NDP pushes province to implement paid sick leave for all workers in effort to halt pandemic

Many Albertans face the tough decision of going to work while they're feeling sick with possible COVID-19 symptoms or losing out on a day's pay.

"We need paid sick leaving in our province right now to make sure that everybody is following public health orders and is staying home when they feel sick without having that financial burden put on them," said Christina Gray, Edmonton-Millwoods MLA and NDP labour critic.

New legislation introduced by the province last week gives Albertans three hours of paid leave in order to get vaccinated, a move proposed by the NDP. 

Employers in Alberta are not currently required to provide paid sick leave to workers. 

The opposition is calling on the UCP government to provide every employee with up to 10 days of paid sick leave for themselves or a dependent.

The NDP's proposal would see workers continue to be paid while at home in isolation. The employer would then be reimbursed by the province. The NDP says paid sick leave would protect workers and help hasten the relaunch of the economy during the pandemic. 

"Here in Alberta, we need a program and a solution," said Gray. "This provincial government needs to step up to make sure that every worker knows that if they’re feeling sick, they aren’t going to lose out on money, but they can do the safe thing, listen to the public health guidance and stay home if they’re feeling unwell.

"Right now there just isn’t that assurance and that programming."

The NDP says the plan would be partially funded by the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. Currently the program offers $500 for four weeks, but the application and processing times are lengthy.

Ontario announced a program this week that would provide three days of paid sick leave.

While the NDP considers Ontario's approach to be a step in the right direction, it's advocating for 10 paid sick days in Alberta. 

Premier Jason Kenney was asked about the proposal during Thursday’s press conference on public health measures. 

"I think our support is as, or more, generous as any province in Canada," said Kenney. "Alberta was the first province to offer this very generous self-isolation support where people can get room and board, so free accommodation and meals and other support in addition to $625 payment. So that has a total monetary/non-monetary value of $2,000."

Gray said the premier skillfully avoided answering the question. 

"The real issue that we are trying to solve is somebody’s going to work because they’re worried they will lose out on their paycheque. The supports the premier is talking about doesn’t solve that problem."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the best kind of sick pay is where you can call your employer knowing you will still be paid.

"That’s not something that the federal government can deliver, with the exception of federally regulated industries. It is the provinces and territories who are able to work with employers to mandate that kind of sick leave."

Trudeau noted that the federal government did bring forward measures for gig workers in 2020 who wouldn't have had a direct employer to grant them sick leave.