Stronger EI and paid sick days are vital for workers. Labour Day is a moment for voters to judge parties on that

Posted on September 6, 2021 in Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
Sept. 6, 2021.   By Star Editorial Board

The first Monday in September is normally a mixed bag of a day, with union rallies and labour leaders demanding attention for workers alongside families and friends just looking to make the most of the last long weekend of summer.

But on this Labour Day — the second of the COVID-19 pandemic — it takes almost no effort to turn people’s minds to the struggles of workers and the inadequacies of protections and benefits in the workplace.

Labour issues have been front and centre in this country for the past 18 months. How could they not have been?

Millions of Canadians were plunged into unemployment when entire sectors closed to curb the virus. And so few of them qualified for existing unemployment benefits that the federal government had to rush out an entirely new support program.

And so many front-line workers who had to stay on the job, from grocery store cashiers to support workers in long-term-care homes, were not entitled to any paid sick leave that Ottawa had to rush out a program for that, too.

Throw in the federal election campaign, where the major parties are busy telling workers and businesses that they’ve got their back, and rarely have labour issues enjoyed such prominence.

And not just from the usual suspects. Even Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is pitching himself as a friend of workers. He promises them “a seat at the table,” suggests he’ll side with them over “corporate elites,” and says he intends to “work with unions.”

When the pandemic hit, the Trudeau Liberals moved quickly to bring in vital temporary support programs for workers and Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats pushed to make them more generous. The election campaign is the opportunity for the parties to say how they will patch up our frayed safety net and strengthen protections for workers.

First of all, Canada needs a modern Employment Insurance system that covers all workers, including gig workers, self-employed people and the many misclassified workers who have been abandoned on the sidelines of so-called economic progress.

On that, the Liberals’ platform offers a lot.

If re-elected, the party promises a new EI benefit for self-employed Canadians (details to come). It would include stronger job protections for gig workers, ensuring their work counts towards EI and the Canada Pension Plan, and requirements for digital platforms to pay EI and CPP contributions. The Liberals say they will “bring forward a vision for a new and modern EI system that covers all workers.”

The Conservative platform calls for gig economy companies to make equivalent contributions to EI and CPP but would place them in a “portable Employee Savings Account,” which workers can withdraw when needed. This doesn’t envision expanding current systems to include workers who’ve been left out but sets up a parallel and, according to labour advocates, inferior system.

The New Democrats diagnoses the problem correctly: “Our EI system is outdated, underfunded and inflexible, and too often doesn’t provide any help to those who need it most.”

It’s odd, then, that the party’s election platform doesn’t go on to propose expanding the system in some way to cover people like gig workers. Instead, it offers tweaks to EI qualification rules and parental benefits and adds a low-income supplement.

Given all we’ve learned through the pandemic, paid sick days for federally regulated workers and a pledge to work with provinces to achieve that basic standard for all employees across the country should be a no-brainer.

But among the three main party leaders, only two — Singh and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau — recognize that.

The New Democrats say they will immediately legislate 10 paid sick days federally and work with provinces to “bring in a permanent safety net of paid sick leave across the country.”

The Liberals say they will legislate 10 days federally within the first 100 days of a new mandate and convene provinces to “develop a national action plan to legislate sick leave,” while keeping in mind the needs of small business owners.

The Conservatives have nothing to say about paid sick leave in their platform. It’s no wonder labour leaders are so skeptical of O’Toole’s conversion to the cause of working people.

If the pandemic has shown anything, it’s that systemic change is needed in how we view and regulate employment, and that how we treat workers (especially those in low-wage jobs) affects us all.

It’s long past time Canada had a modern employment insurance program that doesn’t shut out so many workers, as well as legislated paid sick leave for all workers.

The parties’ plans (or not) for substantial EI reform and working towards paid sick leave is a good place for voters to judge how well they’ve learned important lessons from the pandemic.

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 6th, 2021 at 10:59 am and is filed under Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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