Posted on May 4, 2020
NDP CALLS FOR GUIDELINES, BUSINESS SUPPORTS AND WORKER PROTECTION AS ECONOMY PREPARES TO REBOOT
EDMONTON -- As the reopening date for Alberta businesses looms, the Alberta NDP Official Opposition is calling for a package of supports to keep workers safe and support businesses.
Starting May 14, some retail businesses like clothing, furniture and book stores, farmers' market vendors, and personal services like hairstyling and barber shops are allowed to open. In addition, cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars can reopen for public seating at 50 per cent capacity.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley contrasted the Alberta reopening plan with that of Ontario, which has released 61 sector-specific reopening guidelines and has also set clear benchmarks for COVID-19 containment. Among those benchmarks, is a two- to four-week decrease in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases.
“The threat of COVID-19 remains in our province – it would be naive to assume the worst is behind us,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley. “The only way we can properly reopen Alberta is with robust, evidence-based preparation and meaningful supports for businesses and workers. Without these, the chaos that could ensue will make things harder for most Albertans.”
Over the last week, the Alberta NDP has consulted with workers and small business owners. Based on these discussions, and in light of the UCP Government’s reopening strategy, the NDP is putting forward an eight-point Smart Relaunch Strategy.
The initial proposals include:
- Establish a small business task force that would develop and release prior to May 14 a consistent set of rules on matters including business access, outside service, product handling, employee safety and consumer masking. Some of these guidelines would be sector-specific. The task force must include employers, employees and medical health experts.
- A set of clear benchmarks demonstrating COVID-19 containment before Phase 2 of the Premier’s reopening strategy is initiated. These benchmarks could be modelled off of those set out by Ontario.
- A guarantee that workers unable to go back to work because of public health rules will be able to access currently available financial supports and any rolled out in the future.
- A guarantee that businesses who choose not to reopen until the public health state of emergency lifts will be able to access available financial supports and any rolled out in the future
- A provincial grant program that will assist businesses with procuring appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and a set of guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer on appropriate PPE by sector. The NDP also reiterates a previous call for a weekly PPE inventory report from the province.
- A plan to hire substantially more Occupational Health and Safety investigators and to ensure worksite inspections are being conducted in person, not via webcam.
- Clear timelines for reaching the Premier’s goal of 20,000 tests per day, given that current rates have not exceeded 5,000 tests per day.
- A plan to hire more contact tracers to help identify those at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The Alberta NDP anticipates releasing further calls to action for financial support for small businesses that are reopening later this week.
The call for supports for businesses comes as the Cargill meat plant in High River reopened Monday morning, despite ongoing concerns from workers — a survey released by the United Food and Commercial Workers over the weekend indicated 85 per cent of Cargill employees do not believe the plant is safe. Mediation over the weekend did not reach a satisfactory conclusion and inquiries directly to the UCP Government from UFCW to delay the reopening went unanswered.
“This government hasn’t even figured out how to properly protect workers at sites that have been deemed essential, such as Cargill,” Notley said. “More than 900 employees at Cargill — roughly half of the total workforce — have been infected with COVID-19. One worker has died and still the Premier and the Minister of Labour sit on their hands. Cargill must be shut down until the workers’ safety concerns have been addressed.
“How many more people have to die before Jason Kenney takes action?”
An additional 444 employees at the JBS meat plant in Brooks have tested positive for COVID-19 and the plant has never closed. The NDP Official Opposition reiterates its call to close that plant until worker concerns have been addressed as well.