If Manitoba had paid sick leave for all employees, Via Perez wouldn’t worry about paying the bills when she’s feeling ill.
Some days, Perez questions if she’s feeling well enough to deliver groceries as a courier driver, which she does for several hours every day. She wonders if it’s a sign of COVID-19.
“At the back of my mind [it’s], ‘What if I do have the symptoms?'” the 26-year-old remembers asking herself.
“What if it’s more than just, ‘I’m not feeling well?'”
Her employer, Instacart, offers sick pay for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or must isolate, but not in scenarios like waking up with symptoms that do not produce a positive test result.
Perez doesn’t believe any Manitoban should have to choose between going to work while sick or staying home and losing income.
Growing calls to pay up
Some Canadian provinces are facing mounting pressure to stop people from having to make that hard choice, especially as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
So far, Manitoba has been reluctant to follow suit. Instead, Premier Brian Pallister has repeatedly pinned the onus on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a national program.
“I’m not giving up on the prime minister,” Pallister said last week at a news conference, where he referenced his lobbying efforts last year for national paid sick leave with the help of other premiers.
“He said he would undertake to do this,” Pallister said of Trudeau. “He’s got a lot of things he’s working on, I know that, but I see this as a major priority in this pandemic.”
In a late Wednesday email, Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding said the province is “considering ways to address gaps in federal programming and provide options to help Manitobans who aren’t currently covered under employee plans.”
He said many employees in the province already receive paid sick leave benefits through their employers or collective bargaining agreements.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew held a joint news conference with labour leaders Wednesday to call on Manitoba to offer paid sick leave benefits that he said are easy to access and can be delivered through the employer.
“Our members who wake up not feeling 100 per cent perfect have to make a difficult decision as to whether or not they should go to work and be able to pay their bills or whether they stay at home as a precaution. No one wants to make that decision,” said Bea Bruske, secretary-treasurer for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832.
Ottawa already offers the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit payment, but Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said the application process and eligibility criteria complicate matters.
“Permanent paid sick days would help protect public health by allowing sick workers to stay home and without leaving them out of pocket,” Rebeck said.
The Ontario government made an offer earlier this week to top up the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, but the federal government rejected.
If money is an issue, Perez wants the federal and provincial governments to team up for paid sick days.
“Why not share the budget, because at the end of the day it’s everyone who’s going to benefit,” she said. “It’s not just certain voters who’s going to benefit from that.”
Perez said she’s grateful she has another part-time job that offers some compensation for being off work while sick.
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