Premier Doug Ford announced a list of new restrictions for Ontario yesterday at a time when casesof COVID-19 are expected to reach alarming new heights and hospitals are nearly overwhelmed, but his announcement was missing the one measure experts have been demanding for months: paid sick leave.
Doctors, nurses, public officials, teachers, warehouse workers, and other members of the public have long been calling on both the provincial and federal government to legislate at least 10 days of paid sick leave for every worker throughout Ontario and all of Canada, calling it an essential step in protecting the health and safety of residents.
Experts, including Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa and Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam, have said introducing paid sick days is imperative to getting the virus under control as it would prevent workers from having to choose between going to work sick and staying home and losing income.
But Ford has yet to introduce the measure, and a group of public health officials and frontline workers staged a die-in at Queen’s Park Wednesday to protest the inaction.
Speakers at the event offered first-hand accounts of what it’s like to work during the COVID-19 crisis without paid sick days, and workers then pretended to die as health providers covered them in sheets.
“For Premier Ford to suggest that the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is a replacement for paid sick days is sorely out of touch with the reality of the workers who’ve kept our society running under lockdown,” said Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre and one of the speakers at the event.
“What we hear everyday from workers is that they can’t afford to miss a single day’s pay. Workers are struggling to support their families, so if they start to notice symptoms they’re faced with this impossible choice between staying home and getting tested or going to work and getting paid.”
The protest was organized by the Decent Work and Health Network, and a recent report on paid sick days conducted by the network revealed that 58 per cent of workers across Canada do not have a single paid sick day; that number jumps to over 70 per cent for workers making $25,000 or less.
“I am a former cleaner of eight years, and I work now to support many people who work in cleaning who are undocumented,” said Veronica Zaragoza, another speaker at the protest.
“Many workers from my community are doing the jobs that no one wants to do, cleaning grocery stores and medical buildings at night, and being paid very low wage with absolutely no paid sick days. Most of these cleaners are like me, racialized, immigrant workers, and some are undocumented and extremely vulnerable to labour exploitation,” she continued.
“We need access to protections like paid sick days, regardless of our immigration status. What we don’t need is to be harassed by police and bylaw officers when we are going to work late at night or coming home early in the morning. COVID-19 is spreading through our community not because we are irresponsible, but because we are being exposed at work and denied the protections that could save our lives.”
Along with paid sick leave, experts have also said a moratorium on residential evictions is needed to prevent more people from losing their homes and to ensure residents know they won’t be faced with homelessness if they fall behind on rent during the global health crisis.
Ford teased that an eviction ban is in the works yesterday, but no concrete details have been provided.
“Telling the public to ‘stay home when you’re sick’ without providing them with adequate paid sick days is like giving patients a prescription they can’t afford to fill,” said Dr. Jesse McLaren, an emergency physician in Toronto.
“Cases are at an all-time high with even more grim case projections coming in. We’re doing everything we can as health workers to protect our patients and the public, but our ERs are full and we need the provincial government to equip workers with paid sick days so they can protect themselves.”