COVID-19 Cannot be Fought Without Paid Leave

On May 26th, the Prime Minister voiced his support for 10 days of paid sick leave for all workers. While this is clearly a step in the right direction, at the moment it is nothing more than lip service, as no details were given and the announcement was overshadowed by political parties vying for credit.    

The premise is simple – unpaid sick time is at all times negligible, but in times of a global pandemic it becomes downright deadly.

While the 10 days paid sick leave proposed by the Prime Minister is a starting point it should be noted that it is nowhere near enough for a worker who may fall ill with COVID-19 or may need to tend to a family member. Until this proposal is realized we are at the mercy of the current system.

Saskatchewan does not mandate paid sick time for workers, however, on March 19th the Saskatchewan government expanded labour laws to include a new public health emergency leave. Applied retroactively to March 6th, this leave is meant to provide job protection in the event a worker must self-isolate or has to care for a family member in similar circumstances.

Unfortunately, this leave is without pay. Job protection is great, when you can afford to use any of these new provisions.

Most households are just a paycheque away from not being able to meet regular bills. According to the MNP Consumer Debt Index there are fewer and fewer families that can cope with life-changing events because they are living from paycheque to paycheque.

A distinction needs to be made between our minimum wage and a living wage, which is a rate at which a household can meet its basic needs. With the cost of many goods increasing due to various pandemic-related forces and working hours reduced for a lot of people, meeting our basic needs has become doubly hard.

It’s safe to say that this pandemic is probably the most life-changing event of our generation and a lot of families do not have the financial cushion required to service it without government assistance. Unpaid leave to stay home and self-isolate when sick isn't helping! Workers need to put food on their table and pay their bills, and too many cannot do this with unpaid leave.

By not issuing paid sick leave it forces many workers to go to work when sick to financially survive. If the government truly wishes to prevent the spread of pandemic through this leave, we need to ensure it provide workers the means to survive while isolating.

The government of Saskatchewan claims paid sick leave is too complicated and it’s not something it is considering at this time.

Paid sick leave is not complicated. Alberta recently changed its labour laws to provide 14 days of paid leave for workers who self-isolate due to the novel coronavirus or who are caring for someone with COVID-19.

We demand paid sick leave be implemented immediately to cover the duration of any ordered self-isolation. For the province to successfully weather the pandemic, it must come to the realization that the economic stability of its citizens is essential to our recovery.

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