Labour leaders, NDP call for paid sick and vaccine leave in Manitoba

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The Manitoba NDP and labour leaders are calling on the provincial government to step up when it comes to providing paid sick leave.

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Labour Federation, said less than 50 per cent of Manitoba workers have paid sick leave at their jobs.

“With new and more contagious variants spreading, there is an urgent need for government to put paid sick days in place for all workers,” Rebeck said.

Rebeck is calling on the province to provide 10 employer-paid sick days a year for all workers and 10 additional sick days during a public health emergency.

“Our members who wake up not feeling perfect have to make a difficult decision and pay their bills or stay home as a precaution,” Bea Bruske of the United Food and Commercial Workers said.

But Jonathan Alward of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the plan is “unrealistic and unnecessary”.

“It would probably be a nail in the coffin for a lot of businesses and put a lot of staff out of work. We have to avoid putting a long-term plan in right now because businesses can’t afford this.”

Alward says just one-third of businesses in Manitoba are making normal revenue and are taking on an average of $180,000 in debt.

NDP leader Wab Kinew said they can’t afford not to introduce the measures.

“There is a tremendous cost proceeding without paid sick leave,” Kinew said. “Making these investments now is smart from a business perspective and helps us get closer to the end of the pandemic.”

The federal government offers the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit payment, but the labour leaders say the application process takes too long.

Rebeck says around 1,200 Manitobans contracted the virus at work before the third wave, while one Manitoban — a health-care worker at Victoria Hospital — died.

The unions are also calling on the province to provide three hours of leave for anyone who needs a vaccine.

Bruske says many employers don’t have a schedule more than a week in advance, forcing them to potentially either give up a shift or cancel an appointment.

“If people are living in a situation that is so economically precarious, we should not be adding a further barrier to our vaccine program by having those folks concerned about their level of income getting in the way of them getting that shot,” Bruske said.

In a statement to Global News, finance minister Scott Fielding said, “Many employees in Manitoba receive paid sick leave benefits through their employers or collective bargaining agreements, and we are currently considering ways to address gaps in federal programming and provide options to help Manitobans.”

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