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