Keeping employees at work when they test positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms | Risk management approach likely to harm vulnerable people, as well as professionals and technicians
December 28, 2021
Longueuil – The APTS (Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux) is deeply concerned about the Legault government’s decision to keep employees at work when they test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic. The union believes this announcement contradicts messages on the importance of self-isolating that health and social services minister Christian Dubé has been hammering home since the beginning of the pandemic. It also risks creating an unhealthy environment of suspicion between workers, leading to an exodus of employees who want to avoid contaminating their coworkers or, worse, their loved ones.
“We understand Minister Dubé’s dilemma,” says APTS president Robert Comeau. “Still, we can’t support a decision that endangers the health and safety not only of our members, but of vulnerable people who receive essential care and services from them. Almost all of our members are in direct contact with the public, and it’s often impossible for them to maintain enough physical distancing to avoid infecting service users. This is only going to increase the spread of the virus.”
Ever since the first wave, the APTS has been offering to help look for ways of improving the organization of work in order to stop the proliferation of work overload situations. If that could be achieved, employee retention would improve and people with COVID-19 wouldn’t be required to show up for work. Minister Dubé claims that asymptomatic workers will have access to the necessary PPE and will be concentrated in the same facilities to avoid infecting their colleagues. In real life, however, this system can’t apply to professionals and technicians.
“Dubé’s measures might work on paper, but they won’t hold up in practice,” says Comeau. “You can’t just move an MRI machine, a CT scanner or a device that handles large numbers of PCR tests used to identify people with COVID-19. Nor can you isolate a youth worker who’s in charge of a group of kids in a youth centre, given the current labour shortage in that environment. If Dubé wants workable solutions, he needs to talk to union reps before announcing measures like these. He shouldn’t be presenting them with a fait accompli.”
No matter what measures the government takes to mitigate the effects of asymptomatic employees on people receiving health and social services, the APTS is insisting that pregnant employees must be removed from any setting where they might get COVID-19, including home care settings, and must not be forced to work with asymptomatic colleagues.
“Are we really going to do this again – fight managers in institutions to make sure pregnant women don’t come into contact with infected or potentially contagious people?” says Robert Comeau. “We need an unambiguous ministerial directive: take pregnant women out of the field. If they can’t work remotely or perform tasks that don’t require physical contact with service users or asymptomatic coworkers, they must be put on protective leave.”
The APTS (Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux) represents a total of 60,000 members who play a key role in ensuring that health and social services institutions run smoothly. Our members provide a wide range of services for the population as a whole, including diagnostic, rehabilitation, nutrition, psychosocial intervention, clinical support, and prevention services.