No new paid sick days for P.E.I. workers as government votes down bill

'Workers could lose their jobs for following public health advice and staying home when they are sick,' says MLA Trish Altass before the vote on her proposed bill in the legislature Tuesday.  (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. - image credit)
'Workers could lose their jobs for following public health advice and staying home when they are sick,' says MLA Trish Altass before the vote on her proposed bill in the legislature Tuesday. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. - image credit)

A proposed bill to increase paid sick leave for Island workers to 10 days a year was voted down in the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday.

The bill was introduced by the Opposition Green Party and debated in the house over the past couple of weeks.

"No business owner should ever be able to tell a person that they're not sick enough, they have to come to work," said MLA Trish Altass before the vote Tuesday.

"Workers could lose their jobs for following public health advice and staying home when they are sick," she said.

P.E.I. requires only one paid sick day per year, and that's only for employees who've been with the same employer for five years.

Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.
Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.

Under the Employment Standards Act, employees are entitled to three unpaid sick days per year after six months on the job.

The proposed 10 days of sick leave would have been the most offered by any province in Canada.

Some provinces require no paid sick days. B.C. recently brought in legislation requiring five. The government of Doug Ford in Ontario now requires three.

There had previously been debate in the legislature about whether 10 days was too many. Altass, who introduced the bill, had asked those opposing it to give a different number of days that would be acceptable.

Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.
Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.

Liberal MLA Hal Perry said Tuesday he had spoken to business owners in his constituency about the proposed changes.

"They thought 10 [days] was unreasonable. So to find that magic number, I can't come up with it without some more consultation," said Perry.

Altass said she used the number of 10 sick days based on evidence and other jurisdictions around the world.

"To simply say, 'Well I don't like 10, so we'll just throw this all away,' disregards the position that puts workers in," said Altass.

Wait for review: minister

Early in the pandemic, the province created a COVID-19 special leave fund to pay workers for time missed due to illness, the need to isolate or to care for family members.

Initial uptake in the program was low, but the province said earlier this month that of $2 million in funding available since the program was introduced, $1.4 had been allocated.

Employers submit applications under the program on behalf of workers, but there's no requirement for them to do so, and the Greens said some have simply chosen not to, leaving their workers unpaid for time missed.

Minister of Economic Development and Tourism Bloyce Thompson said Tuesday he wants to wait for the results of a review of P.E.I.'s Employment Standards Act before updating paid sick leave.

"With what they say, we can have legislation here next fall for paid sick leave off their recommendations," said Thompson.

"I don't think there's anybody in this house that's against paid sick leave."

Thompson said he would extend the special leave fund until the review of the Employment Standards Act was out.

The last review of the Employment Standards Act was in 2006. Calls for another review came before the government of Dennis King was in power.

Altass said it will be two years before any legislation comes forward out of the review.