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Industry welcomes reinstated provincial COVID-19 sick leave program

Benefit will provide workers with up to $160 per day for up to four days

2 min read
A bartender wearing a surgical mask pours a glass of beer from a tap.
caption A bartender prepares a drink at Maxwell's Plum in Halifax. The new COVID-19 sick pay benefit will help those in industries where paid sick leave is scarce, such as food service.
Lane Harrison

The restaurant industry in Halifax is welcoming a reintroduced provincial program providing paid sick days for missed work due to COVID-19.

As of Jan. 10, workers in Nova Scotia are eligible to receive provincially funded paid sick days if they miss less than half of their shifts in a week due to COVID-19 infection, exposure to the virus or a vaccination appointment.

Erika Ellsworth, a bartender at the Maxwell’s Plum in Halifax, was pleased to hear about the return of the program. “I mean, how could you say: I don’t want that?” she said.

The program fills a gap created by the federally funded Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which provides paid sick leave for those who miss more than half of their shifts in a week.

Many businesses are struggling to stay afloat while Omicron infects more Nova Scotians, said Luc Erjavec, vice-president of the Atlantic Canada office of Restaurants Canada.

“When I speak to operators their biggest concern is their staff,” he said. “At the same time, they’re just struggling financially.”

By providing financial support where the federal government wasn’t, the program alleviates some of that burden from restaurants, he said.

Tabitha Smith, retail manager at Duly Noted stationery in Halifax, is also glad to see the program in her industry.

“I think it’s a good idea because it’s not something you can control,” she said. “And people who are working, especially in retail, aren’t necessarily making an excellent wage.”

The program supports both employees and self-employed people. Employees do not apply for the support. Instead, employers will pay workers for the time they miss and then apply for reimbursement from the government.

Erjavec said this system should work well.

“My experience with provincial governments is they’re quite quick,” he said. “When you apply, you’ll get your money quickly. That should help alleviate the cashflow issues.”

He said the only challenge he’s facing with the new program is helping restaurants understand how the provincial and federal sick leave differ.

“Operators are so busy just trying to keep the doors open,” he said. Restaurants Canada is trying to help them take advantage of the programs that will allow them to do that.

The program will provide eligible workers with up to $20 per hour or $160 per day of missed shifts. The program will run until March 31, and will also retroactively cover shifts that workers missed starting Dec. 20, 2021.

Applications can be submitted online.

The reintroduction of the program has also renewed calls for permanent, employer-funded, paid sick leave in the province.

“Employers are saying they can’t get enough people. It’s because they need to learn that they need to treat people better,” said Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.

“And those employers who provide some sick leave provision to workers are going to be the ones that are gonna survive.”

In the restaurant industry, Erjavec said that’s not possible at the moment.

“Our staff is so important to us. Of course, we want to give them more of everything,” he said. “Right now, many are just teetering on the brink of financial ruin. And inflicting costs on them at this point in time is detrimental.”

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About the author

Lane Harrison

Lane Harrison is a fourth-year multimedia journalist from Toronto, Ontario. He works as the editor-in-chief of the Dalhousie Gazette, Dalhousie's...

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