Thursday, May 6, 2021

India’s deadly wave of COVID-19 - Urgent action required by Canada at the WTO to support global access to vital vaccines

In October 2020, India and South Africa made a joint proposal to temporarily waive certain obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until the COVID-19 emergency is over. Since that proposal was submitted some six months ago Canada, along with a handful of other wealthy nations, has continually obstructed this waiver at subsequent WTO TRIPS Council meetings. If the joint proposal had been acted on earlier India could have ramped up its domestic vaccination production by now. Instead, India currently finds itself with stratospheric infection rates that are collapsing medical systems and leaving families with the horror of loved ones dying unattended. WTO Council also please note - Africa could be next.

The passage of this waiver would mean WTO member states would not have to grant or enforce patents and other intellectual property rights covering COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and other technologies such as masks and ventilators. The next regular WTO TRIPS Council meeting is scheduled for June 8-9, but the world, and especially India, cannot wait that long for a patent waiver proposal to be addressed and passed.

In early March 2021 some thirty Canadian organizations signed a letter calling on the federal government to support the waiver proposal (which was by then being co-sponsored by 57 WTO members) at the March 10 WTO TRIPS Council meeting. The Chair of the TRIPS Council, Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter (South Africa) opened that day’s deliberations on the waiver with the following warning. “The world is in desperate need of solutions. It can not be business as usual. People are dying as we speak.” Canada did not get the message.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization is calling on member states, including Canada, to support the waiver. However, as it stands now, vaccine technology and knowledge are being treated as private property by pharmaceutical corporations, despite much of this research being paid for by over $100 billions of taxpayersmoney. With communities across the world facing catastrophic scenarios such as India’s, its business as usual for pharmaceutical corporations. With their WTO-protected exclusive rights and monopolies, pharmaceutical companies are able to charge higher prices and inhibit the generic competition demonstrated time and again as key to bringing and keeping prices down for low- and middle-income countries.

While Canada has ordered enough doses of the available vaccines to inoculate its population many times over, some estimates say that vaccines will not become available to a fifth of the world until 2022 and beyond. Passing this temporary waiver proposal at the WTO would help break down barriers to scaling up the manufacture and supply of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines across the world. Notably, a successful waiver could also serve to free up several members of Canada’s small to medium sized Bio Pharma firms to begin producing tens of millions of doses at an affordable cost to be exported poorer nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe global health and economic crisis in generations. In Canada and around the world the virus has disproportionately impacted women, migrant and lower-wage workers, racialized and other marginalized groups. Millions of lives have already been lost to this virus. Canada must be part of the global effort to save lives—not present  obstacles. We call on the Canadian government to immediately request an emergency meeting of the WTO TRIPS Council, and for Canada to vote in favour of the vaccine waiver at that meeting.


Kathy Toivanen- Chair of Amnesty International-Northumberland

Rick Arnold - Trade Group Chair - Northumberland Chapter of the Council of Canadians

Derek Blackadder - Co-Chair of the Northumberland Coalition for Social Justice

Kim Goebel - Secretary for the Northumberland Coalition Against Poverty


Contact person for this Op Ed:

Rick Arnold, 784 Packer Road, Roseneath, ON. K0K 2X0 - 905-352-2430

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Statement from workers in Toronto’s travel, hospitality, and transportation sectors

March 17, 2020

Our economy is built upon mobility. We all move short and long distances every day in an interconnected global economic system.  The COVID-19 pandemic will affect all working people and the impact on travel, hospitality and transportation workers will be significant. These are the workers in hotels, airlines, airports, and public transit that literally keep the economy moving.  As those representing travel, hospitality and transportation workers in Toronto, we ask the following of government and employers as we manage the pandemic.

1. Health and Safety First. As workers providing services and interacting directly with the public, every precaution must be taken to limit the spread of COVID-19. To maintain the health of workers and the public, we must make travel and transit safe.  On March 15, 2020 a Canada Border Services Agency officer was tested positive.  These workers are on the front-line of screening travellers.

While it is crucial to maintain services, expanding the right to refuse unsafe work, must be an option to keep workers and the public safe. For example, if employers are unable to provide bus drivers or other workers with masks, those workers must not be sanctioned for refusing to work.

Properly trained workers must be allowed to clean and be provided with proper chemicals and equipment. Specifically, room attendants must be allowed to clean rooms daily. This means suspending ‘green choice’ programs in hotels that give guests the option of not having their rooms cleaned for loyalty points or other incentives. At the same time, flight attendants are not trained to clean during a pandemic and should not be expected to provide extra cleaning duties. Resources must be directed to extra cleaning by airlines, airports, hotels and public transit agencies. Further, these practices must continue in the future in order to enhance service and prevent future pandemics.

2. Childcare. Our sectors employ tens of thousands of workers with childcare responsibilities. We ask that these workers, mostly women in some workplaces, be accommodated to care for children over the next three weeks as schools in Ontario close. Parental hardship needs to be recognized by employers as a valid reason for an employee being unable to work.  We also renew our demands to build daycare facilities closer to places of work. Airport workers have demanded daycare facilities at Pearson for years.  

3. Income Supports. Workers in travel, hospitality and transportation will be greatly affected as demand for mobility decreases throughout the pandemic. We encourage governments and travel, hospitality and transportation employers to work with unions to explore work sharing programs and voluntary layoffs that maintain benefits for workers.  The most important assistance the government can give right now is to ensure all affected workers will have their wages guaranteed. Tax cuts are less effective than reimbursement to employers who avert layoffs and invest in training.

4. Retention and Retraining.  The COVID-19 pandemic will end, and the economy will recover. Again, we encourage government and employers to work with us to plan the future in the present. This means developing a layoff aversion strategy that provides opportunities for workers to upgrade their skills and retrain during the downturn. Programs that subsidize precarious workers to upgrade their skills to fill in-demand positions during the recovery will yield long term benefits. Such programs can range from basic computer skills and language training to more technical training and certification to operate new equipment.  Travel and transportation are growth areas of the economy and we must invest in and retain workers now to avoid long-term losses of skilled people.

How we work together today will determine how we build for tomorrow.

For more information, please contact:

Mandie Abrams
Executive Director, Hospitality Workers Training Centre,
Phone: (437) 779 9307

Steven Tufts
Spokesperson, Toronto Airport Workers’ Council,
Phone: (416) 918 2074

John Di Nino,
President, ATU Canada,
Phone: (416) 938 0745

Sunday, March 3, 2019