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Aerosols | Minister Dubé’s inconsistency continues to jeopardize workers’ health

January 29, 2021

Montréal – Directives from Québec’s health and social services ministry (MSSS) are being roundly condemned by unions representing employees in the health and social services system. Speaking with a single voice, the presidents of the APTS, FIQ, FIQP, FSQ-CSQ, FSSS-CSN, FP-CSN, CUPE-Quebec and SQEES-FTQ point out that the Ministry is still refusing to provide employees working with patients carrying or suspected of carrying the COVID-19 virus with access to N95 masks – and this despite the fact that the INSPQ, Québec’s public health research institute, has now recognized (months after other public health organizations) that the virus is transmitted by aerosols.

“Publicly, Minister Christian Dubé keeps saying he’s worried about the physical and psychological health of employees in health and social services, but the reality is that his ministry’s directives are causing their level of anxiety to rise regarding their own safety and the safety of their loved ones,” said the union leaders. “The minister needs to show some consistency and call the MSSS to order. When employees are in contact with service users who are carrying or suspected of carrying COVID-19, the Ministry needs to authorize the use of the N95 mask.”

In a report published earlier this year, the INSPQ acknowledged that COVID-19 is transmitted by aerosols. However, the Institute completely disregarded the precautionary principle, and undermined prevention measures, in recommending the N95 mask only when dealing with an uncontrolled outbreak. Instead of following the INSPQ’s complex procedure and decision algorithm, the unions argue that employees should use their professional judgement to decide whether or not they need to wear the mask.

“What sense does it make to promote the use of protective equipment only when an outbreak is uncontrolled?” added the union representatives. “Do firefighters wait for a fire to be out of control before putting on their breathing gear? Does a soldier go to the front without a helmet? This has nothing to do with a lack of N95 masks – the minister has mentioned several times that there is no shortage. And in fact, the MSSS has just signed a mutual agreement contract to procure these masks at a cost of $330 million. What the MSSS is actually saying through its decisions is that our members’ health is the least of their concerns. This is appalling.”

Since the beginning of the health crisis, the government has asked for the unions’ collaboration in order to get through the pandemic. But this relationship seems to be a one-way street: whenever union representatives have tried to achieve any kind of improvement to their members’ working conditions in terms of health and safety, they have been met with a flat refusal.  “Minister Dubé has an opportunity to show that he really does care about the health and safety of people employed in the health and social services system,” said the union leaders. “He needs to show leadership and follow the precautionary principle to prevent and control infections. The INSPQ report is no excuse for inaction on his part.”