The Ontario government is facing continued pressure to reinstitute paid sick days in the province as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park renewed calls for the Doug Ford-led government for paid sick days to be legislated to help Ontarians abide by stay-at-home orders to limit spread of the coronavirus.
“For countless essential workers, calling in sick means their family will go to bed hungry. They just can’t afford to miss shifts,” said Jamie West, the NDP Labour Relations Critic, in a news release.
In December, the New Democrats proposed the Stay Home If You Are Sick Act to introduce 10 personal emergency leave days per year for every worker – seven of which are paid.
The former NDP Member of Parliament for Essex, Tracey Ramsey, now serving as a co-chair of the Windsor-Essex Chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition, agrees with the party’s proposal.
“Working people need to have supports to be able to stay home,” said Ramsey in an interview with CTV News. “Absent that, trying to access a government program at the federal level can take weeks if not months for people to receive that money.”
The Employment Insurance Sickness Benefit offers up to 55 per cent of earnings to a maximum of $595 a week.
In a statement to CTV News, the Office of the Minister, Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, said the federal government created the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit which was supported by all parties, to offer workers with paid sick leave if it is not provided by their provincial government.
“It is an important part of our COVID-19 response to support Canadians and stop the spread of the virus. We did this so that no worker – regardless of where they live in Canada, or who they work for – has to choose between going to work while impacted by COVID-19 and putting food on the table,” the statement said.
The federal government is funding the temporary benefit while provinces and territories are to establish job-protected sick leave “through regulation or legislation if not already available, the statement continued.
This allows workers to take up to 10 days of leave related to COVID-19.
Ramsey says the measure is not sufficient, and there appears to be consensus on the issue across the political spectrum.
The mayors in Toronto and Brampton, both former leaders of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, John Tory and Patrick Brown, called on the province Wednesday to add paid sick days as an option for workers.
“The provincial and federal response is still missing something pretty significant, and that’s paid sick days,” said Brown.
Today, Ontario health workers & frontline workers were outside Queen's Park demanding urgent action for paid sick days from @fordnationdougford government! This is a public health crisis. Legislate employer-paid sick days now! #paidsickdays #paidsickdayssaveslives #onpoli pic.twitter.com/IaoUD4KEyk— Spring Magazine (@springmagca) January 13, 2021
The Ford government cut two paid sick days offered in Ontario in 2018.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Ontario’s labour ministry in a statement pointed to a partnership with the federal and provincial governments in the summer which secured paid sick leave for workers through the Canada sickness benefit.
“Doug Ford cut Ontario’s two measly paid sick days and now refuses to give Ontarians any paid sick days during COVID-19, because he doesn’t want to spend more on everyday working folks,” said West.
In Windsor, the measure seems to have plenty of support as well.
“It puts pressure on people to go to work right?” said Egidaio Masaro. “Probably makes it a little easier to make that decision if you didn’t have to so, you just don’t feel that you need to pay the bills, go to work, put yourself in danger.”
For Windsorites like Melanie Galang who have been laid off, getting back to work is a focus but, there remains concern about the COVID-19 risk and the support available to allow residents to adhere to public health recommendations.
“Savings is really tight,” said Galang. “It’s really hard so, I guess it’s really better if you have paid sick days off.”
The measure also spawned a ‘die-in’ protest Wednesday at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
Advocates with the Decent Work and Health Network called on the government to allow workers to take paid sick days to protect themselves and prevent further spread of the virus.
According to the group, 58 per cent of Canadian workers do not have paid sick days.