Publication:

The Compass - 2020-03-25

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Labour leaders concerned for workers amid COVID-19

Opinion

DAVID MAHER SALTWIRE NETWORK

Labour leaders are worried about mixed messaging from the government as COVID19 concerns grow in Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) president Jerry Earle says the stories being heard by union representatives from frontline workers are numerous and worrying. “I heard from a homecare worker over the weekend. She was trying to figure out where she could buy some antiseptic cleaning solution. We realized she was buying these things herself out of concern for people in her care. That is absolutely inappropriate,” Earle said. Earle says there has been mixed messaging in the early reaction, which has caused confusion for front-line workers. “We’re hearing of office buildings, like Johnson (Insurance), closing, not doing direct customer service. Tomorrow, in all likelihood, motor vehicle registration will be open, where you can go in, get a driver's licence, but you can’t get a drug claim done at Johnson Insurance, for example. The mixed messaging … is gravely concerning to front-line people. We’re going to need our front-line workers in the coming days.” Regarding motor vehicle registration continuing to be open, Premier Dwight Ball says the government is working to limit the number of people who go to the building. “As many as possible will work from home. We’ve talked about making sure that in an appointment situation, people could go and get the services,” said Ball. “Keep in mind that as much of those services that we can provide online, we will continue to do so.” Health Minister John Haggie says limits to personal protective equipment (PPE) are due to international shortages, but health authorities are working to make sure front-line workers are protected. “My understanding from the regional health authorities is that the equipment is there. The issue of sustainability is one of how you get your orders refilled. One of the unfortunate elements of this whole pandemic is that the global centre for manufacturing PPE is not just China, it’s actually Wuhan and Hubei province,” said Haggie. “There are alternatives being explored. We have made every effort in the health-care system to roll out the fitting and access to PPE based on clinical need. There may still yet be people who have not had their fit testing to make sure their mask is appropriately sized, but that number should be a lot fewer now.” Federation of Labour president Mary Shortall says the previous state of emergency in Newfoundland and Labrador exposed issues for vulnerable workers in the province. She says the COVID-19 situation will expose them once again. “What needs to happen is there should be no sick notes. It’s very clear, from public-health officials, that workers who feel sick need to stay home. They should be paid to stay home. The obligation to get a doctor’s note should be waived,” Shortall said. “Snowmaggedon was one thing, now we have this. Workers who are most vulnerable are the workers that are in the sectors that are most affected. As things close down, they get laid off. We’re asking that the Labour Standards Act be amended. … We would like to see 14 paid sick days there, or provision for paid sick leave of all workers.” Shortall says she is comforted by a commitment to pay workers who must self-isolate due to COVID19, and it is a step in the right direction. “The fact they're paying workers and the employers have to get reimbursed is really positive,” said Shortall. “But there are still a number of workers who don’t have any paid sick leave provisions at all. Even if they’re not feeling well and want to go home because they may experience flu-like symptoms, the best place for them to be is not in the workplace. It’s to be home.” david.maher@thetelegram.com @DavidMaherNL

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