Alberta workers will be given 3 hours of paid leave to get vaccinated

As new cases of COVID-19 hit their highest level in more than four months, the Alberta government announced Wednesday it plans to change employment standards to allow workers three hours of paid leave to get vaccinated against the illness.

Screening confirms another 1,332 variant cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours

Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping says the province plans to give all workers three hours of paid leave to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Government of Alberta)

Workers in Alberta will be allowed three hours of paid leave to get vaccinated against COVID-19 thanks to changes to employment standards that took effect Wednesday night. 

It comes as new cases of COVID-19 hit the highest level in months.

The government introduced legislation earlier Wednesday to amend the Employment Standards Act, which were to come into effect upon first reading. 

It passed second reading, committee of the whole and third and final reading within 30 minutes Wednesday night. 

"Hard-working Albertans want to get the vaccine, but some may not be able to schedule an appointment because of their working hours," Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping said earlier in the day at a news conference.

"And they may not be able to afford a loss of pay, which is a barrier to getting vaccinated,"

On Wednesday, Alberta Health confirmed 1,699 new cases, the highest single-day total since mid-December.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, posted the numbers on Twitter late Wednesday afternoon, after the province's COVID-19 website experienced technical issues.

Hinshaw said screening confirmed another 1,332 variant cases in the last 24 hours. Variants now make up about 59 per cent of the 18,873 active cases in the province. 

"I remain concerned about the high spread in our province," Hinshaw wrote in her post.

"We all must continue to work together on behalf of our loved ones, neighbours, co-workers and communities to bend the curve and drive cases down provincewide."

Copping said that as with other leaves "Albertans cannot be fired or disciplined by their employer for taking this leave. Leave can be used twice if Albertans are getting a two-dose vaccine."

The leave applies to full-time and part-time workers, regardless of their length of service.

The idea was first floated by the Opposition on Tuesday when NDP Leader Rachel Notley raised the issue during question period. Premier Jason Kenney said at the time he would look into it.

Copping said the government consulted with the Opposition before bringing forward the proposed amendment.

"This is something we've been watching for a number of weeks," he said.

"As you may know, Saskatchewan passed a similar paid vaccine protected leave; B.C. just introduced this in the house this week. A question was raised by the leader of the Opposition, and our premier made a commitment that we would look seriously at this issue, which we are."

Notley said on Wednesday she was pleased that the province will fast-track a bill similar to those in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

"This is good news for Alberta workers and good news for Alberta's economy," Notley said.

"These three hours of leave will benefit hundreds of thousands of working Albertans, because no one wants to log in to book their vaccine just to see that the only spots left are during their work hours when they can't otherwise afford to leave.

"Lost income is already a barrier for so many working people throughout this COVID period in these difficult times but it should not be a barrier to vaccination. So I'm proud to help tear that barrier down, speed up the vaccination program and speed up our economic recovery."

Copping said no one in Alberta should have to choose between getting vaccinated and collecting a paycheque.

"Now, as always, we encourage employers and employees to work together on scheduling appointments, minimizing the impact on employees, and also minimizing the impact on employers when taking this leave," he said.