Perhaps nothing has been more controversial in the past several months than the provincial government initiated, federally funded, pandemic pay.
While, generally speaking, the pandemic premium has been well received by those who have seen a temporary bump in wages, the exclusionary nature of the program has caused much derision and division amongst front-line workers. These unintended consequences have been indeed unfortunate.
From the outset, the OPSEU/SEFPO Executive Board realized that there would be some sense of inequity perceived by front-line workers left off the pandemic pay list. That is why we passed a motion that precluded the deduction of dues from pandemic pay.
Because pandemic pay is not part of the collective agreement structure in any of our units, it is not grievable nor challengeable in any other labour relations forum. Numerous emails and phone calls have come in to head office asking for representation on extending the pandemic pay list. Suffice to say, OPSEU/SEFPO continued to lobby hard with both levels of government to make the list as inclusive as possible. Unfortunately, those lobbying efforts did not produce the results that we were looking for as governments pointed to a lack of funds to extend the program any further than it had already.
Recently, the government announced that it would be extending temporary pay raises to both PSWs and DSWs until next Spring. Since those wage enhancements were neither bargained nor part of the collective agreement, OPSEU/SEFPO will maintain consistency by not deducting dues from these additional wage increases. I believe that we may be one of, if not the only, labour union to take this stance. Why? Fairness and transparency.
While pandemic pay is not the panacea of equal wage adjustments, it has at least done this; it has put low-wage jobs on the radar and made it clear to the public that front line workers need to be compensated fairly and properly for their work. Rest assured, as we move forward into our next rounds of bargaining, teams will be reminding all employers — including the government — of their moral responsibility and obligation to compensate front line heroes commensurate to the services they provide and the risks they take.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer