Ontario’s labour minister says new health-care workers shouldn’t be counted in the “essential” category

They made doors, gum and jerry cans. Ontario’s ‘essential’ workers in manufacturing accounted for more workplace COVID deaths than any other sector — even health care. This week, Ontario’s labour ministry announced more mandatory rest stops for truckers, and the Ontario government is introducing penalties for companies using workers who are not permitted to work from home — something the federal government has also been doing.

But on Thursday, Ontario’s labour minister said new health-care workers shouldn’t be counted in the “essential” category.

She said Ontario nurses, doctors and health-care “support services” workers must be allowed to telecommute “in exceptional circumstances.”

“In the workplace, we know we can’t use them as the primary care team,” she said. “That’s why we are trying to find other ways.”

Premier Doug Ford has defended his approach: “I will support the fact we have nurses, physicians, support services workers … all of us need to be able to get some relief at home.”

This isn’t the first time the provincial government has introduced a distinction between “essential” and non-essential workers. Earlier this month, it told school teachers and educational assistants not to come to work, and some municipalities have restricted or curtailed sick leave for home- or community-based workers.

As it stands, Ontario’s labour ministry oversees the rules for workers who work from home. The province has told them they must remain at home unless they fall ill, face death or imminent threat of death, and must be willing and able to work from home for a period of at least 14 days. Those rules are still in place for workers who aren’t home-based, although the rules for home-based workers have been “soft

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