The New Brunswick Women's Council says government needs to make sure people of low economic status continue to get paid when they're off work because of COVID-19.
"Not losing their job is important. But it's not just about, is their job being secured? It's about, are they still getting paid?" said executive director Beth Lyons.
Lyons was referring to people who don't receive paid sick leave and don't have any savings because they're economically insecure.
"If you're living paycheque to paycheque, having to take a full two weeks off is catastrophic," she said.
'COVID-19 is not a great equalizer'
In its COVID-19 response plan, the province promised it will continue to ensure there are no job losses for COVID-19-related caregiving.
The plan, which also promises the continuation of the essential workers child-care program, was quietly released the same day Premier Blaine Higgs called the provincial election last month.
It focuses on topics like the province's recovery plan, testing methods, returning to school and protecting New Brunswick's vulnerable populations.
The 51-page document says the province is focused on ensuring that a gender-based analysis is applied in all COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
"COVID is not a great equalizer," Lyons said. "It's not something that we are all impacted by in the same way when there were pre-existing inequalities. The pandemic has only exacerbated them and made them more clear."
More women affected by COVID indirectly
The New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training at the University of New Brunswick is launching a project aimed at identifying groups who are likely at risk from COVID-19, either directly or indirectly because of disruptions to income, school, employment, health service access and family composition.
Those results are expected to be available in late October and Lyons is hoping they will illuminate the challenges faced by some more than others during this pandemic.
Some of the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 are particularly around labour force participation in New Brunswick, said Lyons.
Women are often clustered into jobs related to the five Cs: cleaning, catering, cashiering, clerical work and caring. Many of these jobs are being disproportionately impacted during the pandemic and were already paying "little to start with," she said.
The situation is particularly challenging for single-parent families, Lyons said, which are predominantly led by women who don't have anyone to share caregiving responsibilities.
The province's COVID-19 response plan also noted that women over the age of 55 who were off work at the height of the pandemic in the spring are less likely to return to work than their male counterparts.
Lyons believes that's because many of those women are staying home to take care of grandchildren, particularly over the past six months when children have been home from school.
"In lots of ways COVID is a crisis of caregiving," she said.
She also uses the example of a child or grandchild having to stay home because they're showing a symptom of COVID-19.
Government needs to listen
Moving forward, Lyons hopes government will listen to the recommendations of community-based organizations and independent entities like the Women's Council, including issues related to income insecurity, access to child care and increasing the wages of child-care workers. Issues she said, that are not new to New Brunswick.
"Society itself will grind to a halt if we don't have access to daycares."