September 18, 2020

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Manitoba NDP calls for universal paid sick leave during pandemic

NDP leader Wab Kinew and UFCW secretary-treasurer Bea Bruske say there needs to be universal paid sick leave of 100 per cent of an employee's salary during the pandemic. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

NDP leader Wab Kinew and UFCW secretary-treasurer Bea Bruske say there needs to be universal paid sick leave of 100 per cent of an employee's salary during the pandemic. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

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A cluster of novel coronavirus cases at a Brandon slaughterhouse points to the need for universal paid sick leave during the COVID-19 pandemic, say the Manitoba NDP and United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

The NDP and UFCW called Friday on Premier Brian Pallister and the Tories to make changes to Manitoba’s Employment Standards Code to ensure every worker in the province has access to paid sick leave amid the global health crisis.

Workers at Maple Leaf Foods Inc. in Brandon, site of a recent cluster of positive cases, do not have paid sick leave, a UFCW spokeswoman said.

"This is something we could do in a day, and I think it’s very urgently needed given what is happening with Maple Leaf and the fact we’re looking ahead to back-to-school season and that situations like this may continue to pop up," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

"We should make it as easy as possible to do the right thing during this pandemic to protect public health. And in this case, when you take a financial hit in order to self-isolate or stay home when you’re sick, it makes it a little harder to do the right thing."

UFCW secretary-treasurer Bea Bruske said Maple Leaf has committed to paying up to 75 per cent of an employees’ wages while they’re off sick during the pandemic. Maple Leaf is also instructing employees to apply for CERB if they can, she said.

However, Bruske said, anything short of 100 per cent of an employee’s salary isn’t good enough.

"Any employee that doesn’t get 100 per cent of their pay is going to have a financial hardship. These are not extremely high-paying jobs and you still have bills you need to pay, and you need 100 per cent of your income to pay your bills," Bruske said.

"Now more than ever, when employers are telling their workers to stay at home if they that they are not well, and when workers are waiting for test results to come back before they can come back to work, that is a huge liability for those individuals and their families."

A spokeswoman for Pallister sent a written statement to the Free Press, saying the NDP and "their friends" are "peddling" inaccurate information to Manitobans.

"It was Premier Pallister, along with B.C. Premier John Horgan and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, who led the charge calling on the federal government to design a national program so that all Canadians would not have to risk their health and financial means," the spokeswoman said.

"The federal government is still finalizing the operational details on mechanisms and processes for the Pan-Canadian Sick Leave Program. Depending on what structure the federal government lands on, amendments to Manitoba’s Employment Standards Code may or may not be necessary."

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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