Representatives from 6 major Sask. unions call on government to restrict gatherings and travel

Union leaders representing tens of thousands of Saskatchewan frontline workers want the provincial government to limit the size of gatherings and restrict travel. They held a virtual press conference on Thursday to issue a joint call to action.

“There are concrete ways for us to really slow or even stop the spread of this Omicron variant and I think if we have access to those tools, we should use them,” said Barbara Cape, president of Service Employees International. Union West (SEIU-West), which represents workers in schools, health care and other industries.

“If I were to solicit any of our members, I think if the Premier and the Government of Saskatchewan choose not to implement stricter public health orders, they will see that this has become political football by opposition to a public health crisis. .”

The leaders of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labor (SFL), the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, the Saskatchewan Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union and the Service Employees International Union West all participated in the call. .

Together, they represent 113,000 workers. They called on the province to limit the size of gatherings to 10 people, limit the frequency of gatherings, limit non-school and non-work contact, and restrict non-essential travel. Unions have said slowing the spread of Omicron will help frontline workers maintain services through the fifth wave.

In a statement released Thursday, Premier Scott Moe said, “We see no clear evidence that containment measures have reduced hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths in other provinces and, therefore, there there is no reason to impose harmful new restrictions in Saskatchewan”.

Several doctors have criticized and countered Moe’s repeated claims that restrictions have no benefit. Union representatives said on Thursday that simply slowing the virus down would benefit people.

Tense systems

SFL President Lori Johb said union members across the province have been operating in “crisis mode” as resources dwindle while demand for their services increases. Johb warned that the continued uncontrolled spread will lead to service disruptions.

“Morale is low. They can’t go on,” said Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Nurses Union.

Zambory said health care is already in jeopardy as rural facilities are closed and emergency rooms are filled “to the rafters”.

“We don’t have the space or the staff to continue at this pace.”

Union leaders representing Saskatchewan’s frontline workers held a virtual press conference Thursday, calling on the province to limit the size of gatherings and restrict non-essential travel. (Screenshot of the virtual conference)

Union leaders said public sector workplaces – whether in health care or education – were already understaffed before the pandemic, and employees are more challenged now than ‘they are trying to manage the illnesses caused by the pandemic, family care, co-worker resignations and burnout.

“We have members who work 16 to 20 hours a day, sleep for a few hours and come back to do it all over again,” said Cape, president of SEIU-West. “When you look at their ability to provide bedside care or manage cleanliness or dietary needs or providing medication to residents, mistakes are going to be made.”

Premier Scott Moe said his government would not impose new restrictions in response to Omicron. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Cape said there were often no staff available to be called in for help.

“[Workers] injuries have increased, people are quitting, they’re unable to fill those positions…because frankly, who wants to replace those positions right now? said Tracey Sauer, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union, who spoke on behalf of health care and corrections workers.

The education system faces similar challenges. STF chairman Patrick Maze said the system was in chaos, operating with the bare minimum of staff and replacements. He said community transmission must be brought under control so schools can keep students and teachers in the classroom.

Judy Henley, president of CUPE Saskatchewan, called on the premier to “respect” frontline workers by heeding calls to action. CUPE Saskatchewan represents support staff in schools, workers in long-term and group care homes, cleaners, cooks, social workers, counselors and librarians.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” she said, noting that the workers were scared. She said she cannot work from home and has no control over what they are exposed to in the workplace. With the virus rampant, the chances of catching it and passing it on to a loved one are high.

“It’s really, really mentally draining.”

Hospitalizations are expected to peak in the coming weeks

Premier Scott Moe also wrote in his statement Thursday that Saskatchewan’s current COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths are “currently well below the national average and well below other provinces that have introduces severe restrictions.

Hospitalizations have increased steadily this week. Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said earlier this week that Saskatchewan’s Omicron wave is lagging behind other provinces. He expects variant to peak in about two weeks in Regina and Saskatoon, and that a wave of hospitalizations will follow a few weeks later.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe said Saskatchewan has lower COVID-related hospitalization and death rates than provinces like Quebec and Ontario, which have stricter measures. (Facebook)

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