The Yukon government is seriously eyeing a permanent paid sick leave program, according to the minister of Economic Development.
“There was definitely a significant interest by Yukoners for a program such as this, and now the work to identify how to put that in place is what’s being undertaken,” Ranj Pillai told reporters in the cabinet office after question period on Nov. 21.
How much will the program cost, how many days will it cover and who will be eligible for it have yet to be determined for the long-term iteration of the program, he said.
Pillai said the program must be balanced with negative impacts on businesses. He said cabinet has approved a consultation process with the private sector on this topic.
The Yukon NDP pressed the territorial government on its plan during question period on Nov. 21.
“The chief medical officer of health recommends that people stay home as long as they have symptoms of any illness,” MLA for Whitehorse Centre Emily Tredger said.
“Unfortunately for many people, it’s not that simple. Many Yukoners face the choice between staying home from work or earning the wages they need to put food on the table and to cover their rent and mortgage.”
The Making Work Safe panel is a Yukon Liberal Party and Yukon NDP joint-caucus group co-chaired by Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn and Tredger, along with worker and employer representatives. The panel made recommendations to guide the execution of permanent paid sick leave and making changes to the Yukon’s Employment Standards Act.
The panel falls under the territorial Liberal-NDP confidence and supply deal, which expires Jan. 31, 2023.
Tredger told reporters in the legislative building following question period about her experience on the panel.
“We heard from a lot of Yukoners, and we heard really heartbreaking stories,” she said.
“People were really clear that they wanted paid sick leave.”
In the panel’s report, prepared for the Yukon Legislative Assembly in January 2022, a survey intended for employers received 77 responses, with the bulk of those coming from the private sector.
The report outlines the survey results, including responses to the following question: “What are the possible barriers that your business may face when implementing permanent paid sick leave? Select all that apply.”
Financial barriers, worker shortages and additional administration were identified as potential barriers by a majority of respondents. Five per cent of respondents indicated there were no barriers for the business, while 16 per cent of respondents marked “other” factors.
More than $3.4 million has been doled out to businesses since the temporary paid sick leave program started in 2020, Pillai said in the House. He told reporters that distribution has been primarily seen in the health and social assistance and the accommodation and food services sectors.
Pillai broke down the figures during question period. He said, as of Oct. 27, 2,488 people from 448 businesses have received the money in rebates through the existing program.
Pillai said there is still “significant work” to do on the long-term plan.
“This is something that was never in place previously in the territory, and we want to make sure we get it right,” he said.
Eligible employees in British Columbia are entitled to up to five paid sick days, plus three unpaid sick days, whereas the Yukon’s joint caucus panel is recommending up to 10 paid sick days.
Pillai said recent bills tabled in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan were voted down.
The federal government, on the other hand, has announced the final regulations needed to bring 10 days of paid sick leave into force on Dec. 1 for workers in the federally regulated private sector.
Pillai said the Yukon government needs to cross reference the scope of the federal program that’s being rolled out before going live with the territory’s program to avoid duplication in coverage.
Pillai indicated the Yukon government has “learned a lot” through the territory’s temporary program, in which the employer submits the application to be footed by the Yukon government.
Pillai said he worked with NDP Leader Kate White on a handful of cases where employers weren’t taking advantage of the program and weren’t supporting their workers on this front, particularly during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pillai is confident there will be lots of uptake for the program in the future.
If the work to complete the plan is not done by March 31, Pillai said he would likely propose extending the temporary program for a fifth time for workers who are sick with COVID-19 in order to keep that “safety net” in place.
“My sense is going forward we want to get this work done,” he said.
“But we also don’t want to see a gap in the availability to provide this program.”
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