After months of deferring responsibility to the federal government, the Pallister government finally implemented a paid sick leave program, though it falls short in many ways. This program gives employers $600 per eligible employee for up to five days off for COVID-19 related sick leave, but it is also not mandatory for employers to sign up for and it ends in September. These are massive mistakes that must be corrected.
While this program is sorely needed, it was only put into place by the government after months of calls from community members, labour organizations and my NDP colleagues. Labour groups such as the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) and the United Food and Commercial Workers were incessant in their demands for a paid sick leave program as they argued that many Manitobans have contracted COVID-19 at the workplace. Statistics from the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) show that at least 1,227 Manitobans contracted COVID-19 at work before the third wave, with one of those employees – a health care worker at Victoria Hospital – tragically passing away. These numbers are likely much higher as many workers did not know that they could file claims through the WCB and jobs such as teaching aren’t covered by workers compensation.
Paid sick leave is so important because up until now, people have been having to choose between staying home without pay or going into work sick. This has been an impossible decision for many, and while the new paid sick leave program is a good start, there is still much room for improvement.
The program is voluntary, not legislated like Ontario’s paid sick days program, so it will only apply to workplaces that decide to voluntarily provide paid sick days. A provincial program meant to fill the gaps of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit will leave some workers falling through the cracks still. All workers should have access to paid sick days, regardless of their employer’s decisions. The paid sick leave program is also temporary and expires in September. This program needs to be made permanent.
We fear that, like many other employer support programs announced by the Pallister government, the intent here is to pay out as little as possible.
It’s also clear that a paid sick leave program should have been put into place much earlier, especially as case counts were rising heading into the third wave. People had been sounding the bell months before this government took action and that is simply unacceptable.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to the groups who’ve championed paid sick leave. Thanks to them, many Manitobans can now stay home while sick, without having to choose between keeping others safe and putting food on the table. They’ve also fought for three hours of paid time off work for vaccine appointments, which is now in place. Myself and my NDP colleagues will continue fighting for a more robust, permanent paid sick leave program.
Feel free to contact me with any concerns at Danielle.email@example.com or by calling me at 204-677-2744.