Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, centre, along with Richard Mostyn, minister of highways and public works, not pictured, and John Streicker, minister of community services, not pictured, announce a a suite of measures to take the pressure off an ailing economy due to COVID-19 at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 26. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

YG rolls out relief measures for businesses, tenants

Employers now can recoup costs for sick leave they’ve paid out

The Yukon government has unveiled a suite of measures to take the pressure off an ailing economy due to COVID-19.

Those unable to pay rent because of the health crisis won’t be evicted; the aviation sector is to receive funding to offset certain costs; and business owners will be able to recoup some wages paid out to sick staff.

“There’s no question that these are challenging times,” said Ranj Pillai, minister of the Department of Economic Development, on March 26. “Yukoners are experiencing anxiety, hardship right now and there’s uncertainty all around us.”

The Yukon government is following through with its commitment to a paid sick leave program, he said, now covering those who don’t qualify for it so that they can stay home if sick. The self-employed are also eligible.

“It means that retroactive to March 11 all eligible Yukoners will receive an additional 10 paid sick leave work days in the event they become sick and need to self-isolate during this pandemic,” said Pillai of the roughly $6 million program, adding that doctors’ notes aren’t required.

Employers, he continued, are able to recoup wages paid out to sick employees for the days they took off.

“These paid sick leave work days will apply after all existing regular paid sick leave for the employee has been used,” Pillai said.

For the self-employed the rebate will be based on average daily earnings.

The rebate is going to be available for six months.

NDP Leader Kate White told the News the initiative falls flat in that some workers — those who aren’t sick — are left hanging. Everyone laid off should qualify, she said.

There’s a wait time until federal dollars kick in and no bridge support from the Yukon government, she continued. British Columbia has put forward stopgap measures to help see people through — a rent freeze and $500 subsidy. White said this could be emulated here.

The Yukon government announced the establishment of a business advisory council this week in order to monitor further economic impacts. Twenty people are part of it. They are look into the issue for six months, perhaps longer, if necessary.

There are changes to the Yukon Nominee Program. Immigrants typically have 90 days to find other work without it affecting their status in the country. This has been waived, Pillai said, and new program applications for original employment won’t be required once COVID-19 blows over.

Richard Mostyn, minister of the Department of Highways and Public Works, announced savings for the aviation sector worth roughly $210,000. The industry has been one of the hardest hit in the country if not the world.

“We’re waiving all airport landing, aircraft parking fees and aircraft loading fees in the Yukon until Dec. 31, 2020,” he said. “It incentivizes carriers of all sizes to visit and stay in the Yukon once that traffic resumes. It also eliminates a bill that several businesses would have had to pay.”

COVID-19 specific regulations have also been implemented to ensure that people aren’t kicked out of their rental units.

Those who are self-isolating or have experienced job or income loss can’t be evicted and rent will be deferred, said John Streicker, minister of community services, adding that his department is to work with landlords and tenants going forward.

The regulations are in effect for three months.

White said while it’s good there’s certainty for renters prior to April 1, the Department of Community Services has more work to do.

“Yesterday’s announcement isn’t really clear how landlords will be able to get through this, because if you have multiple properties it doesn’t mean you can get a mortgage deferral,” she said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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