As we move through the COVID-19 pandemic, two issues have become obvious. First, to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is critical for families and individuals to stay home and self-isolate. Second, we must recognize the importance of healthcare workers and those we rely on for essential services — grocery clerks, pharmacy staff, women’s shelter support staff, cleaning staff, gas station workers, food production workers, and many others.
The New Brunswick Federation of Labour has requests to improve the situation of these workers.
The most effective and appropriate way to recognize their value is to modernize the Labour Standards Act. The province must ensure that all workers have access to paid sick leave, paid emergency days, a fair and decent wage, and should they contract the virus, a guarantee that they will automatically be entitled to workers’ compensation.
All workers should have access to five paid sick days and 10 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, it is time to introduce changes to workers’ compensation legislation. In certain job categories, such as a firefighter, some illnesses are presumed to be work-related and these workers do not have to wonder if their claims for compensation will be accepted. We are calling on the province to recognize that should any essential worker be sick with COVID-19, it should be presumed to be work-related.
Frankly, we believe the province needs to revisit its minimum wage provisions and commit to a path to $15 an hour over the next two years. The recent cash outlay from the federal government was clearly intended to improve the salaries of low-income essential workers. A single payout does not do justice to the work these essential workers provide.
Vulnerable workers in New Brunswick need your attention. If we have learned anything, it is that they have kept our people safe and healthy in many ways, 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.
The province must address the deplorable gender and income inequities that exist in our province.
Our Federation commits to working with you, in discussions with the federal government, on equality, universal pharmacare, and 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. We firmly believe that an economy that works for all people in New Brunswick is possible.
Premier Higgs and committee members, we appreciate all your work during this pandemic. It is now time for the province to make the necessary changes to better protect our working heroes. Even heroes need decent wages and working conditions. These workers had our back during the pandemic. It’s time to show them that we now have theirs!
Daniel Legere is President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour