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News Brief: Report highlights urgent need for universal and permanent paid sick leave

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A new report, No Nova Scotian should have to work sick, by the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) makes an excellent case for what should be so obvious, that nobody in Nova Scotia should have to go to work sick, ever. 

Going to work sick is bad for you, it’s bad for the people who sit next to you on the bus, and it’s bad for your co-workers. It’s also incredibly mean-spirited to force people to go to work sick.

Yet, in Nova Scotia people had no paid sick day coverage except for a flawed federal program until the province put a temporary and insufficient program in place in May of this year, and it only happened after lots of public pressure. Later this week, on July 31, that program comes to an end. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.  For example, in Holland, where I am from, every worker, part time, full time, unionized or not, gets paid when sick as a matter of course, for as long as two years. That’s what strong unions and socialist presence throughout its history will do for a country. 

In contrast, in Nova Scotia, on July 31st we will be back to three unpaid sick days per year. That also implies that if you are sick beyond those three days (or you must take time off because of a sick child) you can be fired just like that!

The report, written by Rebecca Casey, Rachel K. Brickner, Jesse Carlson, Sarah Rudrum, and Jenn Munroe, provides detail around the kinds of Nova Scotia workers who are affected by this draconian rule, and how many of those there are.

In Nova Scotia 54% of workers do not have access to paid sick leave. That goes up to 67% for people who work fewer than 30 hours per week, and to 72% for non-permanent employees. 

Large or small companies are equally bad. Only 41% of large firms with 500 or more employees in Nova Scotia provide paid sick days. 

It does help if you are a full time employee, and unionized workers tend to do much better. But surprisingly, even there it’s not a given, only 64% of unionized workers in this province are fortunate enough to have access to paid sick leave.  

Of course the people who are paid the least, our heroes who kept things from falling apart during the pandemic, are also the people who have least access to paid sick days. Only 31% of people earning less than $25,000 per year are so fortunate, while 61% of those making more than $100k get paid sick days. 

The report contains more than statistics.

The report’s authors, all from Acadia University, studied work and health during COVID-19 through the experiences of grocery and retail workers, long-term care workers, and teachers in Nova Scotia. Lisa Cameron wrote about the important study here.

The intent of the study was to identify the ways in which labour has changed since the onset of the pandemic, and the consequences on the health and wellbeing of our essential workers. How access to paid sick days affected their working conditions was part of the study, and the results provide a more qualitative insight.

Among the groups retail workers had by far the least access to paid sick leave.   

Among retail workers without paid sick leave who participated in the study, 41% reported going to work when sick. Of these, 88% reported going to work when sick because they needed the money!

Permanent paid sick leave in Nova Scotia should be universal, adequate, accessible and employer-provided, the report’s authors argue.  

Why employer-provided?

Employers should not have the right to employ workers under conditions that compromise health and safety and then pass the costs off to the public. From a logistical perspective, when employers provide paid sick leave, it reduces the possibilities of gaps or delays in pay, which is particularly important for precarious workers and low-wage workers,” the report states.  

Meanwhile, here in Nova Scotia, come August 1st we will lose the little access to paid sick leave that was granted. Only the Nova Scotia NDP is proposing that paid sick leave become a permanent part of the provincial Labour Code. 

As if people will no longer get sick. As if Covid-19 is now a thing of the past. As if we learned nothing from the pandemic.

If you can afford it you should support the Nova Scotia CCPA. They do so much great work.

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

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