A new paid sick leave rebate program for Yukon workers has been launched.
The program, which will provide workers and self-employed Yukoners with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per 12-month period at no cost to their employer, was announced by Premier Ranj Pillai on April 25.
The program covers all eligible workers earning less than or equal to the average Yukon private-sector wage of $33.94 per hour, an April 25 statement announcing the program read.
Workers who earn below this threshold are most likely to experience financial hardship if they take unpaid sick leave, it was noted in the statement.
Those ineligible for the program include workers employed by the territorial government and its corporations, the federal government and its corporations, Yukon First Nation governments, municipalities and federally regulated industries.
Employers or the self-employed who already have an established paid sick leave program of 40 hours or more will be able to have the government’s 40 hours added on to their existing program, a change Pillai told reporters about two days after the program was announced.
To benefit from the new program, an employer will file a rebate application to the Yukon government for a rebate to cover those costs. This will include documents like a copy of their business license or society registration, a copy of the employee’s most recent pay stub and an affirmation from the employer that the employee was unable to work due to illness and that the employer is using the program in good faith.
“The new program will cover sick leave taken from April 1, 2023 to March 31, 2025,” read the statement.
“It replaces the recently-expired paid sick leave program which was launched in response to COVID-19.”
This rebate program, unlike the previous program, “covers any illness or injury that is not covered by another act and is not restricted to those missing work due to COVID-19.”
Pillai said in a ministerial statement that the territory is the first jurisdiction in Canada to provide government-funded paid sick leave, adding the COVID-19 pandemic “emphasized how important it is for people to have access to paid sick leave.”
However, the program also received strong criticism.
Geraldine Van Bibber, the Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek North, said the previous paid sick leave program for COVID-19 provided 10 paid sick days and wondered why the new program only offers 40 hours, which equates to five sick days.
Whitehorse Centre Yukon NDP MLA Lane Tredger described the paid sick leave program — as outlined by Pillai prior to making the policy change — as “an inadequate, poorly chosen program.”
“There are a lot of flaws,” they said.
“The first and most glaring problem is that this only applies to organizations that don’t already have a sick leave program.”
Tredger continued: “So, businesses or organizations that have already taken it on themselves to do the right thing and added to their business costs in order to give their employees sick leave, they get nothing from the government. Meanwhile, their competitors will be subsidized as a reward for not providing sick leave.”
They noted another issue with the new program is it only applies to workers who make less than $33.94 per hour, arguing that workers who make a dollar more an hour from the required average won’t get any sick leave.
“It seems pretty bizarre to have people working side-by-side but only some of them get sick leave. It’s creating a two-tier workplace.”
Following criticism and questions around the new program and whether some businesses that already have them in place are being punished, the paid sick leave was updated on April 27.
“Any companies that have already put in a sick leave provision will now be able to have our 40 hours added on,” Pillai said after the policy was updated.
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