Statement on Premier King’s disparaging description of workers impacted by COVID-19

We were dismayed to read Premier King has been actively lobbying the federal government to change the rules around the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.

It is unfair and inappropriate for the Premier to state people are being “paid not to work” at a time when work has been disrupted and staying home has been required. If there is any reluctance to return to work, it is because people want to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy. 

As a result of COVID-19, work as we know it is changing, and different sectors are being impacted in different ways. Reopening the economy safely will happen in phases and until we have some idea how it is working, no one really knows what the future of work will look like.  In the meantime, families need to eat and pay the rent. 

What we do know for certain is that reopening the economy should never equal unsafe working conditions. It should not create a risk to workers who may fear losing their benefits and being unable to make ends meet.  We also need to address barriers to work, such as access to childcare, that make it difficult for many, especially women, to engage fully in work during this time. 

It is unclear where the Premier’s fear of work disincentive is coming from. What we are hearing is concerns from Islanders about losing financial support at a time when work is either not available, or safety concerns have not yet been addressed. These concerns include the ability to social distance and have access to personal protective equipment. This disconnect raises concerns that the premier is getting advice from only one perspective, that values the economy more than the individuals who are the true engine of that economy. 

As we move into the new normal, we have an opportunity to define what that new normal will look like. Starting from a place of blaming and shaming workers is starting off on the wrong foot. Instead, we should be talking about what safe workplaces actually look like; what personal responsibility and rights workers have to a safe workplace; and how to ensure workers are empowered to stay safe – which includes the right to stay home. 

Your ability to work does not, and should not, define your worth. You should be safe at work, and you should be paid a living wage. After all, it is about people.

Hannah Bell
MLA District 11 Charlottetown-Belvedere
Official Opposition Critic for Economic Growth

Trish Altass
MLA District 23 Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke
Official Opposition Critic for Health and Wellness