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Ontario announces measures to protect workers during COVID-19 pandemic
TORONTO -- As many businesses begin closing their doors indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government has announced measures meant to protect workers across the province.
The provincial government, under Premier Doug Ford, said it intends to introduce legislation that would “immediately provide job-protected leave to employees in isolation or quarantine” due to the novel coronavirus, including those needing to be away from work to care for children during school and daycare closures.
“The last thing we want right now is for people to worry about job security,” Ford told reporters at a news conference held at Queen’s Park on Monday morning. “That’s why I’ve asked our team to start drafting legislation to protect workers and families.”
“If this law is passed, it will ensure that if you are in quarantine because you are experiencing symptoms, or you’ve been asked to self-isolate, you will not lose your job and if you are a parent and you need to stay home to look after the kids, while schools are closed, you will not lose your job.”
The proposed legislation would provide job protection for Ontarians who are unable to work due to:
- Being under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19
- Acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act
- Being in isolation or quarantine
- Acting in accordance with public health information or direction
- Being directed from an employer to not work
- Needing to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19, including school or daycare closures
On Thursday, the province announced that all publicly funded schools would be closed for two weeks after March Break. Shortly after, many childcare centres across the province announced they would remain closed for the same time period.
Furthermore, the legislation would also remove the requirement to provide a medical note if an employee needs to take time off from work.
“A lot of people can work from home but we need to protect the people working the line or doing shift work who don’t have that luxury,” Ford said.
Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the measures would be retroactive to Jan. 25, 2020, which was the date that the first presumptive case of the virus was reported in the province, and will stay in place "until this disease is defeated."
Since then, there have been 177 cases confirmed in Ontario, including five patients who have recovered.
When asked when the proposed legislation could be introduced, the premier's office said they are working with the opposition parties to introduce and pass it "as expeditiously as possible."
‘Facing some rough waters ahead’
Ford said his government is “prepared to do whatever it takes” as the situation worsens and the number of cases rises.
“We are taking every step possible to stop the spread of this,” he said. “But, the reality is we are facing some rough waters ahead.”
The premier said his government has set aside $100 million in contingency funding for COVID-19, in addition to $200 million from the federal government. As well, the province has implemented a $10 million public awareness campaign.
“Keeping the public informed is one of the most important things we can do right now,” Ford said.
Ontario delays release of full budget
Amid the outbreak, the province announced on Friday morning at the news conference that they will be delaying the release of its full budget and will instead deliver a scaled-back economic forecast on March 25.
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips said it’s important to introduce a financial plan that is “as current as possible, given the dynamic situation.”
“Instead of a full budget, I will release an economic and fiscal update on March 25 based on our best understanding of the current situation.”
Phillips said the full budget will be released by the fall.