24 March 2020
I write to offer some suggestions to the Task Force.
While the measures being implemented by the government are a good first step, we should be concerned that the package presented thus far doesn’t fully appreciate the urgency and the gravity of the situation for the poorest and most vulnerable among us. In fact, Marlon Johnson is in the press today saying that the economic fallout from this pandemic is far worse than the government’s initial projections.
From a policy standpoint, here are my suggestions on what the PLP should be advocating:
· Focus must be placed on working families with children, single income homes, the homeless, and all those who are vulnerable. A list of essential products (hand sanitizers, disinfectants, anti-bacterial soap, vitamins) should be made available free (from Social Services) to those in dire need. A list of the aforementioned essential products should also be exempt from VAT for a two-month period.
· The measures announced did nothing to protect renters. There should be an immediate nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for persons whose incomes are impacted as a result of the virus. These persons should not be evicted due to non-payment during this time or face draconian penalties under private lease agreements. Housing problems and homelessness will abound if this matter isn’t proactively addressed.
· Access to essential utilities should be guaranteed for all. There should be a clear nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs. People should not have to worry if they will be without electricity or access to the Internet during a government-mandated quarantine. In a situation like this, telephone, TV, and internet services should be regarded as essential utilities. People will need guaranteed ways to contact emergency services, be updated on news, and partake in the mandated virtual schooling and ‘work from home’ rules.
· With schools closed, the government must consider providing childcare benefits to essential services workers. With low-income workers at grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and security personnel now being regarded as essential workers, thought must be given to the fact that many of them cannot afford daily childcare and have nowhere for their kids to go.
· The measures announced did nothing to proactively protect workers. The thousands of hotel layoffs are a direct result of a government asleep at the wheel. Workers in all industries need to know that they will be protected.
· The Health and Safety at Work Act should be amended to add COVID Regulations to require sectors with an elevated risk to specifically protect the health and welfare of their staff during this pandemic, including the promulgation of an infectious disease exposure control plan. Even after this lockdown and folks go back to work, the virus is likely to still be amongst us.
· The Employment Act should be amended to prohibit certain redundancies for a period of 30 days and to prohibit layoffs as a result of sickness, self-isolation, or quarantine due to the coronavirus. Employers should be mandated to manage more delicately the employment status of workers including measures such as reducing hours or days at work, instead of terminations.
Many of these recommendations are drastic measures. But these uncertain times call for us to do unprecedented things. With the economy still rebounding after Hurricane Dorian, the PLP’s position should be that our leaders must step up to support people whose lives and livelihoods will take a hit in the coming weeks and months ahead.
Barry N. Griffin
National Vice Chair