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. So what do the numbers say about Canada’s ‘essential’ workforce? And what’s up with the federal government’s apparent neglect of frontline workers?
In the last three weeks, Ontario has lost 34 workers to COVID-19. The most recent reported death was on March 14. The province and federal governments have responded by increasing the number of personal protective equipment (PPE) they are distributing to essential workers.
It’s not unprecedented for the government to make ‘essential workers’ recipients of PPE. It’s just a tactic to ‘mobilize’ workers to ramp up when essential workers start to be overwhelmed. If that is what the government’s doing, then they are absolutely right.
For example, during World War II, the government recruited workers in the construction and mining industries to help support the war effort. The government didn’t want the country to be dependent on war industries, so they recruited workers in these industries in order to have them available for whatever the government needed them for.
So, no, in the last three weeks, the government really hasn’t been ignoring their own ‘essential worker’ problem. Instead, they are trying to mobilize them. And what they have done is to use them as a pawn in a political game.
The essential worker problem
The numbers that we’ve been highlighting are particularly striking for two reasons.
First, there are three major sectors to consider. There’s agriculture, forestry and manufacturing, and together they account for 43 per cent of Ontario’s workforce.
Second, almost all the deaths in the past three weeks have happened in manufacturing, and manufacturing has the biggest workplace death problem. There’s also been one death in the past week in the forestry industry; but for the past month there have been zero deaths among employees in forestry.
The other major sectors are transportation, wholesale and retail, and health care. According to the government’s statistics, only 12 people have died in these last three weeks.
For government-industry relations, the reason