NDP continues push for sick pay policy as Nova Scotia fights COVID-19

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NDP Leader Gary Burrill says the issue of paid sick leave cannot be left to employers and employees to determine. (CBC - image credit)
NDP Leader Gary Burrill says the issue of paid sick leave cannot be left to employers and employees to determine. (CBC - image credit)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill says he's "very hopeful" the provincial government might finally be willing to consider a sick pay policy to cover all workers in Nova Scotia.

Burrill told reporters on Thursday that he recently discussed the matter during a meeting with Premier Iain Rankin.

The NDP has long advocated for a policy that would bring sick pay to everyone, including workers who are not part of a union. Last year, the party tabled legislation that would have allowed everyone to earn a half day of paid sick leave for every month of work, to a maximum of six days a year.

That bill was not supported and died on the order paper.

But with renewed calls from Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, for people to say home when they're sick to help keep a handle on the spread of COVID-19, Burrill believes the time is right for everyone to have access to paid sick days.

Rankin says he wants to see how other jurisdictions handle the issue of paid sick leave for workers.
Rankin says he wants to see how other jurisdictions handle the issue of paid sick leave for workers.(CBC)

Viral transmissions often happen in the workplace, said Burrill, which is why so many other places, including 13 states in the U.S., are moving to institute paid sick leave.

"It's a striking thing that in Nova Scotia today, in the midst of the pandemic, we have got over 1,000 nurses who don't have paid sick leave because they're working on a casual basis," he said.

"So this is not an intelligent program from the perspective of public health."

Rankin said at this point he's encouraging employers to understand that when people are sick, they need to be able to stay home.

Still, the premier told reporters that he's interested in "all public policy that helps the lives of Nova Scotians."

Rankin said he's looking at how other provinces treat the issue, and trying to determine if it makes the most sense for the government to take the lead or leave it to employers to settle with their employees.

Understanding the ramifications

Tory Leader Tim Houston said there might be a place for the government to take the lead through legislation, similar to the way the minimum wage is handled, but he added it would be important to understand any ramifications for businesses that might come from such a policy.

It could be better to leave it to employers and their employees to address the issue, said Houston.

"I do believe that, for the most part, they're on the same page."

Houston said he's sympathetic to people struggling financially who might have to make the decision between going to work sick or staying home and missing a pay cheque.

"I want to work with them, I want to support them," he told reporters. "We just need to make sure that we understand how it would work."

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