The province has introduced legislation to make it easier for more workers to take sick days during COVID-19 and access federal benefits.
However, the legislation, which expands the criteria for when a person is eligible for job-protected leave, 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.
Employees who are unable to work because they are forced to self-isolate are already eligible.
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.
Manitobans can already apply, but the new provincial legislation would ensure all workers — including the expanded criteria — cannot be reprimanded by their employer 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 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 Manitoba Liberals denied leave on the bill, which prevented the legislation from passing today, as the government and opposition NDP wanted.
“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 the legislation.
“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 halting legislation that would allow more 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.
The province can still try to pass the bill again.