Manitoba's sick leave program covered more than $4 million in wages for 16,000 workers who would have otherwise lost income due to COVID-19-related illness.
The provincial government is in discussions on whether it will renew the pandemic sick leave program, which concluded at the end of October, Finance Minister Scott Fielding said.
"We think that there’s been benefits to the sick leave program that we put in place. It was a pretty generous program, it’s been well used," Fielding said Friday.
A total of 16,379 workers benefited from the program, which ran from May 7 to Oct. 29, and covered wages for people on COVID-19 sick leave, including time off for vaccination, he said.
The program reimbursed employers who continued to pay workers while they were away for COVID-19 testing, vaccination and illness, with up to $600 available per person.
The program also ensured cash kept flowing to workers who were waiting for financial support from the federal government, or who did not qualify for Ottawa’s programs.
More than 1,400 employers applied to the program and nearly $4.5 million was distributed, Fielding said; on average, employees received $275.
With parents and guardians now booking appointments for children to be vaccinated, booster shots recommended more widely and a high number of cases reported daily in the province, Manitobans can expect a decision on the sick leave program in the near future, he said.
"We have a really high vaccination rate here in Manitoba, so we’re proud of that. The big focal point now is obviously with children, so we’re happy that process has started, and we need to get as many kids vaccinated as we can," Fielding said.
"So anything we can do to make it easier to get people vaccinated, that’s the best way to mitigate the issues of COVID-19."
On Friday, NDP MLA Danielle Adams called on the government to introduce a permanent sick leave program to ensure people do not have to make a choice between staying home when ill or giving up their paycheque.
"We know that employees who do not have access to paid sick leave are often those workers who are low-wage and in precarious jobs and are more often women and racialized workers," the Thompson MLA said.
On Wednesday, the British Columbia government announced all workers would be guaranteed five paid sick days beginning in 2022.
While demand has been strong for Manitoba’s pandemic sick leave program,the introduction of a permanent program, similar to that of B.C. would require consultation, Fielding said.
"Before you would look at any permanent (paid sick leave), you’d do some consultations, not just with labour, but also businesses that would be impacted by a program like this," he said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.