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View Jagmeet Singh Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much.
I'll be sharing my time with my honourable colleague, the MP from Nunavut.
We've said before that during this crisis people are struggling and that during the immediacy of the crisis we need to focus on three things: We need to get money in people's pockets; we need to make sure they have a safe place to live; and we have to make sure that there are jobs for people to return to.
Now we're talking about a potential return to work. In order for people to return to work, they need three things. They need to know that their work is safe: They need to know that if they go to work, they're not going to get infected or sick and that they're not going to spread infection to their loved ones when they come home. They need to be safe. In addition, there's no option: All workers in Canada need paid sick days. If a worker is sick and needs to stay home, they should not be forced with the impossible decision of “Do I go into work and risk spreading an infection to my colleagues, or do I stay at home, not knowing how I'm going to pay the bills?” That impossible choice should no longer be a reality for Canadians. Finally, we need to make sure that children are safe and that parents can go back to work knowing that there is child care for their kids.
The Conservatives talked about, essentially, making people so desperate that they have to go to work, that they're willing to work in dangerous conditions: take away benefits from workers to make them go back to work. That is dangerous, and that is irresponsible. That is not the way to get people to work. The way we ensure that people get back to work is making it safe to work and making it so workers are not putting themselves in danger. Making people desperate to work is not the way forward.
Talking about the safety of workers, we have some really troubling examples of what happens when workplaces are not safe. I want to talk about Hiep Bui. She was a worker at the Cargill meat-processing facility in High River, Alberta. She became infected with COVID-19 at her workplace and she died. She immigrated here from Vietnam. She was 67 years old, and her husband misses her desperately. The plant where she worked is the site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada at a workplace. Over 900 workers have tested positive so far. The fact is that workers should not have had to risk their lives going to work.
On Monday, that plant reopened its doors after being closed for two weeks. Workers and their union expressed concern about the inability to contain an outbreak in the plant and said that they are worried that the illness will continue to spread. This is a national problem. The virus has spread at other plants too. We need a national plan to keep our workers safe.
Cargill isn't the only food-processing plant where workers are at risk. We've spoken to union leaders and the UFCW president, and they have asked the Prime Minister to use the authority that the federal government has to ensure the safety of food to also ensure the safety of workers. Now, to the assertion that the federal government could use its authority to ensure that food is safe to also ensure that workers are safe, the Prime Minister responded by saying no. He said that our responsibility, his job, is to protect the food, not the workers. That is simply inexplicable. How could a workplace pass a food safety inspection if workers are getting sick in such huge numbers? If workers are sick and the work conditions are not safe, then the food obviously is not safe either.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced funding for food-processing centres, which is good, but no plans to keep workers safe. Again, this is wrong. Workers want to go to work. Workers want to be able to contribute, but they also want to be safe. If these plants are getting federal money, then the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that the workers at those sites are safe.
The government can't wait until the next outbreak to then raise the alarm bells. The government must respond now.
It is very important that Canadians have a safe food supply, but we cannot ensure food safety without ensuring the safety of workers. The lives of workers must be the number one priority. No workers' lives should be sacrificed.
New Zealand has put in place a national plan to ensure there is a COVID-19 safety plan for all workplaces, making sure that they're safe. Now, what the federal government needs to do is work with all provinces and territories, with unions and workers and businesses, to ensure the same exists here in Canada. Every worker needs to know that they have the right to refuse work that's dangerous, and they need to know the government has their backs. In addition, I want to make sure the government commits that no worker who refuses to do unsafe work will be denied the CERB.
In addition to being able to go back to a safe workplace, where workers are confident that they're going to be safe, workers now more than ever need to have paid sick leave. I'll admit that in the past there was a different notion around sick days. I remember that going to work when not feeling well was a badge of honour, an example of strength, and I would just tough it out. However, we have to change this mindset. Going to work with symptoms when one risks infecting someone else—a colleague, people at the workplace—is actually not the right thing to do. Many people don't have the privilege to just stay at home when they're sick. For them, there is that impossible choice of going into work and potentially getting sick or getting someone else sick, or staying at home and not being able to pay the bills because they're not getting paid to stay at home.
The government offers some paid leave, but it's not enough and it's not available to all workers. What I'm calling for, what New Democrats are calling for, is that, at a minimum, all workers need to have access to 10 paid sick days. If we look at that as a workweek, and we include weekends, that would give a worker over 14 days so that they can rest, heal, get better and then return to work.
We need to have a commitment from the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to develop this plan, to ensure that all workers can stay at home and still pay the bills if they're sick. No one should have to be forced to make that impossible choice.
We know that not all employers will be able to pay for sick leave because of the current crisis. We should plan to expand the employment insurance system and other types of assistance to help in the short term. The employment insurance system must also be modified so that it covers all workers. We cannot force people to make an impossible choice between working while sick and paying their rent.
Finally, in order to get back to work, parents need to know that their children are cared for. This crisis has shown how essential child care is. The economy doesn't work if parents don't work, and parents don't work without child care.
What we've seen in this pandemic is that in many ways women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Women are more likely to have lost their jobs in the last couple of months as a result of COVID-19. Statistics Canada released its March jobs report, which showed that six out of 10 jobs that were lost were lost by women. Women are also working in high-risk fields: hospitals, long-term care and grocery stores.
Without child care, more women will be forced to leave the labour market. Many day care centres are in trouble and many have been closed. Some have lost critical funding. Without a federal commitment to child care, it will be very difficult for people to return to the labour market.
We are calling for the federal government to put in place a funding guarantee for child care centres, so that child care centres can continue to operate, employ staff and be ready to open up. We also need to build an accessible, universal child care program as part of the recovery. We know that the impacts of this pandemic have affected women, specifically disproportionately affected women, so we have an obligation to respond in kind with investments in child care, with investments that will allow women to take part in the workplace and ensure that there are child care centres available so parents can get back to work.
I've taken a moment to talk about what it takes for workers to get back to work. Again, I want to be clear. Workers want to get back to work, but in order to do that they need three things: They need to know that their workplaces are safe; they need to have paid sick leave; and they need to know that their children are safe and that there's child care available.
Again, some people are going to talk about incentivizing work by removing benefits like the CERB. All that does is make workers desperate, so desperate that they're willing to put their lives in jeopardy or at risk, so desperate that they're willing to accept low wages with no benefits, benefits like paid sick leave.
The Canada emergency response benefit of $2,000 per month is equivalent to $12.50 an hour for a full-time worker. That is less than minimum wage in most provinces. If workers earn less than that at work, the solution is to increase wages, not to decrease or take away the Canada emergency response benefit.
We must make workplaces safe, we must give workers paid sick leave, and we must make child care available and accessible.
Canadians want to get back to work. Let's make sure that when they get back to work, they stay safe and they stay healthy.
Thank you.
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