COVID-19: employee assistance, the right to refuse unsafe work

 I would like to take this time to THANK ALL OF OUR UVAE members across Canada for your dedication, resilience and support over these past few weeks. It has not been easy for anyone. I know that the Global Pandemic is a fast spreading virus that has been impacting many families in our communities and around the World. The impacts of COVID-19 is continuing to be widespread and unprecedented. UVAE wants to assure you that we are continuing to monitor and work hard to ensure your Health and Safety is top priority. I have regular meetings with Senior Management to raise concerns and to discuss proactiveness and next steps. 

The NEO is aware and share in the concerns you may have during this tumultuous time with being at home, in isolation, away from family, friends and co-workers, and the impact to all of our mental health and the concern of not being able to provide the same level of service you have to our Veterans while working in the office. 

If you need to access the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), please note that this is covered by 699 leave for the 8 sessions that you are eligible for. You are not required to take sick leave or do this after hours. Please note that you can reach EAP at 1-800-268-7708. 

It is important to stay connected and informed during this time of uncertainty. Find virtual ways to stay in contact with your co-workers, family and friends. We all have a part to play in helping to stop the spread of this virus while working to maintain services and I know that you will all continue to do your part. 

The work that you, our members do everyday to support our Veterans is extremely important work. I know that you are all working in the best manner you can given the resources you have to continue to provide exemplary service to meet the needs of our Veterans. Your dedication and compassion to our Veterans is outstanding. 

During this time, we know that not everyone is able to work for a variety of reasons including childcare needs or taking care of our loved ones. I have been advised by the Deputy Minister that he does not want anyone disadvantaged during this time. If an employee is unable to work, they will be granted “other leave with pay (699 code)” as per their collective agreements. 

I would like to THANK ALL THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE OFFICERS for their hard work, dedication and support that they provide to you our members across Canada and the support that they continue to provide to me. The NEO work very hard to obtain and provide to me direct information daily of the multiple concerns from our members. With this information, I raise our concerns and put pressure on senior management. This information continues to be very 

important to help to affect the implementation of steps to protect your Health and Safety by the Employer. 

When the announcement from the government came out on March 13th; We, United together, concerns were raised, pressure was applied where it was needed to be applied to ensure your Health and Safety was top priority. WE STAND STRONG! WE REMAIN UNITED! 

As you may know great news was delivered late March 18th that effective March 19, 2020; our Service Delivery Field Ops members would no longer be required to be in the office during the pandemic. We know that we have some members who have been deemed critical and may be required to go to the office to complete a specific task. We are monitoring these situations and will ensure that your health and safety comes first. 

In addition, an important reminder that under the Canada Labour Code, workers can refuse to work if they have reasonable cause to believe: 

  1. That something constitutes a danger to them or another worker, or if a condition exists that constitutes a danger to them [s.128(1)(a) and (b)]. 
  2. That the performance of the activity by a worker constitutes a danger to them or to another worker [s.128(1)(c)]. 

All provincial and territorial legislation include the right to refuse dangerous work. Members can contact their PSAC Regional Health and Safety Representative for more details on how to use these rights. 

Such health and safety rights are individual rights. It is important to remember that health and safety legislation does protect workers against reprisals for exercising those rights. 

No one knows how the next few weeks will play out. It is important that we all stay home, support each other virtually where we can, take time for you, maintain social distancing, and continue to provide services to our Veterans to the best of our abilities. 

On behalf of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees National Executive Officers, please stay safe, keep your families safe and do know that we are here if you need us for anything. 

In Solidarity, 

Virginia Vaillancourt, 
National President, 
Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees