Push for paid sick leave ramps up in Ontario

MPP introduces bill calling for 7 paid days per year, 14 for infectious disease emergency

Push for paid sick leave ramps up in Ontario
Back in 2019, the Ontario government eliminated 10 days of personal emergency leave each year, with the first two days paid.

Peggy Sattler, Ontario MPP for London West, has introduced the Stay Home If You Are Sick Act which would guarantee 10 personal emergency leave days per year for every worker, seven of which are paid. It would also mandate an additional 14 days of paid leave during any infectious disease emergency.

“It is all too clear how dangerous it is when workers must lose their paycheque to stay home when they are sick,” she says. “If they are coming down with the flu, they can’t afford to stay home in bed. If they go for a COVID-19 test, they can’t afford to wait at home for the results. And when going to work sick is the only option, it puts us all at risk.”
“The best and most effective way to enable workers to stay home when they are sick is to make paid sick leave an employer responsibility through amendments to the Employment Standards Act.”

The Ontario Federal of Labour (OFL) urged all-party support for Sattler’s bill.

“Access to paid leave will not only keep workers safe but will ensure our communities are healthy and safe too. It is a critical component of stopping the spread of COVID, and ensuring our economy can rebound safely and effectively,” says Ontario Federation of Labour president Patty Coates.

Back in 2019, the Ontario government eliminated 10 days of personal emergency leave each year, with the first two days paid.

“Two years ago, Doug Ford eliminated guaranteed paid sick leave. Nine months into a pandemic, he has yet to bring it back. All workers deserve to know they can isolate without fear of missing a pay cheque,” tweets Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca.

In May, amid the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that all Canadian workers would have access to 10 days of paid sick leave per year.

And in August, Manitoba called on the federal government to finalize details of the Pan-Canadian Sick Leave Program.

Health benefits

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) is also calling for paid sick days for all Ontarians so that people who have or suspect they have COVID-19 can stay home, get well and not infect others.

Many workers – including truck drivers, personal support workers and food production workers – do not have any paid sick days so they are endangering not only their own health, but risk spreading COVID-19 to others, according to the group.

"Workers without paid sick leave often feel forced to work when unwell so they can feed and support their families. Worse, many are also at risk of losing their jobs if they stay home,” says Samantha Hill, president of the OMA.

“Going to work sick contributes to the record number of COVID cases we are seeing, especially in some of our hotspots,” says Hill. “At a time when we are all working as hard as we can to reduce spread, and protect our most vulnerable, it's unfathomable to ask to put workers in that position. Beyond being the right thing to do for the individual, paid sick days are essential for Ontario's recovery and well-being."

Few providing sick days off

Only 28 per cent of Canadian companies offer sufficient paid-leave policies, according to a survey of 850 companies in 43 countries conducted by Corporate Knights.

Canada is among the 12 countries whose sick-leave policies were judged insufficient. On the flip side, 31 countries, mainly in Europe, provide sufficient sick-leave policies, which is generally defined as offering at least 10 days’ paid leave.

The highest incidence of offering this type of leave is found in technology companies (39 per cent) followed by those in health care (31 per cent), communications (29 per cent) and financial services (28 per cent). Meanwhile, few among industrial companies, consumer products and services, and materials suppliers generally offer this benefit, finds Corporate Knights, a media, research and financial information products company.

Canada leads the way when it comes to implementing COVID-related leave policies. However, only 15 per cent of local companies did this, compared with just 10.4 per cent for the entire sample.

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