Paid sick leave is a right for all

After spending my entire professional working in life here in Australia, where we have basic workplace protections such as paid sick leave for all permanent employees, I was shocked and horrified to learn that this was not the case in Cape Breton. I was further disgusted to learn that a majority of the municipal Council recently refused to even lobby the Provincial Government to implement such a right for all workers, especially in this time of great uncertainty and in the midst of a public health emergency. Let me make something clear: I am not on the left of politics but I do believe that every person deserves dignity and basic protection in the workplace. This is a belief that ought to be apolitical. As humans, we all get sick from time to time and I cannot begin to fathom why this basic fact is not recognised in the labour laws of Nova Scotia. Moreover, the fact that the majority of municipal politicians, who benefit from paid sick leave themselves, refused to simply write a letter asking the Provincial Government to consider mandating a minimum number of paid sick leave days per year is both disgraceful and hypocritical. Those councillors who voted in favour of lobbying the Provincial Government to mandate paid sick leave have both my respect and my gratitude.

The excuse that small business can’t afford to provide paid sick leave is not credible. Small businesses manage just fine here in Australia and still make good profits without exploiting their workers. Canada is a developed country, not a tin pot dictatorship, and its labour laws ought to reflect this. Humans get sick, so why in the world aren’t humans entitled to a few days of paid sick leave. It is not an exaggeration to say that someone getting the ‘flu in Canada could very well lead to homelessness given employees have no inherent entitlement to wages during the duration of their illness, something completely out of their control.

I often find myself frustrated with Cape Breton and this decision only heightens this frustration. It is astonishing that some Cape Bretoners – and some Canadians more generally – are so blind to these gaping holes in their society. This example of a majority of councillors refusing to even advocate for, never mind actually implement, paid sick leave is a great example. So often Cape Bretoners complain about the way things work and the issues they face, yet so many of them seem not only unwilling but hostile to any ideas or changes that might rectify the issue.

Paid sick leave is a right for all. I am ashamed that my home country, my home province, and my hometown refuse to recognise this. I am frustrated that my family members still living there are forced to deal with these completely avoidable issues, but I am also very grateful that my children will grow up in a society that recognises the dignity and respect every person is entitled to, including basic labour protections. I only wish that they could have the option of returning to Cape Breton without sacrificing such basic rights, because it just isn’t a sacrifice worth making in my opinion.

This piece was originally published in the Cape Breton Post on 5 April 2021.