Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt (via Unsplash)
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is experiencing its third spike of COVID-19 cases, with cases at an all-time high (5583 active cases as of Saturday, January 15th) and lockdown measures put in place. Unlike previous surges in COVID-19 cases on the island, the province has decided not to implement a full lockdown and remain at Alert Level 4, allowing retail stores, restaurants, and gyms to remain open at a reduced capacity. This has presented many issues for workers and students who work part-time, as they have experienced a severe decrease in hours and income and struggle to afford living and tuition costs.
In previous COVID-19 lockdowns, the government had implemented a student financial benefit, called the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), where students could receive $1250 from the government every four weeks for a certain period. Workers could also apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and receive $500 a week if they had been impacted financially by COVID-19. Despite COVID-19 cases being at an all-time high, these financial benefits remain closed.
There has been a massive decrease in working hours due to the Alert Level 4 measures, as restaurants and stores have reduced their capacity by 50%, severely decreasing workers’ incomes in the province. The provincial government also has not legislated paid-sick days for workers who are forced to self-isolate because they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. If you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, the NL public health website will instruct you to isolate immediately and make an appointment for testing. This generates another problem for many workers, especially those who work in high-risk environments like restaurants or retail, who must compromise their income, or ability to afford living costs to stay at home without pay.
The government of Canada has implemented the Canada Worker’s Lockdown Benefit (CWLB) to give “temporary income support to employed and self-employed people who cannot work due to a COVID-19 lockdown,” including employees who have lost at least 50% of their weekly income due to lockdown measures. This benefit is valued at $270 a week, which is $230 less than the CERB benefit. Many workers say it’s not enough to support their living costs and basic needs.
The current minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador is $12.75 an hour, equalling $446.25 a week at 35 hours a week. However, a study conducted in 2019 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that in St. John’s, the minimum wage for a decent quality of life is $18.85 an hour at 35 hours a week.
15 and Fairness NL, who advocates for the province to implement a $15 minimum wage, believes that the government should legislate 10 paid sick days for all workers in Newfoundland and Labrador through the Twitter hashtag #paidsickdayssavelives. In a letter template that the organization has drafted for people to send to their MHA, they explain how “public health experts, health care providers, and worker advocates have been clear that workers need paid sick days to follow public health advice to stay home when they or their children are sick.” The organization is advocating for this change so that workers no longer have to compromise a loss of income to self-isolate and risk exposing others to the COVID-19 virus.
Furthermore, Memorial Students who work part-time jobs to afford tuition and other living costs have experienced decreased income due to lockdown measures. In contrast, university costs remain high, with plans to increase in Fall 2022. Memorial University does offer emergency bursary financial funds for students who have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, but not all students qualify.
Despite the surge in COVID-19 cases, financial resources for students and workers remain minimal. The province lacks the legislation needed for workers and students to earn a living wage. Many Memorial students who work part-time jobs to afford living costs and tuition are experiencing a severe decrease in income from the surge in COVID-19 cases. Despite COVID-19 cases being at an all-time high, there is no government student benefit like the CESB. Therefore, there is a severe need for better financial aid and resources from the government and university for students and workers.