For provincial and federal public sector union staff, the last 48 hours have involved a flurry of calls and teleconferences as representatives attempt to determine what the slew of coronavirus-related closures will mean for workers.
So far, it appears unionized public sector employees who are unable to work due to restrictions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) will not lose wages.
"Every morning I go onto a conference call with the (Canada Revenue Agency) management for the Atlantic region and they discuss things that they are trying to change and the things that they are watching," said Brian Olford, an Atlantic representative for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
PSAC represents federal government staff, including Canada Revenue Agency employees at the Summerside Tax Centre, as well as thousands of employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Charlottetown.
Olford told The Guardian that federal staff who have returned from overseas travel since March 8 are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, as per the directives of P.E.I.’s Public Health Office. But Olford said a provision in the union’s collective agreement, known as "authorized time-off" or 699 code, is being used to allow individuals who cannot work due to quarantine to continue receiving their wages.
Some, however, may simply be able to work from home.
"If they are asking to take you out of the workplace, they will provide you with some sort of work or you're basically 'authorized time-off' for the two weeks," Olford said.
According to the PSAC website, staff at Canada Revenue Agency, Treasury Board and Parks Canada are currently in bargaining talks. Planned strike votes for these departments have been cancelled until at least March 30.
Close to 700 staff working within P.E.I. public schools are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3260. Local president Carolyn Vandale said the union had been in touch with staff of the Public Schools branch over the weekend.
“We weren't anticipating the call at 6:15 about the school closures, but we had run different scenarios through and how it would look to our members, and the employer was sharing this with us," Vandale said.
"They did say they would continue our wages during the school closure but that we were to be ready and available to work."
A representative of the P.E.I. Teachers Federation confirmed the union is in talks with the province about paid leave for teachers who are forced to self-quarantine in the coming weeks. Details had not been finalized at press time.
Jason Woodbury, president of CUPE local 3324, said union members who have recently travelled abroad have been adhering to the 14-day self-quarantine measures. The union represents 165 paramedics and other staff at Island EMS.
"We had protocols in place for our members so that (there would be) no loss of wages," Woodbury said.
The CUPE 3324 collective agreement allows for a limited number of days of emergency leave, Woodbury said. But, he added, members who have travelled abroad may need to use sick leave during the 14-day self-quarantine.
It remains unclear what provisions will be put in place for more vulnerable workers in the private sector who are either forced to self-quarantine after travel or whose employers are impacted by the closures. In a press briefing on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said relief measures for impacted workers and businesses would be announced on Tuesday.
For P.E.I. coronavirus information:
- Islanders with questions are directed to call the toll-free information line, 1-800-958-6400. The line is taking messages 24-hours a day, seven days a week and Islanders who leave a message will receive a call back within 24 hours.
- If experiencing symptoms (cough, fever, or shortness of breath) within 14 days after international travel, call 811 for screening and, if necessary, to be directed for testing.
- Those requiring immediate medical attention should call 911.
- For general questions about the virus, visit princeedwardisland.ca/covid19.