Paid leave proposed so workers can get vaccinated

·3 min read

Manitoba workers might soon be getting a three-hour paid leave when they receive COVID-19 vaccinations, owing to proposed changes to employment codes.

However, should those workers fall ill to the coronavirus before or after an appointment, their only hope for provincial paid leave is a volunteer program that could provide up to $600 for five days — if their bosses choose to allow that for them.

At a press conference late Tuesday afternoon, Finance Minister Scott Fielding “proudly” announced the “elimination of barriers so that Manitobans can confidently book a vaccine appointment during work hours without fear of losing out on their regular wages.”

The proposed amendments to Manitoba employment standards by the Tories would make it mandatory for employers to allow workers paid leave each time they require a dose of the vaccine. When they go get the shot, their paid wages would be fixed at regular rates; or in the case of people whose wages vary (such as those working on commission), they will receive the average earnings they’d have gotten while still at work.

Fielding said the Manitoba government looked at what other provincial jurisdictions were doing about this before putting forward its own proposals for paid leave.

“Most employers in Manitoba are already offering paid vaccination leave to their employees,” he told reporters. “So, this program sort of just thanks them for their understanding of the importance of a vaccinated workforce.”

The measures would apply to all workplaces across the province — whether they are regulated federally or provincially. They would also extend to later in the year when a second dose would be required and “will likely allow” employers to give workers paid time off for any side-effects from the vaccine or travel related to getting the dosage, said Fielding.

“Every single one of us has a role to play in protecting ourselves and our community,” he told reporters. “And we want to encourage employees and employers to do the right thing here, to do what’s best for us all, so we’re giving them this good news today that now they can do so without worrying.”

But the finance minister’s good news for paid leave does not exactly extend to those that have their hours cut due to new public-health restrictions for businesses, says the Manitoba Federation of Labour. And neither does it address sick-leave barriers, they said.

“Actually, I’m not really sure we can call this good news completely,” labour federation president Kevin Rebeck told the Free Press. “There is yet to be any changes that would stop employers from being the gatekeepers of workers’ rights to take sick leave.”

On Friday last week, the province unveiled the new Manitoba Pandemic Sick Leave program — which is voluntary and reimburses eligible employers with $600 for providing paid time off to employees who are absent for reasons related to COVID-19.

“These new three hours of pay to get a shot of the vaccine is a step forward,” said Rebeck. “But we all have to wonder, if they can put in legislative changes to remove barriers for this, why aren’t they addressing the fact that over half of all Manitobans will not be getting any paid sick leave at all because their programs aren’t mandated? They’re voluntary.”

The lesser one’s income, the likelier their employers are to not opt in to provide wages while they’re sick, the labour federation believes.

“Yes, the federal government has created some steps to give people sick-leave wages and that was a good start. But our provincial government needs to step up and fill in the gaps — for which they have a lot of work to do,” said Rebeck.

The finance minister was defensive about the provincial programs, however.

“Our sick leave is probably the most generous program, really, across the country,” said Fielding, repeating a line used frequently by Premier Brian Pallister since the onset of COVID-19. “We’re very, very proud of it.”

Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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