A Green MLA wants to know if government is considering legislation for guaranteed paid sick leave as part of its COVID-19 response.
Lynne Lund raised the issue during question period Tuesday.
Lund told CBC News she'd like to see legislation requiring employers to provide seven paid sick days to their employees, and for government to support businesses that need help to do that.
"We want people to stay home when they're not feeling well ... but the flip side of that is they actually need to be able to do that," Lund said.
Lund said for many Islanders, missing work to get a COVID-19 test and wait for results or to stay home with symptoms can lead to serious financial challenges.
"For many low-wage workers losing even a day's pay is a real struggle," Lund told the legislature.
Lund said many young people on P.E.I. work minimum-wage or low-wage jobs. She added those young Islanders have also been repeatedly affected by calls for mass testing, like during the circuit breaker in December and most recently in testing efforts related to clusters of cases in Charlottetown and Summerside.
"They felt a duty to protect Islanders and we have a duty to protect them too. Question to the minister of economic growth, will you bring in legislation in this sitting to guarantee paid sick leave?"
'Holding on by a thread'
Responding to Lund's question, Minister of Economic Growth Matthew MacKay said many businesses across P.E.I. are really struggling during the pandemic.
"We've seen businesses that are holding on by a thread right now, so to ask a business to pay seven day sick leave to an employee is just not in the cards right now. But that's why we did come with this million dollar pot," MacKay said.
MacKay was referring to Monday's announcement of a $1 million fund for Islanders who take time off work due to illness and don't have paid sick leave and don't qualify for federal support programs.
Lund said she knows there are many businesses that are struggling during the pandemic, and would like to see legislation that also offers financial support to businesses to help them meet a paid sick day requirement.
During an interview after question period, MacKay said money from the newly announced fund can be accessed by employers to help cover costs of paid sick days. He said the final details of the fund are still being worked out.
Paid sick leave — beyond COVID
The P.E.I. Federation of Labour has also begun a campaign to urge the provincial government to implement paid sick leave for all workers on the Island.
Carl Pursey, president of the federation, said it should be permanent and extend beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
We're going to be awhile getting our economy back to where it once was. — Minister of Economic Growth Matthew MacKay
"If someone's not feeling good for a day or two, they can take a day or two off work and get paid and not have to have the fear of not having pay because now people are going to work if they're not feeling 100 per cent and they could be spreading [COVID-19]."
Pursey said he has spoken with the province in the past about the need for at least seven sick days a year for all workers in the province. He said labour groups across the country have been discussing the issue.
He said government should help smaller businesses that can't afford to offer paid sick leave to workers.
"The government needs to see the pressure, pressure to put something in that's permanent," he said.
MacKay said he wouldn't rule out exploring guaranteed paid sick days in the future, but said now isn't the right time.
"We're going to be awhile getting our economy back to where it once was, so when that time comes you know it could be a topic for discussion. Until that point, government is going to be here to help employees and employers out to the best of our ability," MacKay said.
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