Posted on Nov 17, 2020
PREMIER MUST STOP FORCING HEALTH CARE WORKERS TO TAKE UNPAID LEAVE WHEN SICK OR ISOLATING
EDMONTON - After learning that some health care workers who are sick or must isolate are being forced to take leave without pay, Alberta’s NDP and representatives for healthcare workers are calling for Premier Jason Kenney to follow through on his commitment and introduce sustained sick pay.
The new federal sick pay program, formally called the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, does provide eligible recipients with $450 per week after taxes, but it only can only to cover two weeks of leave from work.
“We can’t ask people to choose between paying their bills and obeying public health orders,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley. “The federal paid sick leave only lasts for 10 days and it does not apply to people working in hospitals who come into close contact with a patient positive for COVID-19.”
“Particularly, for the people in our hospitals who are putting themselves in the line of fire of a deadly virus. The very least we can do is make sure front line health care workers can pay their rent and put food on the table.”
On November 6th, Jason Kenney said “it is concerning to see over 10 per cent of cases traceable to people who have had COVID symptoms and have gone out into the public, gone to work, and gone to socialize."
Alberta is only one of three Canadian provinces not currently providing some form of isolation wage support for physicians, despite the Premier claiming in March, as the first wave of COVID-19 put pressure on hospitals, that he would bring in such a program.
On July 6, Alberta Health Services revoked special paid leave, which provided Alberta nurses with paid leave on top of their collective bargaining agreement. Since then, many nurses have relied on their sick days and other bank days to cover their required isolations.
“The provincial government needs to reinstate the special paid leave,” said NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “We cannot force our nurses and other frontline healthcare workers to sacrifice their banked days off to maintain their income while in isolation.”
Jason Kenney reneged on an early promise to provide paid sick leave. In a Canadian Press article published by the Toronto Star on March 12 called “Alberta Provides Paid Job-Protected Leave in Self-Isolation Tied to Coronavirus,” the Premier said, “our priority is public safety and health, and we will make sure that no one has to choose between work and doing what is necessary to protect public health.
“We don’t want Albertans impacted by COVID-19 to feel that they must go to work to sustain their income so they can pay their bills and take care of their families. This obviously would raise the risk of spreading the virus to co-workers and clients.”
Mike Parker, President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said the health-care professionals he represents are being penalized for staying home when they've been exposed to COVID-19.
“We’re being told that when our members are being forced to stay home when they've been in close contact that they have to drain their sick banks, even when they're not sick,” Parker said. “These health-care professionals are putting themselves at the very front of the fight against COVID-19 and we have an employer and government that is counting dollars and cents, rather than focusing on the health of Albertans.
"We're hearing that there is federal money that is available to help health-care workers, but none of that seems to have reached them personally," Parker added.
NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray said she’s heard from many frontline healthcare workers who have been forced into isolation due to being in close contact with people who have COVID-19. Workers who are considered casual don’t qualify for sick pay at all, she noted.
“The federal program does part of what Jason Kenney failed to do; however, it’s not enough,” said NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “We need to show the people putting themselves at risk in hospitals that we support them and we stand behind the amazing work they’re doing each and every day.”