Statement by Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Official Opposition, on need for government to provide guaranteed sick leave benefits and immediate financial support for Islanders who are unable to work regardless of employment status
During the emergency COVID update yesterday, Premier King made a comment calling on Islanders to not be ‘pandemic heroes’ and stay home during this most recent lockdown. On the surface, this seems like solid advice. However, it fails to acknowledge the almost impossible position it puts many Islanders in.
A large number of Islanders work in service or low-income jobs. For many, there are no paid sick leave benefits. This means when their work is closed due to a public health emergency or they turn down a shift out of an abundance of caution and communal responsibility to limit potential spread, they have no income. This places great pressure on Islanders who are trying to keep a roof over their heads, or to keep the heat and lights on, or to provide food for their family.
While government has been quick to respond to the public health emergency by implementing measures and guidelines to help keep Islanders physically healthy, it has often failed to consider the costs of pandemic restrictions.
My colleagues and I have been hearing from anxious Islanders all weekend. These are friends and neighbours who are concerned for the welfare of their families. They are concerned about whether or not they can provide the immediate needs of their loved ones if they have no income.
Right now, the only supports available to workers who don’t have sick leave benefits and must stay home are through the federal government, but many people don’t qualify or simply can’t wait weeks to make up their lost income. Although the province has introduced emergency leave for workers since the start of the pandemic, it is an unpaid leave.
My caucus and I are calling on Premier King and his government to provide immediate financial support to Islanders being directly impacted by the necessary restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID. We are also calling on government to pass amendments to the Employment Standards Act to ensure all workers on PEI have timely access to paid sick leave benefits regardless of employment status.
We will be also asking specific and key questions directly to government in the House in an effort to get clear information and commitments for Islanders. This will include introducing a motion urging government to provide immediate financial support for Islanders who are not able to work due to these renewed restrictions on workers.
As we approach the one year anniversary of COVID impacting every aspect of our lives, we must do better for the people who call this Island home, especially the essential workers who do so much to keep our province moving.
Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker, MLA New Haven-Rocky Point
Leader of the Official Opposition
March 1, 2021