Prince Edward Island's Liberal Party and Green Party have put forward nearly identical bills that seek to guarantee Island workers up to five paid sick days a year.
Bill 106 and Bill 107, presented by the Liberals and Greens respectively, are now being debated in the P.E.I. legislature and build on a topic that was rigorously talked about in the fall sitting last year.
"We've been hearing that we need to address those Island workers, especially the middle-class and single-family incomes, to help them alleviate some of the pressures because of the rising cost of living so they don't have to make a choice between their health and their finances," interim Liberal Leader Hal Perry told CBC News.
"We did have communication with the [Greens] after they put their legislation forward, and our end objective is really the same."
Interim Liberal Leader Hal Perry says the Greens and Liberals have the same objective with their competing bills. (Ken Linton/CBC)
The main difference in the bills is that the Liberals would give employers the right to ask a worker who requests a paid sick day for a doctor's note. The Green bill does not include that.
The Liberal bill also has a clause that says an employee may not carry over unused paid sick days to the next calendar year. However, the party plans to amend its bill to allow unused days to carry over, as the Green bill does.
Down from proposal for 10 days
Last year, when the Greens formed the Official Opposition in the province, they put forward a bill to give Islanders 10 days of paid sick leave each year.
Government MLAs voted to defeat the bill, though. In September, a spokesperson said the Progressive Conservatives would hold off on any decisions around sick leave legislation until spring at the earliest, when the government plans to make changes to the Employment Standards Act.
On Wednesday, interim Green Leader Karla Bernard said that since her party's bill was voted down last year, the Greens have gone back to find a balance where Island workers have greater protections and businesses find the measure fair.
Interim Green Leader Karla Bernard says many Islanders are having to choose between their health and their finances. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)
"The reality is that many Islanders are living paycheque to paycheque these days, not just lower-income Islanders but everyone," Bernard said in the legislature.
"Without paid sick leave protections, many Island workers are at risk of losing portions of their paycheques — through no fault of their own — that they cannot afford. A missed day of work can have serious consequences for their household budgets."
Days build up during probation?
The PCs asked questions about such things as who was and wasn't consulted by the Greens; how the proposal would affect business owners and what business owners think of it; why they are now seeking five paid sick days instead of the 10 they proposed last year; and whether some workers would claim they were sick when they weren't.
P.E.I. Minister of Finance Jill Burridge pointed out that the standard employment probation period on P.E.I. is six months, so it might not be appropriate for paid sick leave to be accumulating before a worker hits that mark.
P.E.I. Minister of Finance Jill Burridge says businesses would have a hard time with the proposed sick leave bill. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)
"You would have companies then that would not be offering any other benefits than paid sick leave, within the first months. I'm just wondering how they would manage that?" Burridge asked.
"That would be really tough to manage for a business, and to be able to offer… five sick days within five months, one after each month, that would be an incredible burden."