Toronto officials ask Ontario to give all workers 10 paid sick days
Only 42 per cent of all Canadian employees have access to paid sick leave, according to federal statistics — a figure which drops to just 10 per cent among low-wage, front-line workers like taxi drivers, factory staff and cashiers at supermarkets, convenience and big box stores.
With no income to fall back on if forced to quarantine for two weeks, it's understandable that some people working in these high-risk jobs are afraid to be tested for COVID-19.
What's not understandable, at least to Toronto Mayor John Tory and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, is why neither the province nor the feds have agreed to mandate paid sick leave for workers who fall ill with the contagious virus.
"As many businesses and employers as possible should be offering sick leave protection to workers who need to go get tested, and who then in turn if they test positive need time off work," said Tory during a pandemic briefing on Monday.
"But for those who don't have that through their employment are reluctant to get tested today, and in many cases are going to work sick, and in some cases are being encouraged to go to work sick, and thereby spreading the virus."
Tory once again urged the provincial and federal governments to "step up" and let front-line workers know they have a source of livelihood if forced to self-isolate due to COVID-19 "so that they won’t be afraid to get tested because of losing their paycheque."
Dr. de Villa put forth a more formal request for the province to do this in a newly-published report that is set to go before Toronto's Board of Health next week.
"During the pandemic, it has become increasingly evident that paid sick leave provisions are essential to protect the health of individual workers, their workplaces, and the broader community," reads the report.
"Community-based partners continue to note that for vulnerable and low-income residents, the primary barriers to getting tested for COVID-19 and isolating are related to the risk of income loss or job loss if a worker stays home from work due to illness."
The report reccomends that Ontario's provincial government require employers to provide "no less than 10 paid sick days annually during a declared infectious disease emergency," such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and that it provide financial support to employers for this purpose.
Toronto's Medical Officer of Health is calling on the province to ensure workers have access to 10 paid sick days during the #covid19 pandemic.— Tina Yazdani (@TinaYazdani) January 11, 2021
Only 42% of working Canadians have access to paid sick leave, and only an estimated 10% of low-wage & frontline workers. Release: pic.twitter.com/BvxjnvN2dY
When not in a state of emergency, de Villa reccomends that employers still be mandated to give their workers no less than five paid sick days anually, with or without government assistance.
As it stands right now, most employees in Ontario are entitled to take up to three days of unpaid sick leave each year "due to personal illness or care responsibilities."
Workers are protected from losing their job during this type of leave, but there's no rule forcing employers to pay them — and many large companies choose not to.
"I'm almost to the 'hair lighting on fire time' with this," said Tory of the situation on Monday.
"We know from our public health people, and we know from the facts and figures, this is a real source of fear and concern out there... it's just beyond comprehension that no [government] has come forward and clearly stated: 'Yes, we will look after you and your families during that period of time.'"
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