The lockdowns needed to combat COVID-19 have been costly and difficult for many people across Newfoundland and Labrador.
We’ve stayed away from relatives – older ones who need our help, younger ones reaching milestones we’ve missed – to contain COVID-19. Businesses have shut. Workers have been on furlough or laid off.
We can’t let all this hard work and sacrifice go to waste.
With new and much more transmissible variants gaining a foothold in Canada, the new government elected needs to make sure we have every precaution in place to make sure this pandemic never takes a strong hold in Newfoundland and Labrador.
A big part of that is paid sick days. Unifor is calling for two weeks of paid sick days for every worker during the pandemic, and seven days after that. We currently have seven unpaid sick days, but that’s not nearly good enough. Not in the midst of a pandemic, or after.
Keeping the virus in check will mean doing everything we can to stop its transmission wherever an outbreak occurs. With NL now seeing a spike of cases, in the double digits, we have to do more.
One of the best ways to combat the spread is for workers to stay home when they’re sick. A worker who needs to go to work every day just to pay the bills is less likely to stay home if that means losing the wages for any days they stay home. They can’t afford it. By going to work, however, they risk spreading the virus.
Only guaranteed paid sick days can help ensure such workers stay home and limit that spread. Because of the 14-day incubation period for COVID-19, that needs to be two-weeks’ worth of paid sick days until the pandemic is declared over.
No worker should have to choose between paying the rent and risking getting their co-workers sick. This is a deadly disease.
Employers have shown little appetite to provide paid sick days on their own – so we need to legislate it.
This is not just a labour rights issue. It’s a public health issue, which is why business groups across Canada have begun to come out in favour of paid sick days, particularly in harder-hit provinces.
Those business recognize that it’s the right thing to do from a public health standpoint and to keep their own workers healthy, but also know that few businesses want to go first.
We know our adherence to social distancing and bubbles have kept infections low in Newfoundland and Labrador. But with new super-spreading variants, paid sick days are quickly becoming seen as vital.
The new government elected needs to recognize that.
Workers have stood strong in this pandemic, some even being called COVID heroes and yet some employers, such as the Loblaws chain that runs Dominion stores, fight tooth and nail against paid sick days.
The current Liberal government hasn’t committed to paid sick days and will not even commit to raising the minimum wages to appropriate levels, which is also desperately needed.
Workers have lost a lot of income over the past year or so of this pandemic, and businesses have lost sales. Increasing the minimum wage will help both workers and businesses. Workers will have more money to spend, and their increased spending will help business rebuild.
We have seen in other provinces what happens when this pandemic gets out of control. We need to do all we can – including offering paid sick days – to make sure all our hard work has not been wasted.
This op-ed was published in the St.-John's Telegram, February 17, 2021.