EDMONTON – Anxiety and unrest are growing among Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) members. After following the law requiring 10-day periods of self-isolation, many members have reported using all their negotiated paid sick leave for the entire year.
Exposed and scared, they’ve been flooding the union’s helpline the last several weeks, saying they can’t afford to take time off. Now, their concerns are coming to a head at the Calgary Foothills Hospital (where over 290 healthcare workers are self-isolating), the Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre (which is in the throes of a second outbreak), and other worksites.
“Members across sectors have basically been counting down the days before they fall ill,” says AUPE Vice-President Mike Dempsey. “With kids back in the classroom, flu season coming and more people trickling back onto worksites, it was never a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ they’d have to use unpaid sick days.”
Starting today, the Federal Government is chipping in to support working Canadians who have to self-isolate with a $500/week benefit. Employees who cannot work for 50 per cent of the week because they are self-isolating or have an underlying health issue are eligible to receive $500/week for up to two weeks.
“The Feds are doing their part, but $1,000 in the bank isn’t much when you have kids to feed and a mortgage to pay,” says Dempsey. “We’re demanding the UCP do their part now, and update Alberta’s Employment Standards to legally mandate 10 days of regular paid isolation leave for all working Albertans, every time they are legally required to self-isolate.”
Dempsey adds: "Politicians don’t understand that for the average person, unpaid time off just isn’t an option. It’s either take a sick day or make rent. Go on illness leave or support your family. The bottom line is, working Albertans shouldn’t be punished for doing the right thing – for staying home and keeping their coworkers safe.”
Back in July, all the premiers committed to Prime Minister Trudeau’s Safe Restart Program, which is set to provide all Canadian workers with 10 temporary paid sick days, but AUPE members say this time, much like the $500/week benefit that’s only good for one isolation period, isn’t nearly enough.
“Ten days? That’s no way to pay back the people who have been risking their lives during a pandemic,” says Dempsey. “One sign of a cough or a fever and you could use that all up in one go.”
The union VP reminds Premier Kenney that many public-sector workers, like the casual and temporary staff at health-care facilities, don’t get paid sick leave above the legislated standard.
“It’s 2020. Our politicians and employers need to get with the times,” Dempsey says. “Either be leaders in the country or continue making Alberta one of the ugliest provinces to work in. The choice is theirs, but the battle is ours, and we plan to win."
For more information, contact: Celia Shea, Communications, 780-720-8122