As Saskatchewan prepares to mark the National Day of Mourning to remember workers injured or killed on the job, NDP Leader Ryan Meili is calling for more support for frontline workers facing significant risk during this pandemic. Specifically, Meili is asking the province to introduce a pandemic pay top-up to give low-income essential workers a much-deserved raise, and to provide presumptive Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for workers who fall ill with COVID-19.

“We see the hearts in windows thanking frontline workers for stepping up, now we need the government to step up for those workers,” said Meili. “With the lowest minimum wage in the country, many Saskatchewan workers are earning less than they could receive with federal benefits. That isn’t right and it isn’t fair. Long-term care aides, hospital cleaning staff, delivery drivers – they’re all putting in long hours in stressful circumstances, and they all deserve fair compensation for the extra work and risk they’re taking on.”

The federal government committed two weeks ago to “cost-share a temporary top up to the salaries of low-income essential workers that the provinces and territories have deemed essential in the fight against COVID-19,” according to a federal government media release. Meili called on the province to provide an update on the work being done in Saskatchewan to deliver that top-up, to ensure the province isn’t leaving federal dollars on the table that could be going to frontline workers. British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have all implemented some type of top up for essential workers, while Alberta has provided an additional $2/hour for long-term care workers.

Meili said that consultation with affected workers, including their unions, should take place on an ongoing basis, but particularly in designing the wage top-up. He noted that many healthcare workers have been without a contract during the pandemic and were already working in difficult conditions.

“In addition to ensuring frontline workers are being compensated fairly, we need to make sure that anyone who gets COVID while working doesn’t struggle to access Workers’ Compensation,” said Meili. “We need to make it clear that we’ve got your back if you get sick at work. That means we need to change the legislation — one more reason why it is time for MLAs to return to the Legislature.”

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