Premier Doug Ford says that there is “no reason” for the province to “jump in” and introduce its own paid sick leave program, even amid mounting criticism from advocates who say that an existing federal program doesn’t do enough to protect workers.
Ford made the comment to reporters during a news conference in Vaughan on Monday afternoon, just hours after Toronto’s board of health voted unanimously in favour of a motion asking his government to step in and ensure workers have access to 10 paid sick days during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If the system is not working and that's what I'm hearing from the media, we're having conversations as we speak and over the last little while (with the federal government). If people don’t feel they are getting it quick enough than we need to change the program and if they need to top it up a little more because $500 a week isn’t feasible then we change it” Ford said. “Let's be very, very clear there's no reason for the province to jump in there when less than 27 per cent of the overall program hasn't been taken up.”
The federal government did introduce a recovery sickness benefit earlier in the pandemic, which provides people with $500 per week for up to two weeks if they are unable to attend work due to illness.
Some advocates have, however, said that the program is insufficient because payments can sometimes take weeks to process and the benefit does not provide any job security to those who elect to apply for it.
Speaking with reporters during a briefing later on Monday afternoon, Mayor John Tory said that “it doesn’t really matter which government resolves” the issues with the sick leave program but he said that the problems need to be addressed and that workers need to be assured “that they are going to receive their pay check or something close to their paycheck” during the time that they are exhibiting symptoms.
“It is time for it to happen. I can’t even count how many times I have sat here and said this is an urgent issue that is causing people to go to work sick,” he said. “It is not right and we should fix it.”
Tory likened the political back and forth between the Ford government and the Trudeau government as a “ping pong game,” where nobody seems to “accept the responsibility.”
He said that ultimately he believes the matter is going to require some “provincial intervention” at least in the form of the Ford government stepping in and saying “it is a compulsory matter for employers to provide these days to people are in need of isolation.
Ford, however, seemed to suggest that his government won’t have a role in providing sick leave for ill employees.
“Sure, it needs to be changed and we're working with the federal government but there's no reason for us to duplicate the $1.1 billion (that the federal government has allotted to the program) and I know the federal government is going to be reviewing it and hopefully we'll have an answer in a very short time here,” he said.
The report considered by Toronto’s Board of Health today stated that only 42 per cent of working Canadians currently have access to paid sick leave, and among low-wage and front-line workers that number is about 10 per cent.