Calls for Ontario to reinstate paid sick leave intensify amid lockdown

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is continuing to feel heat from opposition politicians calling for the provincial government to reinstate paid sick days on the heels of a new lockdown aimed at flattening the coronavirus pandemic’s second wave.

While the federal government currently offers paid sick leave via its Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit program, critics argue the process of applying and waiting for payments creates unnecessary barriers for employees to navigate during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The federal benefit was introduced in late September to make it easier for people to stay home if they’re sick. It provides $450, after taxes, per week for up to two weeks.

Read: A refresher on Canada’s leave policies as coronavirus escalates

In 2017, Ontario passed a bill that included expanding personal emergency leave to 10 days per year for all employees, with at least two paid days per year for employees who have been employed for at least a week. With Bill 148, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government eliminated the two-day entitlement, replacing it with three new unpaid leaves of absence available to any Ontario employee regardless of the size of employer.

“Doug Ford needs to act today to end the horrible choice he’s forcing workers to make between financial worry, or risk catching the virus and spreading it to their family,” said Jamie West, the New Democratic Party MPP for Sudbury, in a statement, noting the government could save lives by providing paid sick days to struggling workers.

Read: Report calling for paid sick, family leave and changes to EI as part of pandemic recovery

The calls to beef up provincial paid sick days intensified as Ontario entered a second lockdown on Jan. 15. Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, called paid sick leave an “essential” protection in a recent report. Among other recommended provisions, the report urged the province to introduce five permanent paid sick days, with an increase to 10 during outbreaks of infectious disease.

“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,” noted de Villa’s report. “Workers without paid sick leave, particularly low-wage, precariously employed essential workers, experience financial pressure to work even when ill.”

Green Party leader Mike Schreiner has also called on Ford to reinstate the two paid sick days cut when his government took office in 2018. “If people are going to be able to stay home, they shouldn’t have to worry about putting food on the table when they’re sick,” Schreiner said in a statement.

Ford has pointed out that the federal benefit program already provides up to $900, post-tax, for people who are sick and need to stay home.

Read: Trudeau commits to working with provinces on paid sick leave