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"The fastest way to stop the spread is to send people home," construction worker says

Construction workers are in danger

March 22, 2020

In this pandemic employers and the BC provincial government are prioritizing profits over people. The BC Building Trades Council has exposed the consequences of government inaction in the face of the pandemic on job sites around the province.

Last week, the BC Building Trades Council issued a public call for construction workers to share their current working conditions amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Since then, the council has been deluged with emails and phone calls from workers in every aspect of the sector: union, non-union, residential, industrial, commercial and institutional.

Construction workers say they do not have access to adequate washroom facilities, running water, soap or hand sanitizer. Workers are telling the B.C. Building Trades that they continue to share tools and work together in small spaces that do not allow them to abide the recommendations for social-distancing from the provincial health officer. A construction worker building, "a 30-floor luxury tower," reports that,  "One of the jiffy johns has hand sanitizer, one. 100+\- workers are sharing a new sink. Anyone working in the tower crams in to 1 of 2 elevators after calling for it on the communal walkie talkie outside of it. Things are not up to standard here, there are sick people on site. There are workers on site whose partners work in health care and have been told to quarantine……Please call WCB and get non-essential worksites shut down on our behalf."

One worker reported, “Our whole industry is already accustomed to working sick because previously we would lose our jobs if we stopped working and while that is not the case anymore it's kind of a moot point when we can't afford to survive off the fraction of our income that Employment Insurance pays.”

But on another site, the BC Building Trades received a report that, “Our jobs have also been threatened if we choose to leave. The hallways and stairwells are only 1 metre wide so how can people maintain a safe distance from each other? Many people have been sent home to quarantine but were not tested because they didn’t meet the criteria. This needs to come to a halt, it is endangering our families, ourselves and our community.” Another worker reported, "I don't want to keep working and I don't think that any of us should be, but what can we do because if we quit we won't be covered by EI so until we are laid off we have no choice but to continue working."

Workers also report working alongside other workers who are visibly sick, “We have had no hand sanitizer, no provisions for hand washing, and no safety talks about hygiene and the pandemic. People are sneezing and coughing and obviously sick and are not being asked to go home and are still working.”

No enforcement

All of which goes against current WorkSafeBC regulations, but there has never been real enforcement of sanitary regulations on construction sites, and the provincial government refuses to do anything now. Andrew Mercier, executive director of the B.C. Building Trades calls on construction workers to contact him. “It doesn’t matter if you are union or non-union. If this is a problem on your work site, it is unacceptable. Tell us and we will continue to pressure WorkSafe to act. Health directives are helpful, but we need action.”

Some workers are taking action. The Oak Bay News interviewed Robyn Hacking, a red seal journeyman fire sprinkler fitter, “People can use hand sanitizer and what not, but we all touch the same surfaces. Nothing is being done to clean surfaces, hand railings, common areas,” she said. Even during the Pandemic, “It’s been accepted that we work in filthy conditions and so it’s been business as usual,” she said. “It concerns me greatly.” Hacking organized her fellow workers to walk off the job last Thursday. As she explained, “Everybody is concerned about this week’s pay and the contractors are concerned about project deadlines and economic pressure but what I think is being lost here, is if this work force gets sick, there will be no progress. We need to look after this now and flatten this curve.”

Mercier has a similar message, “This situation could last months. In that time, the work of tradespeople will be critical. Tradespeople build and maintain roads, civil infrastructure, hospitals and grocery stores. We need to find safe ways to work so that we can keep the lights on and keep critical services running.”

In this pandemic workers only get safe working conditions when they walk off the job or threaten to. We can’t let our employers and their representatives in the provincial and federal governments sacrifice our health, and our lives, for their profit. If your work site isn’t safe, don’t work until it is.

Below we reproduce the situation in workers’ own words as reported to the BC Building Trades.

I’m working on a 30-floor luxury tower. One of the jiffy johns has hand sanitizer, one. 100+\- workers are sharing a new sink. Anyone working in the tower crams in to 1 of 2 elevators after calling for it on the communal walkie talkie outside of it. Things are not up to standard here, there are sick people on site. There are workers on site whose partners work in health care and have been told to quarantine……Please call WCB and get non-essential worksites shut down on our behalf.


I am reporting unsanitary job site conditions. We have had no hand sanitizer, no provisions for hand washing, and no safety talks about hygiene and the pandemic. People are sneezing and coughing and obviously sick and are not being asking to go home and are still working. I became sick with flu-like symptoms and I have reason to believe I may have picked up the flu or COVID-19 on said job sites. The reason I was allowed to stay home was because my doctor recommended I self-isolate. I have been working on a new home construction project in the Okanagan.


Our whole industry is already accustomed to working sick because previously we would lose our jobs if we stopped working and while that is not the case anymore it's kind of a moot point when we can't afford to survive off the fraction of our income that Employment Insurance pays.


I don't want to keep working and I don't think that any of us should be but what can we do because if we quit we won't be covered by EI so until we are laid off we have no choice but to continue working.


The fact no one is shutting these sites down right now is unreal... well over 200 people sharing this one water hose... no hot water. No hand sanitizer, and 5-6 bathrooms for the whole site. Single access ways with everyone travelling the same routes daily. 60% takes public transit here. This is an outrage at so many levels. These people have families that rely on them to be healthy. This is complete insanity. Every one of us feels like we don’t matter at this point.


After being on site this morning I was somewhat disturbed by the wash stations suppled for the workers on site. Considering the situation we are in. I myself do not believe the wash stations are efficient. Most wash stations are 25’ plus from toilets and are garden type shut off’s with cold water.


I'm currently working on a construction site where we have over 120 people onsite.

Our porta potties are limited and we have no hand sanitizer in some, with everyone sweating and wiping their faces constantly. Is it safe to be there? What are the legal conditions for construction sites right now with no hot water and limited sanitizer? Also our site someone was reported to of gotten corona virus and his work colleagues are all off for 2 weeks, we shut down for 2 days but are back open, we were told things got cleaned but it looks the same as it did last week.


I'm on a commercial construction site with over 50 people and we are all quite concerned. Most of us are more concerned about the virus and some of us are more concerned about our jobs. But to some extent we are all concerned about both We can't always maintain social isolation while we work and have to share many tools and we don't have adequate sanitation facilities. The portable bathrooms that are serviced once a week are running out of hand sanitizer after a few days. Mobile hand washing stations are on backorder and unavailable to most sites. There is one hand washing station for all of us and it is a cold water hand crank garden hose that I had to tie a piece of wood to to operate with my elbow.


Our jobs have also been threatened if we choose to leave. The hallways and stairwells are only 1 metre wide so how can people maintain a safe distance from each other? Many people have been sent home to quarantine but were not tested because they didn’t meet the criteria. This needs to come to a halt, it is endangering our families, ourselves and our community.


There have been workers in contact with someone who is carrying the virus. <Name redacted> has employees at risk. They sent those workers home to self quarantine, however everyone else was left to continue working. Now everyone is at risk. The fastest way to stop the spread is to send people home.


I work at <Name redacted>. There are hundreds of workers. Many take the bus. We don't have running water to wash our hands. Our company, tried to order hand sani but are in back order. On <Name redacted> office trailer door it says not to come in due to COVID-19. Who cares about workers though, right?

 

 

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