As New Brunswick sees case loads continuing to rise, opposition parties are calling on the government to implement a more robust sick pay program.
Public Health has appealed to New Brunswickers to get tested for even mild symptoms as cases have spiked over the first two weeks of 2021.
“If you have symptoms please get tested no matter where you are in the province,” Dr. Jennifer Russell said on Thursday.
“Please don’t go to work if you have symptoms.”
Yet concerns remain for those without paid sick days, who may feel they are unable to afford to take time off to get tested for COVID-19.
“If we’re asking people to stay home, forgoing pay, to get tested and isolate when required to do so, then government should be stepping up and filling that gap and offering paid sick leave,” Liberal MLA Rob McKee said.
“It’s concerning that people are going to work when they shouldn’t and exposing other people because they don’t have that financial security.”
Premier Blaine Higgs has also registered concern over the issue.
“We ask people not to show up to work if they have symptoms. And the fact that if they don’t show up to work, or they’re not able to get tested quickly, and then they lose pay or get penalized in some way, that doesn’t encourage the right behavior,” he told reporters on Friday.
When asked if he is considering a provincial sick pay program, Higgs has said he wants to understand “individual cases” and has pointed to the existence of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.
“We need to find a way to balance that so that people feel, ‘alright, I can afford to say because I know I need to,'” Higgs said.
“I want to pursue that.”
In order to be eligible for the CRSB, one needs to miss at least half of their scheduled work week due to COVID-19 or because they’ve been instructed to self-isolate. Workers can apply for up to two weeks and the $450 benefit is paid out retroactively.
Averaged over a 40 hour work week, the benefit works out to $11.25 an hour. New Brunswick’s minimum wage is $11.70 an hour.
Green leader David Coon says the program is not sufficient and doesn’t cover the period of time while waiting to actually get tested.
“The federal program is inadequate,” Coon said. “It doesn’t cover the situation where someone needs to go off work because they have a symptom, even if it’s mild, they book their appointment, they have to wait for their results.”
“No one should feel like they have no choice but to go to work, when they should, even with mild symptoms, be tested and wait for the results.”
Coon said the CRSB falls short further because of the lag between when shifts are missed and the benefit flows. He says the program should be replaced by a more robust provincial system where employers pay out sick time and are then reimbursed by the provincial government.
The Greens also want to see a provincial sick pay program remain even after the pandemic is over.
McKee said the Liberals are also supportive of extending sick benefits to more New Brunswickers into the future.
“There are a number of issues that the pandemic has put a spotlight on to be addressed and this is one of those issues,” he said.