Interview with Jason MacLean, the President of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees’ Union by Workers’ Forum online newspaper.
Workers’ Forum: There are virulent outbreaks of COVID-19 across the country. Can you tell us what the situation is in Nova Scotia?
Jason MacLean: We have here the Atlantic bubble that makes our area a little bit more unique than other areas of Canada. The Atlantic bubble includes people that live in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador who can move freely within the four provinces without having to self-isolate. They can move freely as if they were moving around in their own province. But if a Nova Scotian, for example, goes to Quebec or BC or Ontario or any other province outside of the bubble, or to any other country, then they have to self-isolate [for two weeks] when they come back. What is happening now is that we have outbreaks in all the Atlantic provinces.
For example, right now in Nova Scotia, we have a couple of different outbreaks in the central zone, which is the Halifax area, and in the northern zone. Just yesterday [November 9], the Nova Scotia Premier and the Chief Medical Officer of Health provided an update on YouTube about two different clusters that we have right now in Nova Scotia. There is concern that there may be community spread. As of yesterday, we had 16 active cases that were accounted for in these clusters. They identified several areas that could be contact exposure areas. There is a cluster in the area called Clayton Park in Halifax. Throughout downtown Halifax and in a couple of other places they are telling people that if you were in certain areas during such and such hours on such and such date, you need to go get tested. They are doing their contact tracing and everything else. Not only that but Nova Scotia Health sent out a message to all their staff that if they were in that area, they should not go to work and should get tested.
There is another cluster as well in the northern region of the province. The entire province is awaiting updates because I believe there are going to be new ones in the coming days as those who were in these areas get tested. At this time, the data seem to indicate that these cases are caused by workers coming from other provinces or workers from the Atlantic provinces who traveled outside and came back without self-isolating, mainly because the province did not enforce the self-isolation procedures.
WF: How does the union respond to these outbreaks that are happening so as to curb the spread of COVID-19?
JM: We need to be prepared for the second wave of the pandemic. We just put in a request to Nova Scotia Health for their personal protective equipment (PPE) levels, like the N95 mask and other equipment. We are having a meeting with them to see what their levels are to make sure that the needed PPE is available. We are reiterating to our members that this is not over and we need to be vigilant.
There are new studies that talk about aerosol spread. We want to sit down with the employers and have the conversation. Are we going to be utilizing N95 masks more? What else can be done to reduce the risk of people contracting the virus and spreading it? When push comes to shove, when our members need that equipment, we demand that they have it. We are informing our members about the right to refuse dangerous work. We have been doing that throughout this pandemic and we are doing it now during the second wave. We are working through the occupational health and safety committees. They are key in getting things accomplished in workplaces that may want to skirt safety mechanisms. Occupational health and safety committees are what we have to rely on if we feel an employer is neglecting health and safety. People need to go to work, and they need to be safe in doing the work and the employer needs to do everything possible to keep them safe – visors, adequate masks, gowns and so on. People need to have all of it. We continue to push the issues as they surface.
At the moment, we are seeing entities such as Nova Scotia Health telling their employees not to show up to work if they work in these areas, but again we are not hearing anything from the long-term care sector or the home care sector which we believe would be key to stop the spread. We only heard that from one organization in this province. That was good of Nova Scotia Health but how about the employers giving similar messages and showing care for the workers in long-term care or home care or other type of health care?
What we need to do is to convey the message to the people that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon so we have to remain vigilant.
In Nova Scotia we are trying as hard as we can to stay on top of the situation.
(Photos: WF, NSGEU)
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