Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill is convinced the Nova Scotia government can afford to give workers who don't have sick leave paid days off when they're ill, and he's basing that on facts and figures his party received through an access to information request.
This summer, the previous Liberal government set up a COVID-19 sick leave program. Workers who took time off because of illness between May 10, 2021, and July 31, 2021, were eligible for up to four days of paid sick leave.
At the time, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education estimated more than 100,000 workers might take advantage of the program at a cost to the province of $16 million.
According to documents released to the NDP for the first half of the program (between May 10 and June 30), only 642 individuals took advantage of the program.
They were paid for a total of 1,313 days off. The total cost to the province was $157,498.39.
Burrill said what those figures show is that Nova Scotians did not flood the program.
"There was really quite a modest and a measured uptake of the program," said Burrill. "We had always heard from the government, for a couple of years prior to bringing this forward, that one reason they were concerned about bringing forward a program is they thought there would be a lot of abuse.
"The potential for abuse that a lot of people have spoken about as being a big issue, in fact, is zero issue at all."
Burrill said the fact the province has only spent a fraction of the $16 million set aside for the program shows there's money for a more generous and permanent program that should be part of Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Code.
"The time to bring in a sick leave program is before you're in the middle of the [COVID] wave, so that people are able to stay home when they have symptoms and not go to work, not spread the virus, not spread the infection, so that you don't end up in the middle of a worse wave," said Burrill.
Instead of just four days, the NDP would like to see the province give people 10 days of sick leave a year.
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