Angella MacEwen appearing on a virtual Senate hearingOn Wednesday night, CUPE was invited to testify before Parliament on federal sick leave provisions in Bill C-19.

Speaking before the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, CUPE Senior Economist Angella MacEwen highlighted CUPE’s long history of advocacy for paid sick leave and commended the government’s efforts to address this issue in the federal jurisdiction. She also pointed out that the new bill only partially addresses concerns CUPE has raised regarding previous versions of the legislation, while introducing new problems.

First, MacEwen noted that limiting sick leave to employers with more than 100 workers severely reduces the effectiveness of the legislation. “This amendment excludes workers that are currently the least likely to have access to paid sick days, and so are most in need of this protection,” she stated. “It should be removed from the legislation.”

Secondly, she discussed two partial improvements to previous versions of the legislation which require further amendment.

CUPE had recommend that Bill C-3 be amended to ensure that all workers are granted 10 days of paid sick leave as an annual allotment rather than as an allotment earned on a monthly basis. We further suggested that this annual allotment be made available on hiring or after a very brief probationary period. While Bill C-19 partially addresses this concern by allotting 3 days of medical leave after 30 days of employment, MacEwen noted that in CUPE’s view this is still inadequate. “We recommend that all workers have access to their 10 days as an annual allotment after 30 days of employment, rather than continuing to accrue days on a monthly basis,” she argued.

MacEwen also questioned the right of employers to demand medical certificates. While Bill C-19 improves upon Bill C-3 by only allowing employers to ask for a sick note after five consecutive days of absence, requiring medical certificates remains a barrier for many workers. This because of the time and expense required and because of the widespread lack of access to primary care physicians. “Doctors have been very clear that sick notes are not an appropriate use of health care resources,” she explained. “CUPE strongly recommends that this clause be removed from the bill entirely.”

CUPE represents thousands of workers in federally-regulated sectors like airlines, ports, and telecommunications. Our union supports the swift passage of federal sick leave legislation with the suggested amendments. We also call on provincial governments across the country to follow suit with matching legislation.