Nfld. & Labrador

Federal labour minister pushing provinces to mandate paid sick leave

Seamus O'Regan is calling on Newfoundland and Labrador to make paid sick leave mandatory.

58% of Canadian workers don't have paid sick leave, says Seamus O'Regan

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan is calling on provincial governments to mandate 10 days of paid sick leave. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan is calling on Newfoundland and Labrador — and other Canadian provinces — to make paid sick leave mandatory.

Right now, businesses in N.L. are required only to give workers seven sick days but aren't required to pay staff for those days off.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, various labour groups, public health officials and members of Parliament have been pushing to make paid sick leave mandatory. The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour says some employees have forced themselves to go to work while sick, possibly while being infected with the coronavirus, because they cannot afford to miss a day of work. Now the federal government wants to mandate 10 paid sick days for all workers. 

O'Regan says 58 per cent of Canadian workers don't have paid sick leave.

"What really brought it into to focus, the idea of 10 paid sick leave days, was COVID," he said. 

"If you got the sniffles, and you have to make the choice of, 'Is it really the sniffles? Maybe if I just brush that off and I can go to work because I have no choice because I have to pay the rent, I got to buy groceries. I'm not getting a paid sick day.' People shouldn't have to make that choice. They shouldn't have had to before COVID, but most definitely the case has been made now."

In December, the federal government implemented 10 days of paid sick leave for all federal employees. At the time, labour groups in Newfoundland and Labrador were quick to call on the province to follow suit.

Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Minister Bernard Davis says discussions on paid sick leave are ongoing across Canada. (CBC)

O'Regan is meeting with provincial labour ministers from across the country Friday to talk about developing a plan to legislate paid sick leave for all workers across the country. He said the plan remains a priority for the federal government, and consultations are prudent to figuring out who will be on the hook for the bill — whether wages come out of the business end, government or a mixture of both. 

"Newfoundland falls right into the middle of the pack of where provinces are. Some provinces don't allow hardly any, even unpaid sick leave," he said.

"So it varies province to province and different provinces have different priorities."

O'Regan said he has had conversations with provincial Labour Minister Bernard Davis that have been "nothing but cordial." He said Davis is going to be a significant player at the meeting on Friday. 

Davis wouldn't do an interview with CBC but said he would make himself available after Friday's meeting. 

In an emailed statement, Davis said paid sick leave has been a topical issue in all jurisdictions.

"Discussions regarding paid sick leave across the country are ongoing," the statement reads. "I look forward to speaking about this issue and other important matters related to the labour sector with my fellow colleagues at our upcoming federal-provincial-territorial meeting of ministers."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan


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