EDMONTON -- Alberta unions are calling on the province to recognize the danger of COVID-19 in workplaces.

According to the Workers Compensation Board, nearly 8,900 Albertans have made COVID-19-related claims between January 2020 and March 2021.

On Wednesday, coinciding with the National Day of Mourning in remembrance of workers who have died as a result of on-the-job illness or injury, the Alberta Federation of Labour called on the United Conservative government to prioritize vaccines for essential employees, set up vaccination clinics in workplaces, and bring in paid sick leave. By AFL's estimate, about two-third of working Albertans don't have access to the latter.

"COVID is a workplace hazard," AFL president Gil McGowan said.

"If we want those workers to follow the advice of public health officials and stay home when sick, we have to make it possible to do so."

In 2020, 150 Albertans died from a workplace injury or illness.

Guard Roger Maxwell was 45 years old when he died after contracting COVID-19 during an outbreak at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre in December. There, about 20 staff and 50 inmates were infected.  

In southern Alberta, a vaccination clinic opened Thursday at a meat-packing plant where two workers and a father of a worker died from COVID-19.

"We have still a long way to go and workers are still continuing to struggle on the job," the vice president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees, Bonnie Gostola, said, speaking during a virtual vigil of the April 28 day of remembrance.

The Official Opposition and Alberta NDP has also demanded the province introduce 10-day paid leave for workers isolating because of COVID-19.

In a statement, Labour Minister Jason Copping said his government was concerned about Alberta's case counts nearing provincial records set in December and January, and encouraged Albertans to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

Under pressure, Ontario's Progressive Conservative government has put up legislation that would require employers to pay workers up to $200 per day for up to three days if they are feeling sick or need to get vaccinated. If passed, the program wouldn't require sick notes or applications, and employers would be reimbursed through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

The AFL proposed a 10-point action plan and says Alberta will fail to get control of the pandemic's third wave without addressing virus spread in workplaces.