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The people thought to be spreading the Covid19 virus are caught between federal and provincial benefit programs

opinionred 100x100By Andrew Drummond

April 20th, 2021

BURLINGTON,, ON

 

Monday morning the Ford government again voted down an NDP motion to introduce paid sick days to Ontario.

Doug Ford covid t shirt

Difficult to say that we are actually conquering the virus.

Ford and the Conservatives have been consistent in opposing any implementation of paid sick days with their most common excuse being that it would conflict with existing federal programs. However, despite this, paid sick days has been a key recommendation from many groups to fight the COVID pandemic. Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe; The Ontario Medical Association and the Ontario Hospital Association are among those beyond the NDP who have consistently called for this to be a primary measure in Ontario’s fight against COVID, and the lack of its implementation is a key reason Ontario has fallen behind in this fight.

As of April 18, there have been more than 21,000 COVID-19 cases directly attributable to workplace outbreaks according to the Ontario government’s data (Likely source of infection | COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Ontario). That is in addition to the massive but difficult to quantify numbers of people who have been infected with COVID-19 from caretakers or other health employees.

Throughout this pandemic, workers have been going to work sick because they have no other reasonable choice. Until that is stopped, Ontario will still be at risk.

Canada sick benefits apr20The most common excuse the Ford government has given for why they won’t implement a paid sick leave policy is that is conflicts with the federal government’s Canada Sickness Recovery Benefit (CSRB). Ford has repeatedly referenced this program. “There’s paid sick leave from the federal government,” Ford said on April 7. However, there are many differences between the CSRB and a mandatory sick leave policy and showing the details of the limitations of CSRB, helps to understand why it hasn’t been enough to slow workplace outbreaks.

The first major limitation with CSRB is that it is only paid out if a person actually has COVID or is isolating because a close contact does. You do not get any payments if you were sick for any other reason. So, if you have a cough and are having trouble breathing, you need to get a COVID test. However, you also must still go to work in the meantime, and you are not eligible for CSRB unless that test comes back positive. This obviously doesn’t help people stay home the first day they are symptomatic, which will also be the time where they are most likely to communicate it to others. This limitation alone makes it unlikely that CSRB is doing anything to reduce the spread of COVID in Ontario.

The second major limitation is that CSRB doesn’t provide any job protection. If you are a worker in a factory or warehouse and you catch COVID, CSRB will give you 2 weeks of income. However, your employer can still fire you for not showing up to work. For anyone whose employment is precarious, this is an obvious dealbreaker. It doesn’t matter if that worker gets 2 weeks pay, they are still without a job in an economy that isn’t doing well. If a worker must choose between trying to hide their illness or losing their job, many will choose to try and save their job. In some of those cases, it leads the rest of the workplace to get sick.

The third limitation of CSRB is the logistics of receiving the credit. There are two major technical limitations. First, the benefit only pays out in full weeks. You cannot get the benefit for any part of a week (since all COVID cases would require multiple full week’s isolation). Secondly, a worker won’t receive any money until 4 weeks after they have applied as the government processes the claim. This means that anyone living paycheque to paycheque will have no ability to get the money they need for rent or food because their income would be delayed for 4 weeks. Another reason that precariously employed workers can’t take time off and depend on this program.

Ontario at one time was a province that had mandated sick leave for all workers. It was only 2 days per year, but it offered some protection. However, Ford’s government removed those days in 2018 when they took office. Since that time, the pandemic has made clear what a disastrous mistake that was. Hopefully with all the public pressure being put on the government by Andrea Horwath, the NDP, and various community and medical groups, Ford will relent to the expert’s advice and bring in a long overdue program to ensure that we reduce the number of workplace outbreaks in the future.

Andrew Drummond was the NDP candidate in the last provincial election.

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