Legislating paid sick days is the right thing to do


We are running out of time.

Every day there’s a new study or argument published in newspapers or magazines, demanding paid sick leave to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its super-spreading variants.

Municipalities are taking up the fight, with the support of workers. Small businesses and public health experts are on side.

All at once, it’s as if Canadians collectively realized this injustice wasn’t just affecting them. Only 10% of low-wage and front-line workers and just 42% of all working Canadians have access to paid sick time.

These workers are left to make impossible choices. Keep working or starve.

A study for Peel Region found that of 7,874 people who later tested positive, a quarter of them went to work while showing symptoms of COVID.

Eighty people went to work even after testing positive for COVID-19.

The workplaces associated with the largest outbreaks were also those relying heavily on temporary workers, with one location using three separate temp agencies.

Low-wage temporary workers are compelled to work when they’re sick, because they don’t have paid sick days or access to other income supports and worry about losing their jobs or being punished if they miss any work.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a life or death issue, but in the world we’ve built, so is eviction, food security, and even having a job.

We cannot count on profit-driven corporations to do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts.

According to a recent report, just 15% of local companies in Canada upgraded their sick leave policies during the pandemic.

It is clear that change must be legislated.

Mandating paid sick days is just the right thing to do. Workers need access to 14 sick days during a public health crisis like the current pandemic.

These protections should be the bare minimum, but coverage is sparse.

In the few jurisdictions where employer paid sick days are mandated, it is highly restricted.

PEI mandates one paid sick day per year after five continuous years of employment, and in Quebec, workers have access to two paid days per year after three continuous months of employment. In federally regulated sectors, the federal government sets the standards, and those laws only give workers three paid days.

In Ontario, the minimum standard is none, so workers are entitled to no paid sick days.

B.C. Premier John Horgan stands alone as the sole leader who has stated that the province is prepared to fill the deep gaps left in the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.

Premiers are the gatekeepers of most labour laws, yet provincial politicians are sitting on their hands, refusing to give all workers adequate sick days.

Provincial labour laws set the minimum standards for work in many industries. They are the first line of defense against exploitation, unfairness and unsafe working conditions.

However, one of Premier Doug Ford’s first acts of government was a sweeping repeal of labour law amendments that took away equal pay for equal work, paid sick days, and the $15 minimum wage.

This was a direct demand from the Retail Council of Canada, which ran a campaign calling on Ford to “Scrap it and start over!” The Council represents some of Canada’s largest minimum-wage employers such as Loblaw, Sobeys, Walmart Canada, and Metro.

The legislation that Ford scrapped was the result of a multi-year, province-wide review of working conditions that included workers, unions, employers, researchers and more.

It was tossed at the request of the same big businesses that are now posting record profits while their underpaid workers face illness and death.

When paid sick days were mandated in New York, the majority of small businesses supported the law, and complied without cutting hours, reducing hiring or raising prices. Job growth continued. The sky did not fall.

In Ontario, we have nearly one year of evidence of outbreaks in all types of workplaces, from health care to warehouses and manufacturing, nail salons and restaurants.

What are we waiting for? Provinces must step up now, fill this gap, legislate paid sick days, and make them permanent.