Paid sick leave essential to reducing the spread of COVID-19

Lori Johb, President, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour

It’s a message we’ve been hearing for months: Stay at home if you are sick.

As cases of COVID-19 across the province continue to skyrocket, the ability for workers to stay at home if they are feeling ill is vital towards stopping the spread of the virus. Unfortunately for many workers in Saskatchewan, making the decision to stay home comes with significant financial consequences.

Fewer than half of workers in Canada have access to paid sick leave. Many of those workers are front line heroes—working every day to provide essentials in our grocery stores, gas stations and other retail jobs that often pay at or just above minimum wage. If they get sick, staying home means not being able to pay rent, put food on the table, or fill their car with gas. Faced with no other options, a worker without access to paid sick leave might decide that they simply can’t afford to miss work. This creates an occupational health and safety hazard for workers and puts everyone, including the public, at a greater risk of exposure to the virus.

Workers also find themselves with few options if they end up contracting COVID-19 or are exposed to the virus and ordered to self-isolate. The provincial government has passed legislation allowing for two weeks of unpaid sick time and there are some federal benefits workers can access, but both are inadequate. A lengthy illness or isolation order would be financially devastating for workers who are unable to access paid sick time through their employer.

Premier Moe has said that his government will do everything it can to avoid another lockdown. Growing case numbers have put that into question, and nurses and health care professionals are calling for a short “circuit breaker” lockdown to stop the spread of the virus. However, even if a second lock down does occur, COVID-19 is still not going away.  Having access to paid sick leave now will help to stop the spread of the virus in the future as we wait for a vaccine to come available.

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour has been calling for paid sick leave for months. Unfortunately,  the call has gone ignored by the Sask. Party government. Workers deserve better. They shouldn’t be forced to have to make the choice to either go to work sick or miss their pay cheque. It’s time for our government to step up and guarantees paid sick leave for all workers. Our health and safety depends on it.

Saskatchewan's Labour Movement: the folks who brought you the constitutional right to strike!