WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government announced on Monday, Oct. 26 that it is proposing legislation so that more workers can take protected leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic and apply for federal benefits.

Premier Brian Pallister said that Manitoba has led the way for advocating for a federal paid sick leave program, and will be the first province to go ahead with introducing legislative changes so more Manitobans can access federal benefits.

"Manitobans and Canadians shouldn't have to make the difficult decision whether to give up a paycheque or go to work while sick. We don't want people making the wrong choice, and the wrong choice would be to go back to work sick," said Pallister.

He added the first priority is protecting the health and well-being of all Manitobans.

The province noted the federal program came into effect on Sept. 27, and Manitoba’s legislation would be retroactive to that date.

The province said it needs to make amendments to the provincial code in order to fill the gaps between Manitoba’s protected leave provision and the federal program. These changes will ensure that every Manitoban who is eligible for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) is protected if they take a leave of absence.

"These are important changes so Manitobans can stay home from work when needed to limit the spread of COVID-19," he said.

In April, the province introduced unlimited unpaid protected leave for workers who have to self-isolate or care for family members due to the pandemic. The proposed amendments would extend those entitled to leave to any workers who are more susceptible to the disease because of underlying health conditions, medical treatments or other illnesses.

“By expanding the job-protected leave we provided Manitobans in April, we will further protect workers, their families and co-workers during the pandemic,” Pallister said in a news release.

“It’s critical for all Manitobans to stay home when feeling ill, and we must do everything we can to help employers and employees follow public health orders and measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

All eligible workers can now apply for the CRSB, which provides $500 a week for up to two weeks. They can also apply for Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, which gives workers $500 a week for up to 26 weeks so they can take time off to care for a family member.

Pallister noted Manitobans will be able to apply more than once if they develop symptoms more than once.

Once the provincial legislation passes, it will protect the jobs of workers more susceptible to COVID-19 if they take leave and apply for CRSB. The legislation will also allow the province to adapt public health emergency provisions by regulation if necessary.