Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan says the government is open to amending legislation that would provide 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers.

O’Regan acknowledges that at least two provisions of House Bill C-3 could undermine the goal, which is to ensure that sick workers don’t have to choose between going to work sick or staying home without pay.

The bill would allow employers to require a doctor’s note verifying that an employee is sick.

Senators in a committee that is pre-studying the bill say it doesn’t make sense on several fronts, including the fact that a person with symptoms of COVID-19 can’t even walk into a doctor’s office these days, and would inhibit workers. to take sick leave.

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As the bill is written, workers would accrue their 10 days of paid sick leave at the rate of one day per month.

The senators point out that it would do little to help a worker who contracts COVID-19 or another illness within a month or two of the bill’s enactment.

O’Regan told the Senate social affairs committee on Monday that the administration is open to amendments on both issues.

Senator Patricia Bovey, a member of the Senate Progressive Caucus, asked why the bill is not based on the premise that every worker is entitled to 10 days of paid sick leave each year, starting immediately.

O’Regan said that’s an issue where the government “would be open to suggestions and what I would say is, ‘Get it to me in writing so we can take a look at it.’

“Oh, it will come in writing,” Bovey assured him.

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Sen. Frances Lankin, a member of the Independent Senators Caucus, told O’Regan that she is in the process of drafting an amendment on that issue, while her ISG colleague, Sen. Stan Kutcher, is drafting another to remove the provision. of the doctor’s note.

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She and other senators pointed to a number of problems with requesting a doctor’s note: Patients, especially in rural areas, may not have easy access to a doctor, and vulnerable people, such as single-parent families or people with disabilities, they might have a harder time getting to a doctor. office.

In addition, they argued that someone who has a cold or other mild symptoms that could be COVID-19 might decide to go to work rather than go to the trouble and expense of getting a doctor’s note.

Sen. Rosemary Moodie, a physician and member of the Independent Senators Caucus, noted that a person with symptoms of COVID-19 cannot enter most medical facilities these days.

“So the actual ability to get a certificate is very limited,” he said.

O’Regan noted that the bill allows an employer to require a doctor’s note within 15 days after an employee returns to work, which would give a person time to see a doctor once symptoms subside. have disappeared.

But Kutcher said that makes even less sense. He puts doctors in the position of verifying that someone they hadn’t seen or treated was legitimately ill some days or even weeks earlier.

“The whole 15 days doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.

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O’Regan said the purpose of the provision was to have a “patch cord in case there was any concern of abuse.”

However, he said the government is open to finding “some kind of settlement” on the issue. He acknowledged that a recent survey suggested that more than 80 per cent of Canadians would rather go to work sick than go to the trouble of obtaining a medical certificate.

Bill C-3 is one of three priority bills that the minority Liberal government wants both houses of parliament to pass by the end of this week, when Parliament adjourns for a six-week recess. It is a two-pronged bill that would also impose harsher criminal penalties for harassing or intimidating healthcare workers.

The bill received unanimous approval in principle last week in the House of Commons and is now being considered by a Commons committee. Two Senate committees are pre-studying the bill to expedite its eventual passage once it reaches the upper house.

Conservative Senator Yonah Martin questioned how the government intends to pass the bill by Friday if it is contemplating amendments.

“I feel like we need a lot more time on this important bill,” he said, adding that he fears there will be “unintended consequences” if we don’t consider it carefully.

O’Regan argued that the threat of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is spreading around the world, adds urgency to passing the bill to ensure federally regulated workers can take paid time off. if they get the virus.

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