Public home-care workers in Manitoba will only receive two-thirds of their wages if they have to self-isolate or call in sick because of COVID-19.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says the current sick policy — which is part of the workers’ collective agreement — puts seniors at risk and is asking for emergency measures by the provincial government to create a policy for health authorities to cover their full salary.
“Then we won’t run the risk of people not self-isolating or self-quarantining because they can’t afford it, because that puts the whole system at risk,” said Shannon McAteer, CUPE’s health care co-ordinator in Manitoba.
“They are caring for our most vulnerable population. They are going into people’s homes, that is the nature of their work.”
The union represents close to 6,500 public home care workers in health regions across Manitoba, serving about 40,000 clients each year.
She says home care workers are dedicated to their clients — but they need to be compensated for their sick days.
“They are vital to the health care system, they are the first front line approach for people in Winnipeg and our province,” she said.
“This is people’s livelihoods and people need to be able to live when they are forced to be in a quarantine.”
As of Tuesday, there were 15 lab-confirmed and presumptive positive cases of Covid-19 in Manitoba. Medical experts say the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions can be the hardest hit if they get the virus.
In China, the fatality rate was 15 per cent among those over 80 years old — compared to a 2.3 per cent mortality rate among all age groups combined.
McAteer says the union is lobbying the Pallister government to create a policy to force heath authorities to temporarily cover all wages for frontline health care support workers if they are forced into quarantine or call in sick — without having to use any sick days.
“We need to support our workers,” she said.
Lanette Siragusa, chief provincial nursing officer, said on Tuesday they are looking into providing home care workers with script so they can ask patients questions ahead of entering the home to identify risks.
A spokesperson for the WRHA pointed to the current collective agreement, which sets out these parameters. He said that workers have the option to apply for employment insurance benefits to offset the lost wages.
The current sick leave provision in home care workers’ collective agreement was bargained under the workers’ previous union, Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union. For any sick day used by a home care worker, they are only paid two-thirds of their hourly rate.
Home care workers are the only health care workers CUPE represents with this provision.
CUPE started representing home care workers last year after a government bill forced health-care workers to vote to reduce the number of provincial bargaining units.
McAteer says this sick day provision will hopefully be removed during the next round of bargaining.
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