Islanders worried about future of paid sick days after COVID-19 isolation ends
Businesses and employees say lasting government support would make it easier to stay home when sick
As Prince Edward Island moves towards ending its official COVID-19 isolation requirements, some Island businesses and employees have been left wondering what, if any, financial support will exist to help them stay home when sick.
Cordell Wells holds down two jobs in the service industry. For him, it's not easy to follow the province's recommendation to stay home when sick with any illness — because if he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid.
"It's a little difficult," he said.
"I don't want to not listen to what is highly recommended to us as individuals…. But I still need a roof over my head and food on my table. So it's definitely a hard decision."
Last week, the Official Opposition brought forward a bill to support workers like Wells. The proposed legislation would require employers to provide 10 paid sick days a year to all workers on P.E.I. Currently, P.E.I. requires only one paid sick day per year, and only for employees who have been with the same employer for five years.
The bill hasn't yet been voted on in the legislature, but Wells sees it as a move in the right direction.
"It sounds good to somebody who, like myself, might have come into a situation where they had to decide between their pay and keeping everybody healthy," he said.
"I know that's kind of hard for an employer, but it would really help with making those tough decisions."
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, on the other hand, is urging MLAs to vote against the bill. Vice-president of Atlantic operations Louis-Philippe Gauthier said the mandated leave could hurt businesses' bottom lines.
"For some businesses, it's just not possible," he said.
"It will mean some businesses will have to reconsider how much of a wage increase they'll bring to employees. For others, the increased cost will represent something they might have to pass onto the consumer."
Through much of the pandemic, the province has had a special leave fund in place to cover wages of Islanders forced off work because of COVID-19. That program is set to expire at the end of December. Minister of Economic Development Bloyce Thompson said the province hasn't yet decided whether or not to extend it into 2023.
Gauthier said government support for wages is still important, even if the COVID-19 restrictions ease.
"We are in emergency times, if you will, so government should be supporting those situations," he said.
Wells, meanwhile, said no matter who is paying, those supports should be in place for the long haul, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have this approach of not getting anyone else infected with COVID, but there's a lot more things like viruses that we deal with day-to-day that we could prevent other people from getting," he said.
"So it needs to address all of the above instead of just something for this one time period we are going through."
With files from Steve Bruce