Opinion | Ontario’s latest corporate handouts come at the expense of workers and their health

While Doug Ford continues to tout that he is working for the people, his actions say otherwise.

From a lucrative deal signed with Deloitte to administer paid sick days to the recently announced employer payout from the WSIB, the Ontario government is showing time and time again that they are not on the side of workers.

Last week, Minister of Labor Monte McNaughton announced a payout of $1.5 billion to employers from the Workers Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). This surplus was manufactured by years of cuts to benefits that have forced injured and sick workers into poverty. If anything, the pandemic should be a wake-up call to fix the workers’ compensation system, not erode it further.

Taking money from the WSIB and refunding it to employers will drive injured, disabled and sick workers into a deeper crisis. By lining the pockets of companies with WSIB funds, the government is choosing political gain over workers’ health. It is critical for workers’ health and well-being that the WSIB’s resources are directed toward its purposes, including providing compensation to workers who get injured or sick on the job and supporting workers to get back to work healthy and safely. As we know, workplace outbreaks have left many workers dealing with the long-term impacts of COVID-19.

Just a few weeks ago, it was also revealed that the Ford government paid Deloitte $22.4 million for administering the Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB) — Ontario’s temporary and inadequate paid sick days program. The door was opened to this scandal when the province refused to heed the advice of worker advocates and health experts calling for 10 permanent, employer-paid sick days. Together, we have repeatedly outlined principles for effective paid sick leave policy: permanent, adequate, universal, employer-paid, and seamlessly accessible.

Rather than providing workers with the essential protections they need to stay home when they are sick and protect public health, the Ford government privatized paid sick days through a corporate welfare program. Workers got a worse paid sick days program at a higher cost to the public. Meanwhile, Deloitte was able to secure the deal without even going through a competitive public tender process. The taxpayers’ dollars that paid for the Deloitte contract certainly would have been better spent on critical public services, like health care and long-term care during an unprecedented health crisis.

Making matters worse, workers are still waiting for 10 paid sick days. The WIPB offers workers only three days of paid sick leave and only for COVID-19 related reasons. This does not meet basic COVID isolation requirements. For workers who have already used their three days to get vaccinated, this means they have no paid sick days left if they get sick now. Additionally, with calls for third dose boosters, a lack of adequate paid sick days leaves workers in precarious jobs at risk once again of foregoing vaccination to avoid missing work due to side effects.

These are not the first instances of the Ford government favoring private companies over front-line workers’ health and well-being. This is the same government that took away the two paid sick days workers had in 2018 — sending them into a raging pandemic with fewer protections than before. This has been devastating, particularly for racialized, migrant, and immigrant workers who disproportionately work on the front lines and have faced higher rates of COVID.

This is the same government that forced workers to wait until this January for a $15 minimum wage, while the cost of living skyrocketed. Freezing the minimum wage cost an estimated $6,000 in wages for a full-time minimum wage worker over three years. Without Ford’s minimum wage cuts, workers would have had a $15.75 minimum wage by October 2021. This has driven income inequality, which is linked to worsened health outcomes including life expectancy and infant mortality.

As money keeps flowing to big corporations, workers have been abandoned to weather this latest wave of the pandemic on their own with far reaching health impacts. From a government who claims to be “working for workers” this is tough to swallow.

If they are on the side of workers and their health, the government must immediately legislate 10 permanent paid sick days, bring in a $20 minimum wage, and fix workers’ compensation to ensure no injured or sick worker is left behind. Workers in low-wage and precarious jobs cannot afford to wait any longer for basic protections as they continue putting their health on the line at work.

Deena Ladd is the Executive Director of the Workers’ Action Centre. Follow her at @DeenaLadd

Gaibrie Stephen is an Emergency Physician and member of the Decent Work and Health Network. Follow him at @SGaibrie

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