The Trent-Severn Waterway is a national historic canal operated by Parks Canada. Located in Ontario, it covers more than 380 kms, has 44 locks and over 150 dams. And like other canals, this waterway is a popular destination for recreational boaters as well as land-based visitors.
In March 2020, members were called back to work to begin preparing for the canal’s re-opening. Unfortunately, with the arrival of COVID-19, Parks Canada decided to shut down operations. After two weeks, Parks Canada decided to reopen the site publicly. Despite being back at work, members at Local 00056 had serious concerns. They were not provided proper personal protection equipment (PPE), any training and there were no protocols related to the health and safety of either staff or the public.
One of the biggest areas of concern was the bathroom. It was a part of their jobs to clean the bathrooms however these are used by the public and canal workers were not provided any PPE or instructions about the public using the bathroom, the frequency of cleaning or anything else.
Another area of concern was shared equipment and space. Without any direction on how things should be sanitized, it was expected that all the ponchos and workspaces would continue to be shared amongst staff. As local president Nic Angers said
Parks Canada decided to open without any communications to staff; without protocols. They acted like the pandemic was not happening. My team and I…were worried for the health and safety of our family and friends. We have the only public bathroom in the area without any one to sanitize it.
The local discussed what to do and decided to file work refusals against Parks Canada with Labour Canada. In total, 14 sites along the Trent-Severn Waterway filed work refusals.
As a result of their actions, Parks Canada agreed to meet and develop health and safety protocols. As Nic said: “The staff put their ideas on the table and that played an important role in the new measures.’’ Likewise, staff were issued proper PPE, provided with training and new clear protocols were set to keep our members and the public safe.
By using the tools and resources available to them, Local 00056 took a stand and forced the employer to recognize the importance of health and safety. Nic summed the experience up by saying “It was a really good time for unity’’.