Legislation that would allow all Manitoba workers to access paid sick leave during COVID-19 halted

The province has introduced legislation to make it easier for workers to take sick days during COVID-19 and access federal benefits.

However, the legislation was blocked by the Manitoba Liberals, who didn’t like that it had no provincial money for workers behind it.

In the legislature Monday, the Pallister government introduced amendments to the Employment Standards Code that would allow more workers to take protected leave and apply for federal benefits if they are ill and need to self-isolate. 

The federal government introduced a new benefit this September that gave minimum wage workers and employees who don’t have access to paid sick leave up to two paid weeks off work if they become ill or have to self-isolate due to COVID-19.

The provincial legislation would ensure that all Manitoba workers are protected if they take a leave of absence and take advantage of the federal benefit. 

Premier Brian Pallister said the province doesn’t want Manitobans to have to choose between giving up a paycheque or going to work sick. 

“We don’t want people making the wrong choice, and the wrong choice would be to go to work while sick,” he said. 

The amendments would also expand unlimited, unpaid protected leave for workers required to self-isolate or care for a family member because of the pandemic to include workers who are more susceptible to COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions, ongoing medical treatments or other illnesses.

Liberals block bill 

However, the legislation was blocked by the Manitoba Liberals, who didn’t like that it had no provincial money for workers behind it. 

“There isn’t a single dime of provincial money committed to workers in this bill, and that is the problem,” said Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberal. 

“This bill — like so many other things the [Progressive Conservatives] have done — means that they’re expecting the federal government to do all the heavy lifting and contribute absolutely nothing themselves.” 

Workers can only apply for the federal benefit one time, so the Liberals want the province to add their own money to the legislation so that workers can be covered if they get sick again, Lamont said. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew, whose party did support the bill, said he didn’t understand why the Liberals would block legislation that would make it easier for workers to stay home when sick. 

“This provincial Liberal Party, the first thing that they want known about them in their pandemic response is to stand in the way of financial assistance to workers. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” he said.

In a statement, the province called out the Manitoba Liberals for blocking legislation that would allow Manitobans full access to the federal paid sick leave program.

“We encourage Mr. Lamont to call his Liberal counterparts in Ottawa and explain why he does not support the proposed amendments that mirrors the federal legislation on paid sick leave and is actively preventing Manitobans from accessing the paid sick leave during the pandemic,” a provincial spokesperson said in an email.