Manitoba closer to paid sick leave during pandemic

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, during the latest COVID-19 update at the Manitoba Legislative building Friday, October 16, 2020. 201016 – Friday, October 16, 2020.

On a day when Manitoba’s health minister and top doctor announced tightened pandemic restrictions for Winnipeggers and repeated the mantra for them to stay home when they’re ill, there was a sign that compensation may soon be available to help them do that.

The federally funded program to provide paid sick leave to Manitobans during the pandemic received the green light Friday by the provincial Labour Management Review Committee and is a step closer to becoming legislation, government and labour officials said.

“Manitoba was the first province to announce plans to introduce legislation on paid sick leave and has taken further steps by consulting the committee on amendments to the Employment Standards Code to align it with the federal legislation,” said Andrea Slobodian, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Scott Fielding.

Federal legislation that passed on Sept. 30 will give employees without a paid sick leave plan up to two paid weeks off if they become ill or have to self-isolate due to COVID-19. It will be retroactive to the date the federal benefits became available, she said.

The Pallister government said introducing the bill to amend the employment standards code to allow for paid sick leave is a priority.

People going to work while ill contributed “significantly” to the high COVID-19 cases and spread of infection in Winnipeg, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday. “We have to stop going out when we’re ill,” he said.

Unions and the Opposition NDP have been calling for implementation of a paid sick-leave program to support workers during COVID-19 for months.

“Everyone saw this thing coming,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said, referring to the second wave of the virus now hitting Winnipeg and prompting new public health restrictions as of Monday. “We’ve had months to prepare… Why are we still waiting at this late date for some of these supports to keep the economy moving?”

“The government rushed in a bill to raise hydro rates,” Kinew said. He was referring to the budget implementation bill, introduced last week, to raise consumer hydro and Centra Gas rates by 2.9 per cent and bypass the Public Utilities Board’s regulatory oversight.

“They had time to introduce that bill, but they haven’t had time to do paid sick-leave legislation,” Kinew said during question period Friday. “How long will workers affected by restrictions have to wait?”

Not much longer, according to the committee made up of labour and employers that reviewed Manitoba’s proposed paid sick-leave plan.

“We are glad to see that employers are on board, and both labour and employers have signed off on their full support for paid sick leave for all Manitobans,” said Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck.

“No one should be forced to choose between their paycheque and doing what’s right for public health (by) staying home from work when they are sick,” said Rebeck. “Paid sick leave for all workers will make a big difference in our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

In April, Manitoba added Public Health Emergency Leave provisions to the Employment Standards Code to provide job protection to many workers expected to access the paid sick-leave program.

“We will be introducing this legislation at our first opportunity, which can pass extremely quickly if it has all-party support,” said Slobodian.

To safely restart the economy, Canada needs to ensure workers do not return to work if they have COVID-19 or show symptoms but that’s not been happening, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said after the new pandemic response measures were announced Friday.

“We’re not any further ahead, because right now people are still facing the choice of getting sick or going broke,” Lamont said. “That’s a choice no Manitoban should have to make whether they’re a worker or a business.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca