service ontario covid

Staff raise concerns about ServiceOntario location still open during COVID-19 crisis

While privately owned ServiceOntario and DriveTest centres across Ontario closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest location at 777 Bay Street in Toronto remains open for G1 testing and Foreign Driver's Licence exchanges. 

Just last week the Ministry of Health indefinitely extended all renewal periods for licence plates, driver's licence, health cards, and permits, to reduce the public need to come into ServiceOntario. 

Jane Smith, an Ontario Public Service employee, says that despite the extended renewal period, over 100 people have admitted to breaking quarantine to come to the Bay Street location and have waited in a crowded line for renewals.

Even an individual marked by OHIP head office as a "COVID-19 patient" made it through screening and came to the office, a couple of weeks ago, she says.

After continually coughing only feet away from other clients, Smith says the individual arrived at a colleague's counter with a medical note exempting him from having to come to any ServiceOntario and stating that he had a "respiratory disease" and was to "self-isolate for 14 days". 

The note was dated a few days ago from when the client returned to the country.

After Smith's colleague brought this up to the manager, they responded by asking the client if they had the virus. The individual responded that they had been officially cleared and the manager told the colleague to continue serving the still-visibly-sick client. 

At the time, there were no barriers at the desks or social distancing practices in place and workers were forced to interact and handle documents from the public.

"Nearly all screening interactions and customer transactions are conducted with one foot of distance between the employee and the client,” said Smith.

She also says there have been no masks or Lysol wipes available, as well as limited hand sanitizer at the location. Employees have been provided with gloves, but are scolded for taking more than a couple in a day.

Due to the unsafe working conditions, a number of employees at ServiceOntario locations across the province have refused to work and have filed claims against the workplace. 

In each instance, the Ministry of Labour deemed the ServiceOntario offices a safe place to work and ordered the employees to return to work immediately, after conducting over-the-phone investigations.

“The investigators stated that the Ministry of Labour will only consider a work refusal if the job-site has a confirmed positive case of the virus,” said Smith.

“They told employees that they appreciated the other concerns, but their primary objective was to find out if there was a confirmed case among staff at ServiceOntario locations.”

Smith says many ServiceOntario employees have already called in sick, and the total number of sick calls continue to grow daily due to the high risk of exposure, while others are too afraid of management to refuse work.

Jane Smith works at ServiceOntario. Her name is an alias to keep her identity confidential.

Lead photo by

Heather D. Writing by Olivia Little.

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