Nova Scotia’s reinstatement of temporary paid sick leave program renews calls for permanent plan

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia paid sick leave program now in effect'
Nova Scotia paid sick leave program now in effect
WATCH: Nova Scotia’s relaunch of the paid sick leave program took effect on Monday. The program covers up to four sick leave days for employees up to a maximum of $20 per hour – but the program is only for workers who have to stay home due to COVID-19, prompting renewed calls for the province to legislate a permanent paid sick leave program. Alicia Draus reports – Jan 10, 2022

Nova Scotia has now reinstated its paid sick leave program, which covers up to four sick leave days for employees.

The program is an extension of the Federal Government’s Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit which allows workers who have missed at least 50 per cent of their scheduled work week to receive up to $500 for a one-week period.

However, concerns are being raised about the programs, which only apply to leave related to COVID-19.

“It’s all very complicated,” said NDP MLA Susan LeBlanc. “What would make way more sense is paid sick days no matter what, not related to COVID and not for this weird amount of time.”

The NDP along with the Nova Scotia Federation of labour are renewing calls for Nova Scotia to legislate 10 permanent paid sick days for all workers.

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“Even outside of a pandemic context it’s really reasonable to think somebody might need 10 paid sick days within a year, especially people with young children who also have to take time off work, when they are sick, when they have no one to look after them.”

A report released by researchers at Acadia University over the summer found that over half of Nova Scotians — 54 per cent — do not have access to paid sick leave. Further, the province’s Labour Standards Code is “among the worst in the county” as workers are entitled to just three days of sick leave, unpaid, per year.

“Employers are saying they can’t get enough people. Employers are going to have to realize they’re going to have to step up to the plate, and they’re going to have to start offering more incentives than low wages to entice people to work,” said Danny Cavanaugh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.

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Low uptake of temporary paid sick leave program 

This is the second time Nova Scotia has rolled out a temporary paid sick leave program to help workers who are adversely affected by the virus.

The program is aimed at covering days off for employees who don’t otherwise have paid sick leave, however it’s up to the employer to apply to the program. Originally when the program was rolled out last May, the government set aside $16 million. The province ended up paying out about $600,000 to cover 4,000 sick days.

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Click to play video: 'Rally held in downtown Halifax calls for paid sick days'
Rally held in downtown Halifax calls for paid sick days

“So there wasn’t a lot of uptake,” said Patrick Sullivan, president of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

“But it was a different time, it was implemented in May and June of last year and frankly by the time it was finally out there, we were starting to come out of the pandemic, rather than where we are right now, right sort of deep in the pandemic.”

Over the past several weeks Nova Scotia has reported daily case counts in the high hundreds — more than seven times the average daily case counts when the program was rolled out last year. The Omicron variant is considered to be much more contagious and it’s having an impact on staffing levels in every industry.

Sullivan says he hopes that more employers will take advantage of the program this time around.

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LeBlanc acknowledges there are benefits to this program.

“Something is better than nothing,” she said. “But we can do a lot better.”

LeBlanc says without sick leave workers can have to chose between taking time off which could mean not being able to pay the bills, or going to work and potentially infecting coworkers and the public.

“It is absolutely needed, 100 per cent,” said LeBlanc.

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