Manitoba is bringing in a new paid sick day program and doubling fines for those who repeatedly break health-orders as the third wave bears down on the province.
Premier Brian Pallister announced Friday morning the province has created a new sick leave program aimed at filling the gaps between existing federal and provincial programs.
Called the Manitoba Pandemic Sick Leave Program, it will pay employers $600 to give employees up to five COVID-19 related sick days.
Pallister said it was a response to a "disappointing" federal paid sick leave program and would cut down on red tape.
"The Manitoba Pandemic Sick Leave Program is designed to ensure hardworking employees do not lose their wages and employers are reimbursed in a timely manner," he said.
Sick days can be used for testing, getting the vaccine, vaccine side effects, self-isolation due to COVID-19 symptoms or caring for a loved one.
Employers who already provide paid sick leave and government employers are not eligible for funding.
A portal to apply through will be online in the next few weeks but the funding will be retroactive to today. It will run until at least Sept. 25, Pallister said, coinciding with other federal and provincial programs.
Manitoba Liberal Party leader Dougald Lamont said the provincial paid sick leave program is a positive but is coming too late in the game. It should also be legislated instead of a one-off program, he said.
"One of the biggest problems facing people is if you’re a parent with kids and your kid gets exposed in school, you might have to self-isolate two or three times and if you don’t have a job where you can work from home you’re out of luck," he said.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour also took issue with the fact the paid sick leave program is not legislated. In a statement, union president Kevin Rebeck said the program is only voluntary for employers.
"All workers should have access to paid sick days, regardless of their employer’s decisions," he said.
"We fear that, like many other employer support programs announced by this government, the intent here is to pay out as little as possible … There is an urgent need for government to put paid sick days in place for all workers to remove barriers to protecting public health."
Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew also called the paid sick leave program "disappointing," saying it has too many loopholes and fails to meet the needs of the current moment.
"I don’t think it’s really going to reach the people we want to help and certainly I don’t think it’s going to help that goal of assisting people so they can afford to stay home when they’re sick," he said.
Kinew also criticized the provincial government for being overly focused on enforcement without properly enforcing travel restrictions.
The province is also doubling the fines for people caught breaking public health orders multiple times and upping the default payment fine for people late to pay tickets, Pallister said.
While the province has focused on education in the past, the move is to further crackdown on rule-breakers and boost enforcement measures.
"It’s getting to the point I think where most Manitobans, and I’m one of them, are frustrated some people just don’t get it at this point," he said.
"The vast majority of Manitobans are following these fundamentals, they’re following the rules and I say again thank you for doing that and please keep doing that, but there’s a small selfish minority of people that aren’t doing their part and in doing so they’re putting the health of themselves and others at risk."
The province could prevent people from getting a drivers’ license if they don’t pay health-order related fines, Pallister said, or garnish wages.
"You can put your car up on blocks and you can leave it there until you pay your fine," he said.
Lamont said he would like to see the province bring in a sharper lockdown — a circuit breaker— to curb rising cases of the virus. The current plan doesn’t help people who get COVID-19 while following the rules, he said.
More information on the Manitoba Pandemic Sick Leave Program can be found on the province’s website.
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