By CCU President Kelly Johnson
Last week, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, with over 182,000 cases currently being reported worldwide, including 424 in Canada – and these numbers are increasing every day.
Although the spread of this illness in Canada has been relatively low compared to other countries, the federal and provincial governments, the medical community and labour unions have taken immediate action to mobilize resources and raise awareness about how Canadians can better protect themselves.
We encourage CCU members and all Canadians to watch their health closely and engage in social distancing as much as possible over the coming weeks.
The facts from the medical community about this illness are very clear: common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, while muscle pain, chills and a sore throat are less common.
The infection is typically spread from one person to another via respiratory droplets produced during coughing and sneezing. Time from exposure to onset of symptoms is generally between two and 14 days, with an average of five days. Recommended measures to prevent infection include frequent hand washing, maintaining distance from others, and not touching one’s face.
There is additional information about COVID-19 on the Health Canada website (www.canada.ca/coronavirus), including updates, travel advice, prevention and risk, and how to better prepare and protect yourself.
Yet working people and wage earners throughout Canada face additional struggles. Entire industries affecting millions of workers are shutting down completely, and it is unknown when they will be in full operation again.
The CCU is calling on the federal government, provincial governments and all employers to implement policies that will protect workers and consumers not only from the illness, but from the effects of reduced work hours, high risk work and/or unemployment. These include:
- Provide paid sick leave for workers to cover quarantine periods already specified by the federal and provincial governments. And waiving any requirement for a doctor’s note to permit sick leave.
- Allow flexible work arrangements, including working from home, video and teleconferencing, ending non-essential travel, and postponing unnecessary meetings and events.
- Assist Indigenous communities throughout Canada which – even before the COVID-19 outbreak – already suffered from high levels of unemployment, and lacked decent housing, clean drinking water and other basic necessities.
- Work closely with health and safety committees in unions to provide accurate information about potential risks at work from COVID-19 and how to access additional benefits and support.
- Ensure full job protection for all workers, and safeguard them from any firings related to self-quarantining, recovering from infection, or needing to stay home to care for children or family members.
- Create an emergency fund to provide additional financial assistance to vulnerable populations, including precarious workers and those working in the “gig” economy, seniors, students, and those living in poverty.
- Increase the Canada Child Benefit paid to low and modest-income families.
- Cover workers not eligible for Employment Insurance.
- Lower the Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefit threshold, and increase support to 80% of weekly wages.
- Make additional government funds available to provide income relief for health care and other workers who may be ill or subject to any COVID-19 quarantines.
- Demand that banks, utilities landlords, credit card companies and other financial institutions to extend and relax rent, mortgage and bill payments, and any other responsibilities facing consumers.
- Immediately increase provincial health care budgets to meet the inevitable demand for COVID-19 assessment centres, community clinics and hospitals, and additional equipment for health care workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made an already difficult situation for low-wage and precarious workers even harder. At this time, working people and unions everywhere need to come together and help each other during this most challenging time.
We have all been through worse, and we will get trough this. It’s just going to take some time. But if we believe in the science and bravery of health care workers, do the right things and protect our rights as workers, it will be over sooner than we think. In the meantime, take care of yourself, and each other.
President, Confederation of Canadian Unions