'I've got bills to pay': workers worried about lack of sick pay if COVID-19 isolation required

Workers across the province are wondering how they'll pay the bills if they decide to self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Scott Moe said talks underway to support workers

Concerns about how COVID-19 affect his ability to pay the bills are on the mind of Regina forklift driver John Muench. (John Muench)

Workers across the province are wondering how they'll pay the bills if they decide to self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"I'm not really sure what I'll do if I get sick. That'll put me in a tough spot," Regina forklift operator John Muench said.

Muench and his colleagues are unionized, but like many others, their contract does not allow for paid sick days.

"I've got to pay my bills, but I don't want to go into my workplace sick. This could dig me into a real hole," he said.

Paycheque to paycheque

Muench, as well as Langenburg educational assistant Karla Sastaunik, said sick workers could be tempted to stay on the job if there's no sick pay.

"I'm scared because I've got bills to pay," Sastaunik said. "I've got car payments, things like that. Lots of our members are single parents or people who are single. They live paycheque to paycheque."

The COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly.

Premier Scott Moe announced Monday that all schools would be closing by end of day Thursday following a "wind-down period."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced border closures to all but Canadian citizens, permanent residents, Americans and selected other exemptions.

Business closures will affect thousands of workers

Civic and sports facilities, post-secondary institutions and a growing number of businesses are closing, leaving thousands of workers with questions.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Lori Johb says the situation requires a bold and immediate plan. She's hoping to see a number of major announcements in Wednesday's provincial budget.

The budget "simply must include an economic plan for workers, their families, and our communities," Johb said in a statement.

She said that plan needs to include paid sick leave for all workers who self-isolate, and compensation for staff at shuttered businesses.

Johb said there should be far more money injected into the public services dealing with the pandemic.

All options on table

Premier Scott Moe said he's considering all options. Moe said talks are underway to support workers who need to stay home.

"We most certainly do want people to self isolate," Moe said Monday. "We are looking at what resources do we need to provide."

Moe said responsibility for any programs could be shared between the federal and provincial governments and the business community.

"This is a conversation that continues to occur," he said.

Crisis mode

A Saskatoon employment lawyer agreed both workers and business owners have plenty of questions about how the coronavirus could impact them.

"I think we're all in crisis mode," said Candice Grant of Saskatoon law firm Robertson Stromberg.

She called the coronavirus an "unprecedented situation." Grant says many employers and employees are calling them for advice.

For now, she says the typical rules apply. Workers can refuse to work in unsafe environments. Employers can also send workers home if they're sick.

"Everybody's obviously really concerned about how this is going to impact them, but also making sure everyone is safe and taken care of as we move through this," Grant said.



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