Unsafe Ontario construction sites will be shutdown, confirms the province’s labour, training and skills development minister, and he expects the spirit of collaboration between employers, workers and the government will ensure jobsite safety.
“It is truly a partnership between workers and employers, everyone has to work together,” said Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s labour, training and skills development minister.
“From an employer’s perspective, we know most employers are acting in the best interests of their worker in creative safe working conditions, but there are some bad actors out there and we want them to know we are coming for those bad actors if they are not acting in the best interests of their workers.”
In a March 25 interview with the Daily Commercial News McNaughton would not explain how the provincial cabinet made the decision to include construction on its list of essential workplaces. Nor would he comment on whether it was obvious that putting more workers on jobsites would equate to a greater worker risk of contracting the virus.
If they are not safe, then employees can refuse to work,
— Monte McNaughton
Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
Rather the minister stressed that construction workplaces would be monitored closely by ministry inspectors, that unsafe sites would be shut down and that he was in constant contact with construction stakeholders to obtain their views and review the changing workplace landscape.
“My message is that employers should ensure their workers work in safe working conditions. We are following the advice of the Chief Prevention Officer as well as the Chief Medical Officer of Health to get through this,” explained McNaughton.
“I expect as the minister of labour that our employers are going to keep those jobsites safe. If they are not safe, then employees can refuse to work and the Ministry of Labour will not hesitate to shut unsafe worksites down.”
Inspecting workplaces for healthy and sanitary conditions is now the top priority for inspectors, he said, with workplaces expected to follow new CPO guidelines that have been posted on the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association website.
The Quebec government posted a list of “essential” sectors March 23, the same day as Ontario did, but construction was limited to a narrow range of sectors such as plumbing and electrical work and emergency repairs. McNaughton was asked what criteria the Ontario cabinet had considered, in contrast to the Quebec cabinet, that might have led to the different determinations.
“Obviously cabinet decisions and discussions are confidential but we are monitoring the situation every single day,” he said. “These are unprecedented times. But I can tell all workers out there and the public out there, we are working every single day to ensure those jobsites are safe for workers. I have spoken to hundreds of stakeholders since this crisis broke out, I continue working with stakeholders and I will continue to act in the best interest of the province.”
Asked if decisions are being made with economic consequences part of the considerations, McNaughton said, “The health and safety of workers is always most important but we continue to take advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health, making decisions based on science and the medical professionals’ advice and we will continue to take that advice.
“I can tell you we have been very clear when it comes to construction and other jobsites that the health and safety of workers is our top priority, it is most important. Employees can refuse work if they believe their health and safety is at risk.”
McNaughton noted that at the beginning of the crisis he had introduced measures protecting the jobs of workers who had to isolate or stay at home to take care of sick relatives.
“That was a clear direction to workers that we are on their side,” he said.
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