When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, advocates say the need for paid sick days became especially apparent as people were told to stay home when sick, and self-isolation became a part of day-to-day vocabulary.
“Minimum wage workers, front-line workers, we deal with the public all the time, we deal with people and environments that are likely to involve transmission of respiratory diseases like the flu and COVID,” said Tom Hagerty, a grocery worker in Halifax.
“And we are not paid enough to take time off work.”
Hagerty is part of the group Fight for 15, which advocates for a $15 minimum wage. On Thursday the group organized a multi-micro-protest event across the province to call for 10 permanent paid sick days for all workers.
Rather than hosting one large protest event, in order to adhere to current public health restrictions, small groups of people planned to meet up on Thursday and hold mini protests at various locations.
To help support individuals unable to work due to sickness during the pandemic, the federal government introduced the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which provides Canadians up to $500 for a one-week period. Last month the Nova Scotia government announced that it would supplement this program by providing up to four paid sick days over a 12-week period for up to $640 per worker.
Hagerty says the provincial program has its challenges because the pay is administered through employers so employees are still left at the mercy of their employer.
“So, for example, myself and another co-worker where I am attempted to access paid sick days after missing work due to side effects due to the vaccination and we haven’t been paid,” said Hagerty.
Both the federal and provincial programs are also only temporary measures in place for the duration of the pandemic.
“We’re calling for 10 paid sick days for all workers and not just for the length of COVID,” said Hagerty.
“Even if we get through COVID, sickness isn’t going to go away and low-wage workers aren’t paid enough to effectively take days off work and protect our own health and the health of other people.”