The message from BC’s top doctor Bonnie Henry and other health authorities could not be clearer: stay home if you are sick. To flatten the curve on COVID-19 and get back to the way life was before the crisis, anyone who might be infected has been told to self-isolate so others can be protected from getting the sometimes-deadly virus.
But workers without sick pay have been confronted with an impossible choice if they start showing symptoms: go to work sick so they can pay their bills and feed their families, or stay at home and keep the virus from spreading.
No one should have to make that choice.
Yesterday, we learned that 28 workers at a poultry processing plant in Vancouver tested positive for COVID-19. Health authorities only discovered this outbreak after they tested a worker who told them that their co-workers were still coming to work even though they had symptoms of COVID-19. When they investigated, they discovered an outbreak so extensive that they had to shut down the plant and send everyone home.
Similarly, over the weekend news emerged of a massive COVID-19 outbreak at a beef processing plant in Alberta. Over 500 workers tested positive for the virus and one worker there has died. The authorities have been forced to shut that plant down as well, and the incident represents the largest single outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada since the pandemic began.
These workers were sick but could not afford not to go to work because they didn’t have paid sick days. The virus spread through these plants at a devastating rate, endangering the workers, their community, and the public at large. This has to change.
That’s why UFCW 1518 President Kim Novak has been speaking out on the airwaves to call on all employers to provide paid sick leave.
In British Columbia, the government has passed a law that ensures workers’ jobs will be protected if they have to take a leave to self-isolate or care for a loved one with COVID-19. However, as we have seen, financial pressures still force some workers to keep going to work when they don’t feel well or if they have a household member sick.
“We need to see all employers providing paid sick time for any worker who has any symptoms or is feeling unwell to prevent more extreme outbreaks like we saw at United Poultry,” said Kim. “Employers can make this change right now. It’s their responsibility to make sure workers are safe when they go to work.”
Click here to listen to Kim speaking on BC Today with Michelle Eliot about our call for employers to provide paid sick leave to all workers.