The province has declined to say whether or not it will provide funding to lower-income workers whose paycheques have been affected by the state of emergency, indicating the issue won't be discussed until after current storm cleanup efforts are complete.
In an article published in Tuesday’s Telegram, Common Front NL, a coalition of organizations fighting for a higher minimum wage, called on the province to step in and offer subsidies to workers who aren’t being paid for missed shifts due to last Friday’s record-setting blizzard and the state of emergency that followed, banning residents in a number of communities on the Avalon Peninsula from leaving their homes.
The restrictions have been lifted in Mount Pearl, Conception Bay South and Torbay, but the state of emergency still exists in St. John’s, where snow clearing operations continue and services are resuming gradually.
Absent a contract or a collective agreement stating otherwise, employers are not obligated to pay their staff for days not worked, even if in a state of emergency, though many in the St. John’s area have chosen to do so.
Not so fun fact: when you are a minimum wage worker in NL where you are earning in the second lowest wage in Canada, a crisis is never far away.— Alyse Stuart (@alyse_stuart) January 22, 2020
Hope @GovNL @AESL_GovNL offer support during #SOE and for the next 365 days by raising the minimum wage #15andfairness #fairnessnl https://t.co/9NDsBIl7G9
With more than 70,000 workers in the province earning $15 an hour or less, the missed pay could mean the difference between being able to pay rent and not.
“We’re really hoping the government will step in and do some emergency funding, especially since there is so much support for it,” Alyse Stuart, chairwoman of Common Front NL, told The Telegram earlier this week. “I think we have a new perspective on what we need to do going forward and how, if this happens again, we are going to need to protect those vulnerable workers so if they are missing shifts, the government is able to step in and help them and give those folks the budget they need to survive the state of emergency.”
The province has an emergency social assistance program, which offers essential services to, according to the government website, “all those affected by wide-scale emergency or disaster in Newfoundland and Labrador.” The program provides temporary assistance until regular services resume or other programs are implemented.
Among the services provided by the program are emergency food, lodging, clothing and personal services like spiritual support and interpretation services.
The website also lists “alternate financial income” among the personal services provided.
The Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour didn’t say much when asked by The Telegram whether it would provide funding to affected lower-wage workers, or whether the state of emergency has triggered the emergency social services program to come into effect.
“The priority is a co-ordinated response to the current situation. These and other issues will be discussed in the coming days,” said a department spokesman.
Readers commenting on Tuesday’s Telegram story reiterated the call for emergency government funding.
“You would think that there would be something with an employers’ insurance in which they could recoup the wages they would have to cut,” posted one person. “I hope the government steps in and does something. But I have a feeling if they do it’ll be a long wait and vulnerable people will already be in the bad position of not being able to pay their bills or eat.”
“For small businesses it could really affect these owners if they had to pay when they cannot open and make money,” wrote another person. “On the other hand, those in low-income situations will need help for the lost income if their employers can’t do anything for them.
“It’s not about money, it’s about quality of life and there’s got to be something to help those in need.”