A new report from researchers at Acadia University is calling on the Nova Scotia government to implement permanent, paid sick leave legislation for all employees.
While paid sick leave has long been a big discussion in the labour rights movement, the report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said COVID-19 has “intensified” the calls for sick leave legislation.
“Paid sick leave allows workers the time to recuperate rather than go to work while they are sick,” said the report, titled No Nova Scotian Should Have to Work Sick: The Urgent Need for Universal and Paid Sick Leave Legislation.
“This benefits the worker, but in the case of infectious diseases, also protects co-workers and the members of the public who are customers, patients, or service users.”
The province introduced a temporary sick leave program during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that only goes until the end of July. It also only offers four paid sick days, a far cry from the 10 the report recommends.
“Advocates argue that in order to improve public health, reduce gender inequality, and improve working conditions for the most precarious and marginalized, workers should have access to a minimum of seven, but ideally 10, paid sick days,” it said.
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The report describes Nova Scotia’s Labour Standards Code legislation as “among the worst in the country.” Workers are entitled to just three days of sick leave, unpaid, per year.
The NDP tabled legislation to introduce six paid sick days in 2018, and calls for sick leave legislation have only gotten louder since then.
The report said 54 per cent of Nova Scotians do not have access to paid sick leave, slightly below the national average of 58 per cent.
Who gets paid sick leave?
According to the report, access to paid sick leave “tends to be associated with permanent, full-time and unionized jobs.”
“Younger workers, workers who are single, have high school education or less, or earn less than $25,000 have the least access to paid sick leave,” it said.
The report focused on sick leave among three job categories: long-term care workers, teachers and retail workers.
While long-term care workers and teachers tend to have decent access to paid sick leave (90 per cent and 98 per cent, respectively) only 42 per cent of the retail workers surveyed had access to some form of paid sick leave.
Even with access, 65 per cent of teachers, 54 per cent of long-term care workers and 53 per cent of retail workers said they were still expected to work while sick. That expectation is higher – 71 per cent – for retail workers without paid sick leave.
Retail workers were far more likely to go to work while sick than teachers and long-term care workers. Even with access to paid sick leave, nearly a third of retail workers surveyed reported going to work while sick – and that number only gets higher for those without access.
“Among retail workers without paid sick leave, 41 per cent reported going to work when sick,” the report said, adding that of these, 88 per cent reported going to work while sick because they needed the money.
This “emphasizes the need for paid sick leave particularly among precariously employed workers and those in low-wage positions,” said the report.
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Meanwhile, 18 per cent of teachers and 16 per cent of long-term care workers reported going to work when sick, even though those jobs are more likely to have access to paid sick leave.
“This suggests that it is not sufficient to provide paid sick days without making it accessible by addressing obstacles to workers using them,” it said.
“More research is necessary to understand all of these obstacles, but they may include fear of losing employment and the requirement to provide a doctor’s note, which was common before the pandemic, or adhering to a workplace culture.”
The researchers at Acadia University conducted a mixed-methods survey among 141 teachers, 151 long-term care workers and 186 retail workers for this report.
Nova Scotia was one of five jurisdictions to introduce some sort of sick leave program during COVID-19, with the others being Yukon, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Ontario.
The program in Nova Scotia provides up to four publicly-paid-for sick days between May 10 and July 31.
“Nova Scotia’s program is the shortest in duration as most of the other programs extend their coverage until September and British Columbia extends their coverage until December,” the report said.
While they may be good to have during COVID-19, these programs are “insufficient,” the report argues. It said in order for sick leave to be truly effective, it must be:
- Universal, regardless of the type of work being done.
- Paid, to ensure workers can recuperate without worrying about a loss of income.
- Adequate, with at least 10 paid sick days.
- Permanent, rather than temporarily during COVID-19.
- Accessible, by removing obstacles like a doctor’s note or a minimum service requirement.
- Employer-provided, rather than paid for by the government.
“Employers should not have the right to employ workers under conditions that compromise health and safety and then pass the costs off to the public,” the report said. “Just as vacation and public holidays are employer-paid, paid sick days should be covered by the employer.”
The report, which is available online, concluded that the Nova Scotia government should legislate a permanent requirement for employers to provide sick leave that meets the above criteria.
“It is time for Nova Scotia to recognize that workplace health is public health,” it said.