Dear Premier McNeil:
As we move through the COVID-19 Pandemic, two issues have become obvious: If we are to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus then we must ensure safety measures for our families, individuals and workers. We know a second wave is coming, so steps taken now are critical in minimizing a second wave. Continuing with social distancing and ensuring that workers have personal protective equipment in their workplaces is very important. A slow and methodical approach now as things open is also critical.
The second issue is that we now understand and recognize the importance of those who work in the health care field and those who we rely on for essential services be they grocery clerks, pharmacy staff, women’s shelter support staff, cleaning staff, gas station workers, food production workers, and more.
The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour is writing with straightforward requests. The most effective and appropriate way to recognize the value of the essential workers who have helped keep our economy moving and society safe is to modernize the Labour Standards Act.
The province needs to ensure that all workers have access to paid sick leave, paid emergency days, and be paid a fair and decent wage.
If workers contract the virus, they need a guarantee that they will automatically be entitled to workers’ compensation. All workers should have access to 7 paid sick days and 14 additional emergency days if required due to a health pandemic or other emergency situations. No worker should fear losing their job as a result of getting ill or having to take care of a family member.
In light of COVID-19, we believe It is time to introduce changes to The Workers’ Compensation Act. As you know in certain job categories, such as a firefighter, some illnesses are presumed to be work-related. These workers do not have to wonder whether their claims for compensation will be accepted. We are calling on the province to recognize that if any essential workers who become sick with COVID-19, it should be presumed to be work-related.
Frankly, we believe the province needs to re-visit its minimum wage provisions and commit to a path to $15 an hour over the coming 2 years. The recent cash outlay from the federal government was clearly intended to improve the salaries of low-income essential workers. All those workers need to be treated fairly and all must be included in programs being made available to front-line workers.
A single payout does not do justice to the work these essential workers provide. Vulnerable workers in our province need your attention. If we have learned anything, it is that they have kept our people safe and healthy in many ways and put themselves and their families at great risk. Our greatest thanks to them would be to ensure they have decent wages and benefits, and strong protection under our labour, and health and safety laws.
All workers deserve this and providing it during COVID 19 helps, but they all deserve that increase of wages and better job protection all the time. The province must address the deplorable gender and income inequities that exist in our province.
We have learned with COVID 19 that our seniors must be treated better. Increasing the hours of care and much more needs to be advanced in the future.
Our Federation commits to working with you in discussions as well as with the federal government on the above issues and other important initiatives like equality, universal pharmacare, and public childcare. We know you support these issues as we do, and that you understand the benefits to our economy and society by having these programs in place, and adequately funded with increased transfers by the federal government.
Premier McNeil, we firmly believe that an economy that works for all people in Nova Scotia is possible. I am sure the heroes on the front lines appreciate it when you say you have workers’ backs, and that the Nova Scotia Government is there for them. That needs to translate into making the necessary changes like those we have outlined in this letter. Doing so will prove to the workers who are looking to you, that their Government really does have their backs.
Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour
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