contact us for more information or if you have a specific concern.
I’ll start off with some good news. We’ve seen an outpouring of gratitude from Manitobans since this crisis began. Everyone is realizing how important Allied Health Professionals and all health care workers are, and they are showing their thanks in many ways. Yesterday, the Chartered Professional Accountants of Manitoba (CPA Manitoba) announced the launch of a new initiative called Accounting for Bravery. This program “brings together CPAs from across the province to support frontline healthcare professionals by offering to prepare their tax returns free of charge.”
We encourage MAHCP members to take advantage of this generous offer and to sign up soon, as it’s first-come, first-served. More details are available on the CPA Manitoba website: https://cpamb.ca/public/accounting-for-bravery. Please note that MAHCP is not able to address questions or concerns regarding this CPA Manitoba initiative, but we do think it’s a great idea and hope as many of our members as possible are able to benefit.
Last week, the Pallister government reversed course and finally agreed to provide paid administrative leave to front-line health care workers who are asymptomatic but are forced to self-isolate due to possible COVID-19 exposure at work, retroactive to March 1, 2020. We’ve been waiting for details on how this announcement will be implemented, and how broadly it will apply. Yesterday, we were informed by the Employer that this newly announced paid leave will be granted only in the narrowest of instances. In other words, if you’re sick (i.e., symptomatic) or become sick while on leave, you have to use sick time or other earned leave. If you had to wait a few days for OESH to call you back and provide clearance to return to work, you have to use your own earned leave. Here’s an excerpt from the Employer memo: “This paid leave is not applicable to periods of required self-isolation due to personal travel, community exposure or for being sent home during site entry point screening.” Even if you test positive for COVID-19, the burden of proof will be on you to show that you acquired it due to exposure at work in order to receive WCB coverage. Otherwise you may be forced to use your own sick time or other earned leave.
The Employer’s narrow interpretation of the announcement is disappointing, to say the least. In our view, the government and Employer continue to nickel and dime our members during a crisis that is not of your making. Their approach is cold-hearted and unacceptable. As you know, MAHCP’s position remains that paid leave should be provided for any COVID-related absence, and that presumptive WCB coverage be assured for any Allied Health Professional who tests positive. We will continue pushing them to do the right thing, to provide you the security and protections you deserve.
Speaking of protection, the other top-of-mind issue for MAHCP members and all front-line workers continues to be the availability of PPE and the protocols governing its use. I and other health care union leaders have been beating this drum constantly in the media and behind closed doors with the Employer. Our members need to be protected to the highest possible standard while at work serving Manitobans. Not only is the Employer obligated by our collective agreements to keep you safe, but it’s just common sense that if front-line health care employees get sick in large numbers, the entire system is threatened.
Initially, the Employer promised “universal PPE” for all patient contact, but the effective date for implementation kept getting pushed back, in part due to limited supply. This week, they rolled out a new PPE protocol that establishes green, orange and red zones intended to optimize “supply management and stewardship” of scarce PPE resources. Sounds a lot like rationing to me. We are still reviewing this new protocol and I welcome your feedback on how it is being implemented on the front line. For more on my initial reaction, you can read what I had to say to CBC News, that “risk isn’t confined to zones.”
Finally, I want to acknowledge the bigger picture and the misguided approach the Pallister government is taking toward this crisis. It’s an approach focused on austerity and preserving the bottom line, one we’re all too familiar with in health care in recent years. We have seen firsthand the cuts, closures and consolidations that have defined this approach, and we know exactly how misguided it is.
Now, in the face of a global pandemic and economic downturn, the Premier seems to be doubling down on his austerity agenda, threatening cuts to other sectors in order to preserve balance sheets. MAHCP stands in solidarity with workers in the civil service, crown agencies, colleges and universities represented by MGEU and other unions who are deeply threatened by these proposed cuts.
Experts from across the political spectrum are trying to tell the Premier that now is not the time for austerity and belt-tightening that will only deepen the economic downturn and take more money away from the services we all depend on. Pallister is saying these cuts are necessary to pay for increased health care and other costs to combat the pandemic, but experts keep reminding him that provincial budgets are not a zero-sum game. We in health care reject his logic that pits worker against worker, public against private, health care against civil service. We call on the Premier and his government to do and spend what is necessary to make sure there’s a Manitoba economy to come back to after this is all over.
I want to end on a hopeful note because there are many bright spots in this fight:
Manitobans are with us in this fight, and we will continue pushing for the support, protections and respect that you need and deserve, now more than ever. Meanwhile, please stay safe while enjoying the warmer weather where and when you can.
Bob Moroz, MAHCP President