Paid sick leave is an essential public health requirement

January 13, 2023

Paid sick leave is an essential public health requirement. The Progressive Conservative government in Nova Scotia has demonstrated a frustrating lack of commitment to legislation guaranteeing ten paid sick days. They have continuously failed to commit to enacting legislation which would guarantee working citizens of our province the right to ten paid sick days each year. They keep suggesting people stay home when ill but lack any decisive action outside political sound bites. The fact is, this is not a political or partisan issue but a public health issue. The need for legislated, paid leave couldn’t be more urgent, as hospitals face intense pressure from spreading respiratory viruses, public health officials tell Nova Scotians to stay home when ill, and Doctors waste time making sick notes. In our current pandemic-affected world, hospitals are under immense pressure. The sound bites and advice by health experts and the government telling workers to stay home when ill shows that it’s time for the government to recognize the necessity of legislated paid leave. Paid sick leave would benefit individual health and expedite relief for overburdened health services. Every day, emergency rooms face mounting pressure from illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory viruses. The call for legislated earned time off couldn’t be any clearer as hospitals struggle with an influx of patients. Our physicians, who strive daily in an overwhelmed system, must also spend time writing medical certifications. Employers should not be able to take workers to task for being sick. Our healthcare system must have access to paid sick leave: it is a vital public health measure.

We also must consider that making sure people have paid sick leave so they don’t have to choose between getting a pay cheque and being able to pay their bills, and protecting public health, is essential. Staying home to care for your symptoms or that of an ailing child who is sick is becoming increasingly difficult for workers. The affordability of going without a few days’ pay as inflation spirals out of control is not an option for many workers.

Why are our provincial leaders resisting appeals by labour groups and others to legislate paid sick leave, which is a zero cost to them? We need to keep up with the times, and I am referring to the Federal legislation passed by the Trudeau government extending paid sick days to about 945,000 federal employees, equivalent to about six percent of Canadian workers. The Federal legislation came into force last month, meaning federally regulated workplaces, including private-sector workers, are now getting up to ten paid sick days a year.

We know that legislated paid sick leave is good for the population’s health and business. It is a competitive advantage in a tight labour market, and the government’s role is not just about business interests but the interest of all people. The government must stop appealing to workers to do the responsible thing and not go out if they’re sick, leaving them with a choice between going to work to pay for their groceries and other family needs. Paid sick leave can boost productivity while promoting healthy work environments and ensuring workers’ basic needs are met, cutting down on employee turnover and supporting lower-income earners, who are more vulnerable to illness. Paid sick leave will also help limit exposure in the workplace.

Legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave is suitable for everyone involved. It’s an investment that pays dividends in recruitment and retention and levels the playing field for businesses. Ultimately, it demonstrates how the government moving towards more modern policies can look beyond just business interests and improve the quality of life for thousands of workers.

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