Data showing more than 1,200 COVID cases in Manitoba workplaces renews calls for paid sick leave

WINNIPEG — New data showing documented COVID-19 cases in Manitoba workplaces is renewing calls for paid sick leave legislation from the provincial government.

Figures obtained by the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) from the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba (WCB) and provided to CTV News, show the WCB accepted 1,277 COVID-19 claims from March 1, 2020, to the end of February 2021. Of these, 815 claims were disallowed.

MFL President Kevin Rebeck said this shows workplace transmission of COVID-19 is a serious issue in Manitoba and the province needs to act with legislated paid sick leave.

“The long-term solution is ten permanent paid sick days for all workers that are in place from the day that they start,” said Rebeck. “And ten additional days that can be unpaid for times like this, during a pandemic.”

Currently, workers in Manitoba can access some sick benefits from the federal government, such as the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB). The Manitoba government also offers unpaid job protected leave if workers are sick. At both levels of government, the programs are tied to the pandemic.

Rebeck said Manitoba needs permanent, post-pandemic provincial paid sick day legislation for all Manitoba workers.

“No one wants to go back to the days where you’re going to work beside a coughing co-worker or you have a sneezing cook preparing your meal in the back,” said Rebeck. “Those have to be done.”

Other labour groups agree.

“The reality is, paid sick days is squarely within provincial responsibility,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s western regional director. “We see how the transmission is going, it’s not going to change, we know that it’s workplace-based more than ever before.”

The Manitoba government should also provide paid leave for workers to get vaccinated, said McGarrigle.

“Employment standards is provincially regulated by the provincial government,” said UFCW Local 832 president Jeff Traeger. “They’re the ones that need to come forward with this legislation.”

UFCW Local 832 represents thousands of workers in Manitoba, many of them retail grocery store workers.

Traeger said hundreds of employees have fallen ill over the pandemic and were worried what would happen to their finances if they took unpaid time off work.

“When I go grocery shopping I want to make sure that if the cashier that I’m being served by is not feeling that they’re able to stay home without it impacting their wallets,” said Traeger.

In a statement provided to CTV News, the province said, “Manitoba’s current approach to sick days is consistent with most other jurisdictions in that it does not require paid sick days, but requires employers to provide job protected unpaid leave for various reasons whether it is related to COVID-19 or other reasons.”

Only two provinces currently provide paid sick leave for all workers: Quebec, offering two days per year after three months of employment, and PEI, the province providing one day after five years of work.

Jonathan Alward, director for the Prairie region for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said paid sick leave legislation should wait until after the pandemic.

“We can’t afford to commit to serious long-term costs paid for by the provincial government at a time when business owners are very concerned that their tax liabilities are increasing because of increasing debt,” said Alward. 

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