A substitute teacher in Nelson says she should have received sick pay after contracting COVID-19.
April Lavine tested positive for the virus on Jan. 17. She isn’t sure where she was infected, but the week prior she was working at two local schools while full-time teachers were away with COVID-19.
While full-time teachers are eligible to accrue 1.5 days per month of paid sick days under the current collective bargaining agreement, substitute teachers like Lavine aren’t. That meant she was forced to stay home recovering from COVID-19 at her own cost.
Substitutes, or Teachers Teaching On-Call (TTOC) as they are also referred to, can apply for Employment Insurance, but that only covers up to a maximum amount of $638 per week.
They are also excluded from the Employment Standards Act, which this month made it mandatory for employers to provide a minimum of five days sick pay to workers.
“It’s just so unfortunate because what you can get from EI is like half the amount what you could make if you’re relying on work to make a living,” said Lavine. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Teri Mooring agrees with Lavine and believes the Ministry of Education needs to reconsider the importance of substitute teachers, especially as COVID-19 leads to functional closures across the province.
The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire July 1. Mooring said the issue will be included in upcoming negotiations with the province.
“We have a huge shortage of TTOC across the entire province and the work just isn’t valued like we would like to see it valued, especially when we are so dependent on the few TTOC that we have right now,” said Mooring.
BCTF represents about 46,000 employees. Mooring couldn’t say how many of those are TTOC, but did say she believed there is a shortage in the province that is leading to several issues in schools.
Some school districts, Mooring said, are relying on retired teachers when no substitutes are available. Others are asking counsellors or education assistants to fill in.
“When TTOC aren’t available, there’s a profound impact on student learning, and it’s the most vulnerable students who are the most negatively impacted.”
Dispatch systems that contact substitutes also vary across school districts. Trish Smillie, superintendent for School District 8 that includes Nelson and Creston area schools, declined to provide details on the district’s system but did say being sick doesn’t impact when substitutes get their next call for work.
But without sick pay, Lavine said the system leads to a moral quandary for substitutes — risk going to work while they are still potentially contagious, or stay home and lose money.
“There’s just no motivation to stay home when we’re sick.”
Mooring characterizes the situation as “neither fair nor equitable.” If substitute teachers are risking their health to keep classrooms open, she said, that should mean they are eligible for the same benefits full-time teachers receives.
“It’s difficult to attract people to be TTOC when they don’t have the same rights as other teachers, and one of those rights certainly, we believe, ought to be access to sick leave. Especially during a pandemic.”