ontario paid sick days

People really aren't loving Ontario's plan for paid sick days

At long last, after months of refusing the pleas of medical experts to mandate paid sick days and help stop the spread of COVID-19, Ontario's provincial government has unveiled legislation that will do just that — but not very well, in the opinions of critics.

"On April 29, 2021, the Ontario Government will introduce the COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act, which would require employers to provide employees with up to three days of paid leave because of certain reasons related to COVID-19," reads a description of the proposed COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit on the province's website.

Reasons listed for eligibility include: Going for a COVID-19 test, awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, being sick with COVID-19, going to get vaccinated, experiencing side effects of COVID-19, taking care of a dependent with COVID-19, or "having been advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19 by an employer, medical practitioner or other authority."

If passed, the new legislation will require employers to provide all full- and part-time employees with $200 of pay for up to three days if they are missing work due to COVID-19 until September 25, 2021.

Great news, right? This is what labour groups, healthcare leaders and all stripes of politicians have been asking for in recent months with an increasing sense of urgency as variants of the coronavirus wreak havoc amid a third wave.

Unfortunately, the mere introduction of paid sick days isn't enough to make critics happy; it has to be rolled out in a way that is adequate, realistic and fair.

While portions of the plan are being well-recieved (such as the fact that sick notes aren't required and it will be retroactive to April 19,) many Ontario residents are pointing out perceived flaws in the Ford government's proposal.

First off, there's the issue of length.

"By providing time-limited access to three paid leave days, the province is ensuring employees can pay their bills as they help stop the spread of the virus, including by getting tested, waiting for their results in isolation or going to get their vaccine," wrote the Ministry of Labour in a release on Wednesday.

Three days may be enough to get tested or get a vaccine, but for those who are actually sick with the virus and must quarantine for 14 days, the benefit falls woefully short.

"Three days of paid sick leave will not cut it," said NDP leader Andrea Horwath to reporters following today's announcement, warning that workers might not be able to self-isolate for enough time if exposed to the virus. 

 "For 400 days people had to make the decision between going to work sick or putting food on the table," said Liberal MPP John Fraser, whose party had asked for 10 paid sick days.

"The government didn't have their backs and I would argue that they don't now." 

Some people are also taking issue with how these days are being funded — particularly in the case of huge companies like Amazon and Walmart.

"The province will partner with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to deliver the program and reimburse employers up to $200 per day for each employee," notes the Ministry of Labour.

Effectively, employers will be administering the paid sick leave to employees, but will be reimbursed for this cost by the government.

Some people argue that, while they're happy for their tax dollars to support local and independent businesses that otherwise couldn't afford sick pay, they're not entirely on board with bankrolling sick leave at somewhere like Costco.

The move is also being criticized as too little, too late.

"In the year it took the Ford govt to capitulate on paid sick days, 455,000 people were infected and nearly 8,000 died of COVID-19," wrote Horwath on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

"This comes far too late. Too late to stop COVID-19 from getting out of control, and too late for workers who already got sick. And it's still too little... Thank you to those who fought for paid sick days. We share your disappointment and we’re going to keep fighting alongside you."

There's very little the PC government can say in response to the "too late" allegations, but Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton did address the "too little" part when announcing the legislation on Wednesday.

Basically, Ontario is still offering to provide funds to the federal government to double its Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit payments, adding an additional $500 per week for eligible individuals.

This would see people who are sick receive at least $1,000 a week while away from work in addition to the $200 per day they'd get for a three-day COVID absence.

The province says it is still in talks with Justin Trudeau's government about a top-up program, but as of Tuesday, the feds had only indicated that the province needs to mandate sick pay itself.

"We need to work together and provinces need to look at the way to deliver a sick leave directly through employers," said Trudeau on Tuesday, "which the federal government can't do."

Lead photo by

Naheed Dosani

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