By Sophie Gray
Local Journalism Initiative
There’s something that’s been bothering me. It has to do with sick pay, and how, less than six months ago, I would have heard Dr. Bonnie Henry’s warnings to not go to work sick and know that, as much as I didn’t want to contribute to the spread of COVID-19, I couldn’t afford to stay home.
The reality is that all of our newly emerged heroes or those most severely affected by COVID-19 shutdowns, don’t have the luxury of taking sick days. Workers from the restaurant sector, truckers, and those kitted out in face masks behind the plexiglass shield at the local grocery store, can’t and likely won’t take a day off work if they feel sick.
If they take a day off for having the sniffles, that’s money out of their pocket in an already starved economy.
I can mostly speak to the restaurant industry, which I was lovingly a part of for over a decade. I recall times when I could barely drag myself out of bed and was still expected to show up for my shift. The worst part was knowing that if I called in sick, I’d not only be letting my co-workers down but I’d lose out on hundreds of dollars in wages and tips because I chose to stay home. So, I’d go to work sick.
The reality of hourly jobs is that your income is solely dependent on how long you work. Week to week, the pay is different and often minimum wage. If you take a day or two off sick, your job may not even be there when you get back.
Hourly paid workers will continue to work sick regardless of a global pandemic because they fear for their jobs, the respect of their peers, and their incomes.
It’s one thing for Premier Horgan to say he’ll stay home from the legislature next time he has the sniffles. But what about those 25-year-old servers struggling to pay rent and student debt, or those single mothers who work two jobs just to pay for daycare and food? They will continue to work sick because they don’t have a choice.
That’s where universal sick pay comes in.
If hourly workers were guaranteed sick pay, fewer people would go to work sick and I, for one, would feel much safer returning to restaurants and venturing back out into the world.
Maybe it’s time to trial sick pay as a benefit to not only support hourly workers, but to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Do you want to come face to face with a sick server when you return to your favourite restaurant? No, I don’t think you do.