Our members are the front line of this pandemic, and though the employer has made some efforts to provide protective equipment, they have fallen short. We are only just now being provided a standard N95 mask and are hearing multiple reports of it not fitting or giving a proper seal. It is surely too little too late for many of our members and the passengers onboard. We will continue to press for more protections such as face shields, long sleeve surgical gowns and ensuring that there is sufficient sanitizer and other necessary supplies. We will also persist in seeking other ways to ensure social distancing is possible onboard.
A powerful measure to protect ourselves is to practice social (or physical) distancing. Other air carriers are trying to address this obvious dilemma by trying to put distances between passengers onboard aircraft, including restricting seats. We have seen no such attempts by our employer.
In an earlier conversation we spoke with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in very plain terms about these facts. The guidance of the PHAC is relied on by other federal government agencies as a guide in crafting policies and guidance. Throughout this pandemic, we have been asked where the health guidance for flight attendants is. Put simply, it does not yet exist. This is why you see the company referring to the CDC or the FAA, both US agencies. We need Canadian guidance. Guidance that allows us to participate and to represent you.
The data is very clear that our members are working in conditions that are very high risk. Some of you may have seen the recent New York Times piece outlining this, based on government data. We will be impressing upon the PHAC the fact that social distancing onboard aircraft should be implemented and that each and every one of our members must be self-isolating for 14 days upon return from their flying duties outside of Canada, without penalty.
The facts do not lie, and we strongly believe that the health and well-being of our members and society at large will be protected further by putting these measures into place. At all times, we encourage you to remember your rights as workers. Reporting is a crucial part of exercising these rights and we urge you to consult our recent bulletin on this point. You may also want to consult CUPE’s guide on the right to refuse dangerous work. We believe that if you are armed with knowledge and a clear understanding of your rights that you will be able to make decisions regarding your health in meaningful ways. Most of all keep in mind that we will continue to be strong advocates for you.
The PHAC, in collaboration with Canadian public health experts has developed guidance for federal/provincial/territorial public health authorities on the use of public health measures to reduce and delay transmission of COVID-19 in the community.
The PHAC also keeps track of data which informs us all of how the virus is being transmitted and through what means. The “Probable exposure setting” indicates that the majority of cases were exposed outside of Canada or exposed to a traveller returning to Canada.”
In addition to this Canada has invoked the Quarantine Act which came into effect midnight last night. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/q-1.1/page-1.html Canada’s federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said “Effective at midnight tonight, travelers returning to Canada, with the exception of essential workers, will be subject to a mandatory 14-day isolation under the Quarantine Act. This new measure will provide the clarity for those re-entering the country about the essential need to self-isolate.”
As you are likely aware the PHAC has stated that due to our occupation which includes the movement of people, we are exempt from the 14-day isolation period.
They have stated:
The continued global movement of goods and people and the ongoing delivery of essential services will be important for Canada’s response to COVID-19.
Consequently, an exemption to the request to self-isolate for 14 days should be provided to workers who are essential to the movement of goods and people. For example, this exemption would apply to:
- healthy workers in the trade and transportation sector who are important for the movement of goods and people across the border, such as truck drivers and crew on any plane, train or marine vessel crossing the border
Workers in these sectors should:
- practise social distancing (maintain a distance of 2 metres from others)
- closely self-monitor
- self-isolate should they exhibit any symptoms
It is recommended that employers in these sectors conduct active daily monitoring of their staff for COVID-19 symptoms (checking for cough, fever or shortness of breath).
We cannot stay silent about the fact that this exemption is affecting our members the most of any of the groups named above. We are the ones who are directly exposed to travellers who are either exhibiting signs of COVID-19 or have potentially travelled in an area where there was an outbreak or simply was outside of the country. The airport screening efforts are not sufficient as they cannot possibly identify those that are asymptomatic carriers.
In some cases, we spend hours at a time confined with these travellers. This puts us in the most vulnerable position. We recommend that you put your health and safety first. We will do our part and continue to fight to ensure that government agencies do the same.