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Danny Cavanagh: It’s time to put people over profit and give Nova Scotia workers paid sick days

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Nova Scotia legislature hasn’t sat at all in 2021, and only once and very briefly last year, from February 20th until it’s adjournment on March 10th 2020. Yep that’s less than 15 days. 

This shutting down of the house of assembly by the Liberals gave them essentially paid sick leave or a holiday in the pandemic’s name. Meanwhile, since March of last year, front line workers have been continually told to stay home if you’re sick, all without any offer of paid sick days provincially. Instead, they suggest that the Federal government program is the answer. It’s not, and it’s not fair for provincial elected leaders to make people think it is. 

Let me make a few points here: sick leave provisions are part of the province’s labour laws, not federal. People going to work sick isn’t helping anyone, including the businesses themselves. The risk that one person could infect other workers in a workplace is real. Not just in a pandemic but with any sickness. Just look at what’s happening in other provinces where COVID ran rapidly through workplaces where hundreds of workers became ill, and yes, some died. It’s real, folks, and the fact is, in most jurisdictions, the employer is responsible for keeping the workplace and its workers safe. I will leave this for another day, but criminal charges could be laid when workers die in an unsafe workplace.

When politicians tell workers to stay home if you’re sick, the first question is: will I get paid? Frankly, many just cannot afford to lose pay. It’s a good bet when the provincial Liberals decided to shut down their workplace that they didn’t need to worry about paid sick days. In contrast, most front-line workers are still not guaranteed a single paid sick day in Nova Scotia, which means that many cannot afford to stay home if they have symptoms or are sick. The Liberal government has done nothing to protect frontline workers without sick leave, and the federal program is broken, and many workers will have problems even getting it. 

Come on, folks, it’s 2020, and it’s time to put people over profit. The reality is to have sickness spread through workplaces and communities over the cost of a few sick days. Really? To suggest that workers can rely on the CRSB, give your head a shake. The Feds program is broken, insufficient and is not the same as guaranteed paid sick leave. Workers must apply for CRSB, which is troublesome because workers need to understand how to apply and then wait for the money. It’s even worse if they work part-time because they may not be entitled, and they could be without an income. Workers have to miss more than 50% of the workweek to qualify. That had to have made at least $5000 in the last year and cannot get it more than twice. Those who apply and qualify might have the money in five or so days if they have registered with CRA; if they are not registered, that wait turns into around ten or more days. 

The federal sick leave program needs to be changed so workers don’t find themselves in a financial mess because they followed orders from the government to stay home if you’re sick. The fact is, according to media reports, the CRSB benefit is down to 20,000 thousand in early January of 2021, last September, 67,000 workers took part. The change from CERB to the latter program wasn’t a positive move for workers who are or who get sick. Sick leave laws need to change at the provincial level, and it’s time we all get our heads out of the sand and catch up to the modern century. 

When governments tell people to stay home if you’re sick, they must have a program in place that makes paid sick leave compulsory, available and easy to get. Who could disagree that it’s time to put people over profit? Did I mention Long Term Care yet?

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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