For nearly the thirtieth time, the Ford government voted down legislation for more paid sick days for Ontario workers. Bill 8 – the Stay Home if You Are Sick Act — would have provided ten paid sick days versus the three that are currently mandated.
It comes as a blow to workers and advocates alike, just as the province’s current temporary paid sick leave program — three paid sick days per year up to $200 per day — is set to expire at the end of the year.
For Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician, paid sick days should be a nonpartisan issue.
“Paid sick days as a policy is what health equity looks like,” Dosani explained. “We know this policy will have a positive impact in improving equitable access to work conditions for people who typically are present in low income workplaces.”
Dosani is a member of the Decent Work and Health Network, an advocacy group made up of health workers in Ontario who have been urging the Ford government to legislate ten paid sick days for all workers.
The network, created in 2014, advocates “for better health by addressing working and employment conditions” in the province, according to its website.
On Monday, the Decent Work and Health Network organized a demonstration in front of Queen’s Park calling on the premier to pass Bill 8, which was tabled by NDP MPPs Jill Andrew (Toronto-St. Paul’s), Peggy Sattler (London West), Doly Begum (Scarborough Southwest) and Sara Singh (Brampton Centre).
The demonstration sought to highlight “the importance of paid sick leave as a crucial public health measure to combat Ontario’s fourth wave, prevent flu outbreaks, and reduce the ongoing burden on the healthcare system,” according to a press release issued Monday.
Demonstrators included representatives from the Liberal, NDP, and Greens, while premier Ford rejected an invitation to attend.
Despite permanent paid sick days being recommended by Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, the Ford government has voted against paid sick leave time and time again.
“It just does not make sense that we expect people to drag themselves into work when they’re not feeling well,” Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said during a press conference Tuesday. (The Opposition leader was unavailable for an interview due to scheduling conflicts).
The legislation would have made amendments to the Employment Standards Act of 2000, dealing with sick leave, family responsibility leave and bereavement leave policies.
Under Bill 8, these policies would have been replaced with legislation that covered “personal emergency leave due to a personal illness, injury or medical emergency, the death, illness, injury or medical emergency of a listed family member or certain urgent matters.” The new legislation would have entitled an employee to ten days of paid leave in a calendar year.
The Act would also have been amended to provide employees paid leave for the first 14 days of any leave in “situations related to declared emergencies and infectious disease emergencies.”
Further, there would have been the implementation of a financial support program for employers to help with additional costs associated with the new leave programs.
As part of the demonstration, front-line workers presented clocks to politicians to symbolize the urgency around the issue.
As experts warn of a potential fifth wave for Canadians, alongside seasonal colds and influenzas, Dosani said now is the time to enact permanent sick leave legislation.
Less than half of Canadians are eligible for paid sick leave
As one of the social determinants of health, Dosani explained that work plays a major role in health-care outcomes.
“Raising the bar for labour is an important determinant of health,” Dosani said. “To ignore it would be totally inappropriate and really unethical at this stage, given what we know about the benefits of what [sick days] can do for people.”
The bill’s rejection took place on the same day that British Columbia announced a permanent paid sick leave program, providing workers in B.C. five paid sick days per year beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, the B.C. Federation of Labour called the move a “significant milestone” for workers in the province, despite “fall[ing] well short of what workers, public health experts and economists have called for.”
“The change means immediate help to the more than half of BC workers who have no paid sick leave,” the release read, “and nearly 90 per cent of disproportionately racialized and women workers in low-wage sectors.”
In total, only 42 per cent of Canadians — less than half of workers — have guaranteed paid sick leave.
In Nova Scotia, for example, 54 per cent of workers lack guaranteed access to paid sick leave. The remainder of Nova Scotian workers are entitled to just three unpaid sick days each year.
Paid sick days needed federally: NDP MP
The Decent Work and Health Network is also working to hold Trudeau to his promise to legislate ten paid sick days for federally regulated workers.
Dosani pointed out that successful paid sick day programs exist in countries like New Zealand, Germany, Australia, and Switzerland.
While some workplaces offer paid sick days to full-time employees, the same can’t be said for gig workers.
Bill 8 in Ontario has given federal NDP MP Daniel Blaikie renewed hope that similar legislation could be tabled federally.
While the Trudeau government is limited in the workplaces it can mandate paid sick days, Blaikie, who represents Elmwood-Transcona in Winnipeg, believes it’s in the best interest of employers to offer guaranteed paid leave.
“I don’t think that giving workers ten paid sick days is going to have bad economic consequences,” Blaikie said. “It means a real improvement in the lives of workers who will know that if they get sick, they’re going to be able to take the time they need in order to rest up and get better quickly.”