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Halifax Labour Day rally demands 10 paid sick days for all workers, now more than ever

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Not quite a Labour Day march, but a rally earlier today in support of 10 paid sick days in Nova Scotia drew close to 100 people to downtown Halifax. 

The traditional Labour Day celebration and parade was cancelled because of COVID-19. 

Three unpaid sick days is all a non-unionized worker in Nova Scotia is entitled to. As the pandemic has made painfully clear, that not only makes life very difficult for workers, especially if a child or loved one falls sick, it also endangers entire families and communities as workers facing rent and grocery bills show up for work sick.

“How can we have any pride in a society that requires a person to choose between putting food on their table and taking care of their health,” asked Nan McFadgen, president of CUPE Nova Scotia.

“When your fridge is empty and your kids are hungry, you don’t have a lot of choice. We need to alleviate the worry and stress that people are experiencing. We need to support working people in this pandemic and the most impactful change would be to bring in 10 paid sick days,” McFadgen said.

Stacey Gomez of No One is Illegal – Halifax/K’jipuktuk spoke about migrant workers, migrant students and asylum seekers, often  forgotten but very much a presence here in Nova Scotia.

“All over the country, thousands of migrant workers have become sick with Covid-19 and already three have died. Asylum seekers have risked their lives working in long term care homes during the pandemic despite not having access to public health care themselves. This is what inequality looks like,” said Gomez. 

“ I work in high volume customer service, we touch all of your food,” said a grocery worker. “And we do that with very limited access to things like hand washing. Now, under those circumstances, one would hope that workers would be empowered to stay home when they’re sick. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is the case. Virtually all of us are part time, increasingly so.”

“In theory, you have three unpaid sick days a year, but the reality is, if you’re a part time worker with no guaranteed hours and you take your three sick days, see how many shifts you get the next month. So  10 paid sick days, backed by proper enforcement would make a huge difference,” they said.

A recent report by the Decent Work and Health Network points out that 58% of Canadian workers don’t have paid sick days at all. 

The working poor are suffering the most, 74% of workers earning less than $25,000 lack paid sick days. Politicians  like to call these workers essential and heroes when the camera is rolling, but look the other way when it comes to action. 

A disproportionate number of these workers are racialized.  Women not only disproportionately provide care, but they are more likely to report losing wages to care for others, including their children and families when they fall ill. 

The Federal government’s new temporary program, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), will allow workers who are sick or must self-isolate due to Covid-19 to receive $500 per week for a maximum of two weeks, if they have missed more than 60% of their scheduled work week. 

“This federal program requires you to miss half of your scheduled work week in order to qualify. So what does that look like when your kids’ teacher calls you and says that your kid has a runny nose and has to come home from school. What happens if you’re waiting for a test result and it takes less than half of your scheduled workweek for that to come back,” asked Mark Culligan, an organizer with the Halifax Workers Action Centre. “At best it’s a temporary solution to a permanent problem.”

Other speakers at the rally included elder Billy Lewis, NDP MLAs Gary Burrill and Kendra Coombes, long term care worker Laura Stewart, and Melissa Marsman, 3rd Vice President of the NSGEU.   

I didn’t see any councillors, MP’s or other MLAs in the crowd, but then again with masks it’s sometimes hard to tell.

The rally was organized by the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and the Halifax Workers Action Centre.

See also: If you want paid sick days you better join a union, says Premier McNeil

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