Ontario Premier Doug Ford is being urged to extend an emergency measure giving employees access to three days of paid sick leave amid new concerns about a rising wave of COVID-19 in the province.

the provincial Workers Income Protection Benefits ProgramFirst introduced in April 2021 during the Delta-driven wave of COVID-19 and extended amid the Omicron stage of the pandemic, it is scheduled to end on July 31. There has been no formal indication from the Progressive Conservative government as to whether the move will be implemented. be extended.

The lack of clarity has raised new concerns among political critics of the government, who insist that workers will have to choose between their health or their income.

“People who don’t have access to paid sick days will have to make that choice: Am I going to work and potentially impact my co-workers, rather than isolate myself? Or do I take the financial hit of staying home and doing the right thing,” said NDP MPP Peggy Sattler.

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“We don’t need to be sitting in the legislature, the government could extend those emergency temporary paid sick days right now with the stroke of a pen,” Sattler said.

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Since the program was implemented, government data shows nearly half a million workers have relied on the program to call in sick without stopping their pay.

As of June 24, the government said 470,000 workers claimed a sick day, costing the province $189 million. The province said the bulk of the claims were made in the manufacturing, retail and health care sectors, with the majority of those coming from employees in Mississauga, Toronto and London.

The provincial program allowed workers to take a day off to care for a sick relative, get a COVID-19 booster shot or take young children for vaccinations.

Employers are reimbursed up to $200 per day for each employee through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, which offers the program.

Labor Minister Monte McNaughton was not available for an interview about the status of the program.

McNaughton, however, is also facing calls to expand the program by giving workers permanent access to 10 days of paid sick leave, and enshrining it in legislation.

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Sattler said he plans to reintroduce the Stay home if you are sick Act when the legislature resumes in August to give workers access to 10 days of paid emergency leave and 14 days of unpaid emergency leave each year.

The bill was originally introduced in 2021 but was rejected by the Ford government.

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Dr. Vanessa Redditt, a family physician and member of the Decent Work and Health Network, told Global News that low-wage workers face a higher burden of COVID-19 due to workplace exposures.

Redditt said the province needs to focus on the needs of those workers beyond the pandemic.

“Parents need time to care for their children when they are sick. People need time off to recover from a sprained ankle or an appendectomy or a miscarriage,” Redditt said.

However, the government noted that despite having access to three days, employees have taken an average of 2.5 days of sick leave, far less than the 10 days that advocates claim is required.

Redditt said the government data dilutes any concern that paid sick leave could be abused.

“Evidence suggests that, on average, people don’t use their paid sick days, but instead use them appropriately to recover from illness,” Redditt said.

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