covid paid sick days ontario

A change is coming to paid sick days for some workers in Ontario

Nobody chooses to get sick, and advocates argue that nobody in Ontario should ever have to choose between straining their ill bodies (while potentially infecting lots of other people) and putting food on the table.

Sadly, for as many as 70 per cent of low-income workers across the province, this choice must be made every time they catch the flu, every time they can't keep breakfast down, every day they're so weak from chemo that they can barely stand up.

Missing work, even for the most valid of reasons (such as, you know, preventing the spread of a deadly viral illness), could mean missing a car payment, skipping groceries or even losing one's home. The legislation of paid sick days for all Ontarians would change that, according to leading health professionals.

"We are extremely concerned that workers will experience negative health outcomes in the seventh wave if urgent action on paid sick days is not taken," said Dr. Naheed Dosani in a press release issued Friday by the Decent Work and Health Network.

"We have to remember that racialized workers are overrepresented in low-wage jobs that lack access to paid sick days. Permanent paid sick days are a pillar of racial and health justice."

Dosani is one of more than 160 doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers from across Ontario to sign an open letter to that effect, published today as freshly re-elected Ontario Premier Doug Ford prepares to unveil his new cabinet.

The letter calls upon the province to legislate at least 10 paid sick days, immediately, for all workers, noting that "this is especially pressing given the looming expiration of the Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB) at the end of July."

The aforementioned benefit was rolled out by Ford in April of 2021 amid mounting pressure from Ontarians for the government to do something, anything, to stall a third wave of COVID-19.

Under the WIPB, all Ontario workers can currently get up to $200 per day, for a maximum of three days, if they miss work for COVID-related reasons.

"On April 29, 2021, the Ontario Government amended the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) to require employers to provide employees with up to three days of paid infectious disease emergency leave because of certain reasons related to COVID‑19," reads the province's website.

"Employers are generally required to pay employees the wages they would have earned had they not taken the leave, up to $200 a day for up to three days."

When this benefit expires on July 31, 2022, people whose employers do not voluntarily offer paid sick days will once again be forced to choose between going to work sick or losing vital income.

"Fifty-eight per cent of workers in Canada do not have paid sick days. That proportion rises to a staggering 70 per cent for workers earning less than $25,000," reads the Decent Work and Health Network presser issued today.

"With this open letter, health workers are reminding the province that temporary measures are not the permanent solution needed to close gaps in health inequity and prevent future pandemics."

The advocates aren't looking for an extension to the existing (and oft-criticized) three-day benefit. Rather, they want to see the government force employers (legally) to offer ten paid sick days to all employees.

"Three days is not enough and it never was. There is a foolproof way to make paid sick days effective: by legislating 10 employer-paid sick days through the employment standards act," said ICU nurse Birgit Umaigba in the release, calling the currenty WIPB program "inadequate as a public health measure."

The experts point out that ineffective sick leave laws hurt more than individual employees who fall ill — they have a cascading impact on society as a whole.

"Without paid sick days, many parents cannot make it to medical appointments or therapy sessions and this can have a detrimental impact on the health of my patients," said pediatrician Dr. Shazeen Suleman in the open letter, noting that a lot of kids end up in the emergency room when their health conditions decline due to the lack of timely treatment.

Lead photo by

Naheed Dosani

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