Federal measures are welcome, but province also needs to take action
EDMONTON – If the UCP is serious about addressing COVID19, they also need to get serious about making it possible for Albertans to stay home from work when they’re sick.
And that means making sure all Albertans have access to paid sick leave – not just the lucky few.
That’s the message that the president of Alberta’s largest worker organization, the Alberta Federation of Labour, delivered to the Kenney government today.
“It’s not enough for the government to ask working Albertans to stay home if they’re worried they might have contracted COVID19,” says AFL president Gil McGowan. “If staying home means they’ll lose their jobs or their income, many working Albertans will decide they have no choice but to go to work even if they’re sick. Paid sick leave for all has always been the right thing to do. But, if we want to help stop or contain the spread of COVID19, it is now imperative.”
McGowan hand-delivered a letter outlining the AFL’s demand for mandatory paid sick leave for all Albertans to the Legislature office of provincial Labour Minister Jason Copping. In his letter McGowan pointed out that Albertans without employer-provided paid sick leave make up a very significant portion of the provincial labour force – in fact, he estimated more than half of working Albertans fall into this category.
“Many of these people are living paycheque-to-paycheque and simply cannot afford to go without pay for days, or perhaps even weeks, on end. And they certainly can’t afford to ‘do the right thing,’ if that could possibly mean losing their jobs.”
McGowan said the Kenney government should address the situation by immediately moving to introduce legislation that would give all working Albertans 14 paid sick days every year.
“This protection needs to be available to all workers – not only those who have been with their employers for prolonged periods of time,” continued McGowan. “It also needs to be made available to ‘gig’ workers whose employers have been allowed to side-step their obligations under law by classifying them as ‘independent contractors,’ as opposed to full-fledged employees.”
McGowan says the changes announced by the federal government today are very helpful and welcome. However, the Employment Insurance coverage that they point to is only available to workers who have been quarantined.
“It is not at all clear that workers who follow the advice of public health officials and “self-isolate” would fit that definition,” says McGowan. “It’s also important to note that even if workers qualify for this program, workers would receive only 55 percent of their employment income up to a maximum of $573/week. For many, that would not be enough to remove the disincentive to stay home. Clearly, the federal measures, while welcome, are not enough, but the provincial government needs to take action, as well.”
McGowan concluded his letter by pointing out that the World Health Organization has stated that “paid sick leave plays a crucial role especially in times of crises where many workers fear dismissal and discrimination when reporting sick.” They also found that, “gaps in paid sick leave result in severe impacts on public health.”
“Similar sentiments have been expressed by most public health authorities around the world, including here in Canada,” wrote McGowan. “One-off paid leave provisions to deal with COVID19 would be much better than nothing. But the better approach would be to embed paid sick leave provisions in legislation for the long term – so that working Albertans can always afford to do the right thing and so that we’re properly prepared for the next health emergency, whenever it comes.”
The AFL is the umbrella organization for most unions in the province, representing more than 175,000 working Albertans in both the public and private sector, including members of unions like the United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Steelworkers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.