OPINION: Protect Workers, Implement Paid Sick Days

Samantha Bader, Co-President

As cases of COVID-19 once again spike out of control in Ontario, it is clear that current government measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 are failing. There is one step the government should take to reduce the spread of this virus – Doug Ford needs to stop passing the buck and implement paid sick leave for workers. 

There is increasing evidence that the majority of transmission of COVID-19 in the province is now mainly occurring at businesses that remain open after having been designated as essential. Grocery stores, long-term care facilities, and food processing plants have all been sites of outbreaks. This leads one to believe that, unfortunately, there are still essential workers who are going to work when they may be feeling sick. 

For many essential workers, calling in sick and missing a few days’ pay can lead to them being unable to pay rent, and/or becoming late on recurring bill payments. A report from the Toronto Board of Health has shown that only 10% of front-line and low wage workers in the province have access to paid sick leave currently. When the government leaves people with no choice but to risk getting others sick in order to stay afloat financially, it opens the door for outbreaks. 

There is federal assistance currently available to those who miss work due to illness. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit provides workers with up to $450 after taxes per week for up to two weeks. According to Doug Ford, the province of Ontario has no desire to step in where the federal government already has.  

“If the system is not working and that’s what I’m hearing from the media, we’re having conversations as we speak and over the last little while (with the federal government). If people don’t feel they are getting it quick enough then we need to change the program and if they need to top it up a little more because $500 a week isn’t feasible then we change it” Ford said. “Let’s be very, very clear there’s no reason for the province to jump in there when less than 27 percent of the overall program hasn’t been taken up.” 

The issue with the CRSB, however, is that it takes up to two weeks for the payments to go through to individuals. For low-income essential workers, that delay in being paid can be the difference between making a rent payment or eviction. Paid sick leave, unlike the CRSB, just includes payment for the sick time directly on an employee’s paycheck. 

If the past year has shown us anything, it is that in order to save the economy, governments need to prioritize the health of their citizens. If more people are ill, more stringent lockdown measures are needed, which in turn harms any sort of economic recovery that provinces are trying to achieve. By refusing to provide the most vulnerable of citizens with the reassurance that they will still be able to pay their bills should they fall ill, the Ford government is ensuring that the COVID-19 numbers will continue to rise. If Doug Ford is really serious about wanting to slow the spread of COVID-19, he should implement a policy of paid sick leave for all Ontario workers.

Photo by Brandon Holmes, Unsplash

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