The Yukon NDP is urging the territorial government to create a permanent paid sick leave program, one that is far more comprehensive than what is currently available — and it appears the government is prepared to answer the call.
For many Yukoners, once they get sick, they have no recourse, said NDP House Leader Emily Tredger, who pressed ministers on the issue during question period at the legislature Monday. That risks people going to work and spreading illnesses at a time when influenza and RSV are on the rise, she added.
"No matter where you work, you should be able to get paid sick leave," Tredger said.
The territorial government has had a similar policy in place for about two years, but it specifically helps workers who contract COVID-19 and expires on Mar. 31. The NDP's call comes as other jurisdictions — including Canada and B.C. — are increasingly implementing paid sick leave.
Tredger wants 10 days of universal paid sick leave, and that it be legislated.
Ten days for eligible workers is what a committee — co-chaired by Tredger and Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn — recommended to the government earlier this year.
"Ultimately, we know this is something that makes workers more productive and businesses more productive," said Tredger, adding the longer the government waits, the bigger the void created.
"Illness is going to be around forever. It's not going away."
Creating a paid sick leave program during the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the terms of the confidence and supply agreement, sighed by Liberals and the NDP following last year's general election, which resulted in a minority Liberal government.
'It's about dollars'
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, told reporters following question period Monday it's not a matter of if such a program will be created, but when.
Pillai said he can't promise to have a program ready by next March, but that work behind the scenes with the private sector is happening in earnest.
"What the iteration of this program looks like is yet to be determined. Do we feel that it's important to fill that space? Absolutely."
Creating one depends on many factors, including scale, cost and avoiding duplication of similar programs, he said — for instance, the sick leave program for federally regulated private sector employees that comes into force Dec. 1.
Once a program in Yukon is created, it will likely be very popular, he said, noting it's best to have a policy that doesn't adversely impact businesses.
"I think what we're talking about is who's going to pay for this program, right, that's really what we're talking about," he said.
"It's about dollars."