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Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's enough to make you sick: Sue-Ann Levy, the Toronto Sun and the attack on workers

Sue-Ann Levy, the perpetually grotesque enemy of working people that the Toronto Sun pays good money to run down those who actually work for a living, penned an opinion piece recently spouting the Canadian Taxpayers Federation line that Ontario government employees are somehow abusing the system by calling in sick more than do their private sector counterparts.

She spouts a bunch of statistics that, hopefully correctly, show that workers who are able to, do in fact call in sick, though she frames this, of course, as workers somehow "shirking" work because the government or unions "let them".

It is part of a wide ranging, right-wing attack on the very idea that workers have a right to anything at all and is part of an ongoing attempt to facilitate a culture that regards labour standards and laws requiring employers to act with basic decency as somehow undermining capitalism and freedom.

This is regularly done by attempting to pit workers subject to direct abuse by their bosses against those who have at least some protection as a result of unions or regulations passed by governments.

It is time, quickly and unapologetically, to put this right-wing and terribly destructive, damaging and dangerous threat to public health to rest once and for all.

The problem is not that public sector workers are taking off too many sick days. The problem is that private sector workers are being forced to work when they are sick.

As with so many things in this era of reaction, a propaganda campaign is being waged to make it out that somehow "calling in sick" more is a sign of privilege and entitlement as opposed to pointing out the fact that some people are forced to work despite actually being sick.

If you are not protected by a union contract or if you do not work for the government the odds are you will be forced to work when sick, to work with people who are sick and to face firing or no pay when you are so sick that you stand up and are unwilling to cave into the pressure that your private sector employer will place on you to work when you are sick.

You are, all too often, not only working while sick, you are making your fellow workers sick and, if you are in a service job, making the public sick, even entitled columnists like Sue Ann Levy.

Anyone who has actually worked in a non-union, lower paying, private sector environment knows that sick pay almost always is not a reality, that employers regularly pressure workers to work when they are too ill to, that workers will work when they should not as they have no financial choice, that parents of sick children will be forced to take their children to work, exposing their co-workers to whatever the child is ill with, because they cannot afford to and do not have the right to take a sick day at home with an ill child.

I worked for a private transportation company through most of the '90s. I had a boss whose understanding of labour relations was that because he allegedly came in when he was sick, so should all his workers, despite the fact that they made a fraction of what he did and despite the fact they had no ownership in the company at all.

Sick pay simply did not exist. If you called in sick, you lost a day's pay.

Given that few were making anything approaching a solid wage, a day's pay was a lot.

That is the reality of why private sector workers call in sick less. It is not because they get sick less. It is not because union or public sector workers are more "entitled". It is because private sector workers with no protection are terrified of losing their jobs or not getting paid and know full well that they will lose them if they call in sick too often.

The Sue-Ann Levys and Toronto Suns enable the worst sadism of capitalism. They seem to think the problem is not that most workers have no serious right to refuse to work when ill, but rather that some do.

It's enough to make you sick.

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