Toronto’s top doctor calls on provincial government to implement 10-day emergency paid sick leave
Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa speaks to the media at city hall in Toronto, on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
TORONTO -- Toronto’s mayor and medical officer of health are calling on the Ontario government to ensure workers have access to paid sick days during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Toronto's top doctor Eileen de Villa and Mayor John Tory made the request at a news conference on Monday following a report to the Toronto Board of Health on the issue, saying workers need to feel safe and not burdened by financial pressures when taking time off work in order to curb the spread of the disease.
"It's been identified to me by our health people as being important to getting more people tested and wrestling this virus to the ground," Tory told reporters on Monday.
"So let's just get on with it. I'm optimistic that will now happen maybe because myself and the other mayors are speaking even more forcefully about this [as] it's become more urgent."
The board of health report states 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.
The report by de Villa asks that Ontario provide five permanent paid sick days for workers annually after three month of employment and 10 days of paid sick leave for workers amid the pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford’s government cancelled paid sick days in 2018 and made it so that most employees in Ontario have the right to take up to three days of unpaid job-protected sick leave each calendar year.
His government extended the policy amid the pandemic so that workers could take an unspecified number of days to isolate without pay until July 3.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s labour ministry said in a statement on Monday that Ford had joined his federal and provincial partners in the summer to negotiate paid sick leave for workers in the form of the current Canada recovery sickness benefit.
“Our government has been clear: the federal government would provide funding for paid sick days and the provinces would implement job leave protection. This is exactly what happened,” the spokesperson said in the statement.
“As the federal government has said, this agreement provides workers with paid sick leave, so they do not have to choose between going to work and putting food on the table.”
The Toronto Board of Health said the federal government’s recovery sickness benefit, which provides people with $500 per week, for up to two weeks, is an important step but not “adequate on its own.”
“The benefit pays less than a full-time minimum wage job, has processing delays of up to four weeks, and does not provide job security for workers seeking to use it,” the board said in a statement.
Tory said on Monday both the federal and provincial governments have not been taking the issue of paid sick leave as seriously as they need to.
"It's my impression they're playing a bit of ping pong with each other," he said. "A ping pong game is always interesting and entertaining except when it has to do with the health of people who live in our city and who are contracting COVID-19 and who, in many cases, are the people least able to speak for themselves."
The report issued by de Villa found that workers without paid sick leave, particularity low-wage essential workers, experience financial pressures to work even when ill.
“Not only do they face an immediate loss of much needed income if they do not work, but the tenuousness of their employment status also sometimes means that taking time off work when ill could jeopardize their ‘standing’ with their employer or future earnings,” de Villa said.
Tory said he is aware that some people are worried about losing their paycheque and feel pressured to attend work even when sick. He said he is also aware of cases were employees are encouraged to attend work when ill. He said that due to the pressure many people decide not to get tested or self-isolate.
"This is a real source of fear and concern out there. It is just beyond comprehension, that no one has come forward and clearly stated, yes, we will look after you and your families during that period of time,” Tory said.
Ontario and Toronto health officials have said that workplaces are major areas of concern for the spread of COVID-19. Earlier this month, the City of Toronto began publicly identifying the location of some COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces to deal with the issue.
Councillor Joe Cressy, who is also the chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said that 60 per cent of Toronto’s recorded workplace outbreaks have been in front-line settings.
“Our essential workers are at increased risk of infection… Our front-line heroes are bearing the brunt of this pandemic,” Cressy said on Monday.
“Workers – especially the essential and front-line workers we rely on every day – need to be able to stay home and self-isolate when they are ill, but many simply can't afford to.
“We know that we can't beat COVID until we stop workplace transmission and we won't stop workplace transmission until we have paid sick leave for all workers.
“We won't beat COVID until we make it possible for workers to stay home and self-isolate when they are ill. Sick leave — it's long overdue.”
The board and de Villa are asking the province to provide support for employers so that all workers in Ontario have access to no less than 10 paid sick days annually in the vent of “declare infectious disease emergency” such as the COVID-19 pandemic.