BCGEU members say they’ve won major victory for safe workplaces during COVID-19

AFTER weeks of surging COVID-19 case numbers, members of the B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union (BCGEU) said on Thursday they had won a major victory in their campaign to ensure safer workplaces across British Columbia.

“This is a huge victory that shows the power of workers standing together to demand safe workplaces,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president. 

Thursday’s announcement by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordering masks to be worn in indoor public and retail spaces comes just 10 days after the BCGEU, which represents more than 80,000 members including 30,000 in the public service, called on the B.C. Public Service Agency, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the Fraser Health Authority to protect workers with stronger policies on mask wearing and remote work.

BCGEU Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) officers, who monitor research on workplace safety, recommended mandating masks in communal workplaces across B.C. as well as supporting remote work for non-essential workers in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions.

“I’ve heard daily from BCGEU members who are concerned about returning to the office, and from members who work directly indoors with the public, such as our members in BC Liquor and Cannabis stores. They have experienced heightened stress, verbal abuse and, of course, fear of contracting COVID-19 – all while working hard to serve the public in the safest way possible. With this order, we now finally have the clear, consistent and official support to keep workers and the public safe in all inside public spaces,” said Smith.

“On behalf of our members, I want to thank the government for listening to workers, and Dr. Bonnie Henry for giving us the clarity and support we need in order to continue serving the public.”

The BCGEU also represents workers in the health and community social service sectors, as well as other sectors deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I want to express my compassion for all essential workers who have, and will continue to, show up in their workplaces every day through this pandemic. They are critical to our province’s response to COVID-19. My message to them is: Solidarity works, and our union is committed to pushing for all members health and safety. Safe workplaces are not negotiable. This is a tough time, and we’ll get through this together,” said Smith.