Paid sick leave: Why three days? Why now? Why?

Matteo Fusco on Unsplash

If a worker must isolate for longer than 50 percent of the time, they would have otherwise worked for the week because of a positive COVID-19 test or risk of exposure, the worker may apply for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit if they haven't taken a paid leave day under this proposal.

The government has been taking considerable flak for not instituting paid sick leave, so today, the Ford government announced legislation that, if passed, will offer up to three paid sick days per employee to help Ontarians stay safe as we combat the third wave of COVID-19. 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. Retroactive to April 19, 2021, the program ends on Sept 25, 2021, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) expiry date.

The provincial government's first act during the pandemic was to introduce a job-protected infectious disease leave to support workers needing to isolate, undergo treatment, or support others with COVID-19.

During today's Question Period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will be helping provinces set up their own paid sick leave programs.

It's expected to cost the province between $750 million and $1.5 billion. Too late to stop COVID-19 from getting out of control, and too late for workers who already got sick.

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Experts warned that without proper paid sick days, community transmission of COVID-19 would remain high in Ontario due to the prevalence of outbreaks at essential workplaces.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it's clear the federal government had "rebuffed" the province's request. If the Progressive Conservatives collectively (and Ford personally) were in a stronger political position, they'd likely still be resisting calls for paid sick leave, and for the same reasons they dismantled what paid sick leave Ontario had when they took power in 2018: they're small-government conservatives who don't appear to believe workers need these kinds of protections. Almost 8,000 Ontarians have died of COVID-19, and introducing paid sick leave now - after the crest of the third wave, if we're lucky - means that, if McNaughton's statement is true, some fraction of those thousands of dead might have been saved but were not.

Freeland's press secretary Katherine Cuplinskas said the CRSB not a substitute for paid sick leave.

"When Ontario is ready to mandate sick leave in provincially regulated businesses, as we have done for federally regulated businesses, we will be there to help", Freeland's spokesperson told reporters on Monday. "No matter how much they are trying to rewrite history we all remember when Doug Ford said he didn't agree with federal plan". "And that the payments actually run through employers, and the worker doesn't have to apply", Dr. Peter Juni said in an interview with CP24 Wednesday evening. That's been said by public-health experts, unions, mayors, and councillors, and it was largely dismissed by the provincial government until two weeks ago.

"That's not going to stop the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces and it's not going to stop the deaths", she said.

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