Nova Scotia

Data shows paid sick leave is affordable for Nova Scotia: NDP

NDP Leader Gary Burrill is using the Nova Scotia government's own facts and figures to bolster his argument that the province can afford a sick leave program for workers who don't have the benefit.

Department of Labour estimated program would cost $16M and assist more than 100,000 workers

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill says new information on the province's sick leave program shows the government can afford to make it more generous and permanent. (CBC)

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill is convinced the provincial government can afford to give workers who don't have sick leave paid days off when they're ill, and he's basing that on facts and figures his party received through an access to information request.

This summer, the previous Liberal government set up a COVID-19 sick leave program. Workers who took time off because of illness between May 10, 2021, and July 31, 2021, were eligible for up to four days of paid sick leave.

At the time, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education estimated more than 100,000 workers might take advantage of the program at a cost to the province of $16 million.

According to documents released to the NDP for the first half of the program (between May 10 and June 30), only 642 individuals took advantage of the program.

They were paid for a total of 1,313 days off. The total cost to the province was $157,498.39.

Burrill said what those figures show is that Nova Scotians did not flood the program.

"There was really quite a modest and a measured uptake of the program," said Burrill. "We had always heard from the government, for a couple of years prior to bringing this forward, that one reason they were concerned about bringing forward a program is they thought there would be a lot of abuse.

"The potential for abuse that a lot of people have spoken about as being a big issue, in fact, is zero issue at all."

Burrill said the fact the province has only spent a fraction of the $16 million set aside for the program shows there's money for a more generous and permanent program that should be part of Nova Scotia's Labour Standards Code.

The province's program included those who needed to take time off for any COVID-19 reason like getting tested, vaccinated, or self-isolating. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

"The time to bring in a sick leave program is before you're in the middle of the [COVID] wave, so that people are able to stay home when they have symptoms and not go to work, not spread the virus, not spread the infection, so that you don't end up in the middle of a worse wave," said Burrill.

Instead of just four days, the NDP would like to see the province give people 10 days of sick leave a year.

In an email statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Labour Department said as of Sept. 17, there had been a total of 2,216 claims approved for a total payout of $469,073. In total, 3,862 sick days were covered. 

Khalehla Perrault said the program closed on July 31, although applicants have 90 days from the date of the missed work time to file a claim with the program.

"Nova Scotians and businesses helped to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the third wave. $16 Million was reserved, if needed, for Nova Scotia's COVID-19 paid sick leave program based on epidemiology at the height of the third wave," said Perrault in the statement Tuesday evening.

"Due to Nova Scotians' ability to effectively curb the third wave, this reserve was not required. This was a temporary program and no decision has been made to reinstate the program at this time."

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