Daniela Aubichon never thought of herself as a precarious worker until the pandemic completely upended her life. She worked at Casino Regina for 21 years before suddenly getting laid off when lockdowns shut down businesses across Canada in March of 2020.
“It was a stable job,” she said. “Now I’m playing roulette with bills.”
Aubichon is trying to make ends meet on Employment Insurance, but it hasn’t been easy. She now must cover the costs of her own prescription medication, as her health benefits have expired.
Daniela’s plight is similar to that of thousands of other Canadians who lost their jobs because of COVID-19, and underscores the urgent need for a stronger safety net to protect workers, including universal pharmacare, and Employment Insurance reforms to address long-standing concerns about equitable access and inadequate levels of support.
Her co-worker Gerrard Dillman was fortunate enough to briefly return to work for four months. “Then we were all laid off again,” he recalls. “It takes a toll on your psyche — it makes you question your self-worth.”
“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” said Jason Redquest, an airfield operations worker at Sydney airport. “Laid off, then back again, then working at 60 per cent, now off for months.”
Members at airports were hit hard when air travel plummeted across the country. PSAC has been working with all locals affected by the pandemic to ensure that workers are fully supported while out of work.
Eric Vanstone, an airfield operator at Windsor International Airport, has been without work since April 2020.
He credits the union for making his first weeks without work easier. His collective agreement provided for a temporary top-up to his CERB payment. But with the top-up long expired, Eric is considering his options.
“Finding work is tough,” he said. “Really, I want to go back. We all do.”
It is well-recognized that women, Black and racialized workers, including immigrant Canadians, are overrepresented among precarious workers. The pandemic’s devastating effect on workers has reinforced PSAC’s demands for the federal government to develop a national strategy that ensures decent work is available for all Canadians. We also continue to insist that universal sick leave is a necessity in this country so that workers aren’t forced to decide between staying home when sick or earning a day’s wages.
Contributor: Michele Girash