Introducing paid sick leave legislation would likely not be an effective way to address concerns for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Justice Minister George Hickes said as the Nunavut legislative assembly’s spring sitting got underway on May 27.

“If we were to put legislation forward, it wouldn’t be available until September, which, realistically, the light at the end of the tunnel is going to be occurring in the next few months as vaccination numbers increase, as restrictions get eased, as there is less opportunity for COVID-19 to be impacted in our communities,” Hickes said. “At this time I’m not looking at bringing forward temporary legislation that may be outdated by the time it gets tabled in the House.”

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak, who raised the issue, replied, “Let’s just hope that we don’t have any more pandemics where it will have to be addressed.”

She added that at least one other Canadian jurisdiction has addressed this issue by providing a rebate to businesses so that they can afford to provide paid sick leave to their workers. She asked Hickes to explain whether he’s had any such discussions with employers.

The minister said he doesn’t have “direct links all the time” with the numerous industries affected by COVID-19. However, he committed to speaking with the minister of Economic Development and Transportation to see whether there are concerns that would warrant a further look at it.

On May 13, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) urged the Government of Nunavut to put measures in place to ensure that mandatory paid sick leave is offered to all workers in Nunavut.

“NTI is concerned by the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the territory and their potential links to essential workers. Nunavut does not have mandatory paid sick leave, paid sick leave is limited or not available to many private-sector essential workers, and this could be a factor in the spread of the virus,” NTI stated. “Essential workers, regardless of their place of work, deserve adequate benefits such as paid sick leave so that they can stay home when sick or need to self-isolate.”

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