Working from home not an option for many
Blue-collar, 'gig economy' workers under pressure to show up for work while others self-isolate
As Canada braces for more cases of COVID-19, the federal government says it's planning for a major economic disruption. But some families will likely feel the pain more than others, even with access to expedited employment insurance.
In the National Capital Region, public sector workers are staying home in droves, encouraged by their supervisors to work from home where possible, at full pay.
But blue-collar and "gig economy" jobs are much less likely to come with paid leave, according to David MacDonald, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Ottawa.
"If you don't have paid leave, you've got to make very hard decisions if you can't go to work or you're in quarantine. What it likely means for a lot of low income workers ... is a big drop in income," MacDonald told CBC's Ottawa Morning.
While many white-collar jobs can be done remotely, that's less true of blue-collar jobs.
"For a lot of workers we think, 'Oh yeah, we'll just work from home.' That's just not true for a lot of the working class in Canada. Working-class jobs can't be done remotely for the most part," MacDonald said.
"You can't telecommute to a truck. A lot of working class folks are going to have to go to work if they can. If those jobs are still open, they'll try to go in order to make that money. "
While Ottawa's medical officer of health is encouraging people to stay at home and practise "social distancing," that's not possible for the mechanics at Unico Auto Service & Body on Gladstone Avenue, where owner Lok-Ping Ng said none of his workers has stayed home.
"It's not so bad yet in Canada," said Lok-Ping, who is following events overseas through friends and family.
Nearby, it's a similar story at Aleks Auto Body Works, a family-run business for 40 years. Alexander Koundakjian said the business is taking precautions to keep workers safe, including sterilizing door handles and gear shifts, and putting a plastic covering on steering wheels.
But Koundakjian said if he's forced to close, or business dries up because too many of his clients are in quarantine, he won't be able to keep paying his employees.
"If I don't get paid, I can't afford to pay them."
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It's a similar story for so-called gig economy workers such as food delivery drivers, who are essentially freelance contractors.
They, too, will have to deal with self-isolation and children who are suddenly off school for three weeks, MacDonald said.
"When it comes to part-time or self-employed people, only one in five could access EI [in 2019]," he said. "So in essence there are almost no supports for part-time or inadequately employed or gig economy workers."
With files from CBC's Ottawa Morning