Some Nova Scotians are calling for paid sick leave because they say the government’s decision to lift remaining coronavirus health orders will burden families who may feel pressured to go to work while sick.
NDP labour critic Kendra Coombes says she’s been inundated with concerns from constituents after chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang lifted all pandemic restrictions last week. “A constant I’m hearing is that people can’t afford not to work, but they also want to be responsible and not spread illness. And now this added protection has been taken away.”
Coombes says establishing permanent paid sick days is essential because the majority of Nova Scotians don’t get paid when they’re off sick. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia’s labour standards allow workers a minimum of three days a year during which they can call in sick — without getting paid.
A 2021 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found 54 per cent of working Nova Scotians didn’t have paid sick time and 69 per cent of workers who made less than $25,000 annually had no paid sick time.
In response to the pandemic, the province temporarily implemented a program that covered up to four paid sick days per person between May and July 2021 and then again between April and May 2022.
Coombes says she’d like to see this program reinstated to go along with the end of isolation restrictions, but she says a permanent sick day policy is needed beyond the pandemic.
Marla McInnis, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour, says the province isn’t considering extending its temporary sick day program. “We continue to encourage employees and employers to have discussions on how best to support each other when someone is sick.”
Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia director with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the lifting of the mandatory isolation order will worsen working conditions for Nova Scotians. “Now that there’s no government mandate and no precautionary principles in place, the pressure will be on workers to go in sick, Two and a half years into a pandemic, we should have learned the lesson that workers don’t deserve to go into work sick.”