Contact-tracing chaos in Alberta puts workers and families at risk
EDMONTON – The failure of contact tracing in Alberta means that the Government of Alberta should automatically declare that all front-line workers infected with COVID-19 have caught the virus at work, says the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).
“These workers are risking their lives to go to work, but if they get sick or if they die, this government might deny them and their families the help and benefits they desperately need if they can’t prove the infection came from the workplace,” says Susan Slade, vice-president of AUPE, which represents more than 90,000 members.
“Earlier this month, after an outbreak at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre, AUPE member and correctional officer Roger Maxwell died from COVID-19, but it has not yet been categorized it as a workplace death,” says Slade.
“There has been a significant outbreak of dozens of cases at the facility, so we think the workplace is the most likely source of the infection and hope that the investigation by the Workers’ Compensation Board and Occupational Health and Safety officers will rule Mr. Maxwell’s death a workplace death so his family can receive benefits,” she says.
“With the government having admitted its contact-tracing system collapsed, it may not be possible in all cases to prove the source of infection for front-line workers who get infected with COVID-19. That is not the fault of front-line heroes who get sick. They and their families should not have to fight for the help they deserve.”
AUPE is writing to Labour Minister Jason Copping to ask the government to include in the presumptive clause of the Workers’ Compensation Act the immediate recognition and acceptance that workers who acquire the virus caught it at work. The legislation must also be made current by identifying and including COVID-19 in the definition of Occupational Disease in the regulations of the Workers’ Compensation Act, so they can receive coverage from the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB).
Doing so will mean the government cannot deny those workers the help and support they need because failed contact tracing in Alberta has made it impossible for them to prove the source of their infection.
If they die, the government should automatically categorize their deaths as workplace deaths, which bring WCB fatality benefits to their families.
The government should continue to investigate all deaths thoroughly, with particular attention to the environmental conditions of their work during the pandemic, including the availability of PPE, to prevent future incidents.
AUPE also wants the government to amend the Heroes’ Compensation Act so that all front-line workers who die as a result of COVID-19 can access this benefit. Under the act, when a worker dies as a result of an accident, the WCB makes a lump-sum payment of $100,000 to the dependents of the worker. The union believes that Albertans will enthusiastically support granting this benefit to the families of workers who die from COVID-19.
“This government has called these workers heroes. It’s time to prove that these are more than hollow words,” says Slade.
The union says the government must backdate all of these changes to the beginning of the pandemic and apply them to all front-line workers in the private and public sectors, including health care, government services, education, retail and transportation.
“This government should not inflict further suffering on sick workers and families in mourning by forcing them to try to prove the source of their infection when the government’s failure has made that impossible in many cases. We have seen that the effects of COVID-19 can last for months and may cause permanent health issues. Workers who get infected need and deserve the long-term support that WCB provides.”
NOTE: The family of Roger Maxwell is still dealing with the loss of a loved family member. We ask that the media respect the family’s privacy and not contact them at this time.
AUPE vice-president Susan Slade is available for interviews.
Please contact Terry Inigo-Jones, communications officer, 403-831-4394 or firstname.lastname@example.org