COVID-19 transmission in Manitoba workplaces shows need for paid sick days: labour federation

The amount of COVID-19 transmission in workplaces in the province is demonstrating the need for paid sick time for all workers, the Manitoba Federation of Labour says.

Workers Compensation Board records at least 1,200 instances of COVID-19 transmission in workplaces

The Manitoba Federation of Labour says the time for paid sick leave province and Canada-wide is now. (Richard Vogel/The Associated Press)

The amount of COVID-19 transmission in workplaces in the province is demonstrating the need for paid sick time for all workers, the Manitoba Federation of Labour says.

New data shows Manitoba's Workers Compensation Board accepted 1,227 COVID-19 claims between March 1, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021. That means there were at least that many cases of COVID-19 acquired in workplaces in the province.There could be many more cases associated with workplace clusters, the federation says.

"That doesn't include people who aren't covered by WCB or people who didn't know that they could go and apply for WCB, so I suspect the actual number is much higher," said MFL president Kevin Rebeck.

In addition, 815 claims were denied and one is pending.

Across Canada, only about 42 per cent of people over 18 who are working have access to paid sick days, the federation says.

That means they have to make the choice between getting paid and public health when they become sick, Rebeck says.

"It just really reinforces what we hear [Manitoba's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent] Roussin tell us every day that when people are sick they need to be able to stay home, but for over half of Canadians, the reality is the choice to stay home means you're going without a paycheque and that's a tough choice for many," he said.

The labour federation is calling for the establishment of 10 permanent paid sick days for all Manitoba workers, as well as an additional 10 days to be made available to workers in times of public health emergencies.

Rebeck says many businesses have been hit hard during the pandemic, so the federal and provincial governments should step up to help them make this a reality.

A provincial spokesperson said in an email that Manitoba lobbied the federal government to implement a national paid sick leave program last spring.

The province also introduced Public Health Emergency Leave, which provides job protection to workers required to take time off due to COVID-19 and aligns with current federal benefits and proposed extended benefits, the spokesperson said.

"Manitoba's current approach to sick days is consistent with most other jurisdictions in that it does not require employers to provide any paid sick days, but requires employers to provide job protected unpaid leave for various reasons whether it is related to COVID-19 or other reasons," the email said.

The spokesperson said workers also have access to employment insurance and workers compensation if they need to take time off because of COVID-19.

Rebeck says that's a "cop out" because employment standards are under the provincial jurisdiction.

"We [have to] prevent people from bringing contagious diseases to work, whether it's COVID-19 or it's influenza," Rebeck said.

"The days of working alongside coughing co-workers or having a sneezing cook prepare your meal need to be in the past, and that will only happen if we have paid sick days for all workers and that's a provincial responsibility."


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