Nova Scotia

No plans to restart paid sick-leave program, says N.S. labour minister

The provincial program, which ended last week, was intended to act as a bridge for people affected by COVID-19 who didn't qualify for the federal assistance program.

NDP bill before the legislature would provide paid sick leave for all workers

A woman with a ponytail and glasses, white shirt and dark suit jacket.
Jill Balser is Nova Scotia's labour minister. (Robert Short/CBC)

Although COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia are on the rise, the province's labour minister says there are no plans right now to bring back a paid sick-leave program.

Jill Balser said the provincial program, which ended last week, was intended to act as a bridge for people affected by COVID-19 who didn't qualify for the federal assistance program, which covers a longer period.

The Tories relaunched the provincial program in January as the Omicron variant caused a surge in cases, but Balser said there wasn't as great a need for the assistance.

"Nova Scotians needed more time off, so they were eligible for that federal program in place of ours," Balser said in an interview at Province House.

The provincial program provided up to four paid sick days for people who missed less than half of their work week due to COVID-19. The days did not have to be used consecutively.

Anyone who needed to miss more time than that was referred to the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which remains in place for now.

Gary Burrill is leader of the Nova Scotia NDP. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it makes sense for the provincial program to remain in place, particularly as the government runs a promotional campaign encouraging people to "get back out there" and resume normal activity.

While most public health restrictions were lifted last month, government officials — including the premier and health minister — have noted there is a lot of COVID-19 in the province and have urged people to follow public health guidance.

Burrill noted the juxtaposition.

"In the context of a paid sick-leave program, it makes lots of sense to say, 'You're feeling good today, take the normal good precautions [and] go about your life,'" he said.

"But when there is no paid sick-leave program, and when people are going to have a financial penalty in order to actually do the responsible thing when they've got symptoms, then I think it's a less wise thing for them to do."

Bill would give paid sick leave to all

The NDP has a bill before the legislature that would see all workers be able to accrue up to 10 paid sick days a year based on how much they work.

New Democrat MLA Kendra Coombes said the issue is bigger than COVID-19, and the pandemic has shown that people with access to such programs only use them when needed.

"People should not have to go to work when they're sick, and they certainly should not have to choose between going to work sick and feeding their families, keeping a roof over their heads and paying the bills," she said.

Balser said if the paid sick-leave program were to be restarted, it would be based on factors such as vaccination rates, epidemiology and consultation with groups such as Public Health.

She noted people are afforded three unpaid sick days under the Labour Standards Code.

The minister recently attended meetings with her federal and provincial counterparts where the subject of paid sick leave was discussed, with some provinces favouring their own programs while others support a federal approach. Balser did not say if she has a preference.