Essential workers are taking high risks for little pay

The Quint-essential Worker: Jasmeet Kaur goes about her daily tasks in Calgary on Feb. 1. She is a part-time worker earning minimum pay at Tim Hortons. (Photo by Arshdeep Kaur/The Press)

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting all of us, but it’s having the most devastating impact on people invisible to many: low-wage workers.

During the past year, millions of people across Canada have lost their jobs, and fewer than half have so far returned. Many people who have returned face challenges.

“Why should people be in poverty, or near poverty, when they’re actually engaging in work, and often, very difficult work with difficult hours?” says Jasmeet Kaur, a part-time worker at Tim Hortons, and a full-time student at Bow Valley College.

She got laid off from her job in April last year, but she was called back to work three months later.

She received CERB for the three months she was laid off, but after going back to work she has been earning less than $1,000 a month after taxes and has been exposing herself to COVID-19.

“Many low-wage workers can’t work from home, so we have to go and expose ourselves to COVID-19,” she says.

Suman Sekhon, a mom of two, says that she and her husband have been working minimum wage jobs for the past six years.

“Given the pandemic, and reduced working hours, we are earning a lot less than what we used to, but the expenses remain the same,” she says.

People like Sekhon, who don’t have housing subsidies, might be paying 40 per cent to 60 per cent of their income for rent. They also have to pay electric, gas, heating, and phone bills.

Sekhon says that the only part of the budget she can squeeze is food.

One of the major concerns is that COVID-19 has increased the existing inequalities in the Canadian labour market. The minimum wage earners who lost their jobs are unable to pay for rent or other essentials.

Because of these dynamics, the pandemic is having long-term effects on many people and families.

Face of Perseverance: Jasmeet Kaur poses for a portrait in Calgary on Feb. 1. She is a part-time worker at Tim Hortons and earns minimum wage. (Photo by Arshdeep Kaur/SAIT)