With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the New Brunswick and record-high case numbers, it’s time Premier Higgs and his caucus back up their words.
On many occasions we’ve heard a member of this government urge New Brunswickers to stay home if they feel sick or have symptoms. It’s good advice as you wouldn’t want to possibly spread the virus amongst your co-workers or the general public.
However, it ignores the reality many New Brunswickers face: namely, they can’t afford to miss a day of work and most do not have paid sick days.
Almost two years into a pandemic and one simple change that could impact the spread of the virus has not been implemented.
This could be accomplished by amending the existing provincial Employment Standards Act.
In fact, the work to reform the Act has already been done by Green Party leader and Fredericton South MLA David Coon. In November, 2021 he proposed a bill to amend the Act which would have provided all workers in the province with 10 paid sick days as well as a financial support program to help employers adapt to the costs associated with sick leave. The bill and the benefits for workers was defeated in the legislature.
At the very least, Premier Higgs should follow the lead of a fellow Conservative Premier Tim Houston of Nova Scotia who recently announced the relaunch of paid sick leave in the province.
From a Government of Nova Scotia press release:
Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Program is expected to relaunch January 10, 2022, and be in place until March 31, 2022. The program will be retroactive to include sick days starting from December 20, 2021.
The program will again cover employee wages, including wages of self-employed people, up to a maximum of $20 per hour or $160 per day. The maximum payment over the 15-week period is $640 per worker. Eligible businesses that continue to pay their employees during their leave may be reimbursed by the program.
The program has previously been used from May 10 to July 31, 2021. It cost about $600,000 and 4,000 sick days were covered.
Premier Higgs has talked about his fiscal management bringing about a surplus to provincial coffers during the pandemic, much of it from the federal government to help with COVID-19 relief for New Brunswickers. Now it’s time to use some of it for what it was intended.
Susie Proulx-Daigle is the president of the New Brunswick Union.