AS COVID-19 case counts rise in Manitoba, and other provinces have promised to provide paid sick leave or vaccination leave to front-line workers, Premier Brian Pallister said he won’t budge.

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AS COVID-19 case counts rise in Manitoba, and other provinces have promised to provide paid sick leave or vaccination leave to front-line workers, Premier Brian Pallister said he won’t budge.

On Thursday, the premier and his finance minister both said it’s up to Ottawa to provide paid sick leave during the pandemic.

"We need a national program," Pallister said.

He had been asked whether Manitoba would follow Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who promised Thursday paid sick leave for workers in his province, or other western provinces that are providing protected, paid leave for workers to get vaccinated.

"We absolutely need to help people to be able to stay safe while at work — to also be able to go for tests and to be compensating them to some degree," Pallister said at an Earth Day event. "I do think a sick leave program, nationally, is the right solution."

It should’ve been in the federal budget, said Pallister. "The fact that they didn’t use the opportunity to (enhance) national paid sick leave really disturbs me," the premier said.

"I’m not giving up on the prime minister," Pallister said. "He said he would undertake to do this. I see this as a major priority in this pandemic."

Finance Minister Scott Fielding said he’d push his federal counterpart, Chrystia Freeland, to beef up the federal sick benefit, which has been criticized for being hard to get and inadequate.

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit was extended to 26 weeks from 15, but critics say it doesn’t adequately help workers when they need it.

"We’d like the government to enhance that," Fielding said.

But Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said it’s the province that must act more responsibly.

"Labour is a provincial responsibility," he said. "Manitoba has not put a dime into paid sick leave," Lamont said. "They need to be stepping up."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Thursday, as Manitoba reported 261 new COVID-19 cases, the province needs to take immediate action "lest we spiral out of control."

"A comprehensive paid sick leave program is one of the steps we could be taking to combat the high case counts," he told reporters.

"What we’re hearing from workers is having to apply for a federal benefit creates a gap and it creates some uncertainty," said Kinew. "If you’re someone in a precarious economic situation, what would work the best for you would be a paid sick leave program that goes through your employer. Your income keeps coming in — you know you have the economic security to stay home when you’re sick," he said

As for providing protected, paid leave for workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19, Fielding said if it’s needed, the province will consider it.

"We haven’t heard that it’s an issue with most Manitoba businesses," he said.

Having a vaccinated workforce is in employers’ best interest, Fielding said. "If we’re hearing that employees can’t go and get vaccinated, that’s something we would consider."

Kinew said Manitoba shouldn’t wait.

"At this stage, with the third wave here, with vaccines sitting in fridges in Manitoba right now, we should be removing every barrier possible from people’s participation in the vaccine program," said Kinew. "If that means ensuring that workers have three hours of paid time to get the jab in their arm, let’s do it. It’s going to help all of us."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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