A piece of legislation introduced by the leader of the New Brunswick Green Party aims to give workers up to 10 days of paid sick leave.
Under the province’s Employment Standards Act, non-unionized employers only provide employees with five days of unpaid leave. According to Statistics Canada, employees in New Brunswick missed 10.2 days of work due to illness or disability in 2020.
David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Green Party and MLA for Fredericton South, said the bill intends to protect workers in lower-wage jobs who sometimes have to choose between going to work sick or not being able to afford their living expenses.
“Everyone should have access to some paid sick leave to stay home … and avoid spreading infectious diseases around their workplace,” he said.
Coon said this winter is seeing a resurgence in viruses like the flu, COVID-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which is why the bill is important “now more than ever.”
“We’ve got a troika of respiratory viruses which are having a big impact on a lot of people and a lot of families,” he said.
Alongside the addition of paid sick days to the Employment Standards Act, Coon’s amendment also outlines implementing a temporary financial support program for employers to adapt to the change.
Daniel Legere, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said the federation has some reservations about the bill. He welcomed the paid sick leave, but called the financial support program “too broad.”
“It would appear to include all employers, including the Sobeys, the Walmarts … it doesn’t target the small employers that the federation would support,” he said.
Legere also said the temporary nature of the financial support program is problematic for the long-term implementation of a social program for paid leave.
He suggested a permanent social program that gives stability to employers and workers.
“This bill, although I’m sure it isn’t the intent, looks a lot like a corporate kind of thing,” said Legere.
Krista Ross, CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, said some members of the chamber are concerned about the new costs this bill might bring employers.
She noted how employers are challenged with inflation and significant increases to minimum wages, property tax and carbon tax. Ross added the proposed financial support program should not exclude big businesses but analyze the needs of each employer to see if they require it.
“Just because an employer is large, they also may have a lot of hourly paid employees, so they may need that type of support more than a very small employer who perhaps has two or three people on salary,” she said.
The bill passed the second reading on Dec. 15 and was referred to the Standing Committee on Law Amendments. The committee will call witnesses to give comments on the bill, which can include businesses, unions, workers and other stakeholders.
The date for the debate in the committee is yet to be determined, but both Ross and Legere said they want their organizations to be a part of the discussion.
“The Federation of Labour was unaware of this bill and certainly not consulted. Hopefully, when it goes to committee there may be an opportunity for groups to submit briefs or to appear in person and express concerns,” said Legere.