Toronto’s top doctor calls on province to provide 10 paid sick days amid spike in COVID-19 cases

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Ontario government must introduce five days of permanent paid sick leave – increasing to 10 during an infectious disease outbreak – and strengthen protections for temporary workers amid pandemic, new report from Toronto medical officer of health says .

Calling paid sick leave ‘essential’ protection, Dr Eileen De Villa’s report constitutes the most detailed and robust demand from local health authorities on worker safety to date, as the province considers measures to additional lockdowns to deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases. Ontario reported 3,338 new cases and 29 deaths on Monday.

The city’s top doctor’s report to his board of health echoes much of what worker advocates and experts have been calling for since the start of last year.

“It has become increasingly clear that the provisions for paid sick leave are essential to protect the health of workers, their workplaces and the community at large,” says the Villa report.

“Workers without paid sick leave, especially low-paid and precariously employed essential workers, are under financial pressure to work even when they are sick.”

In an interview with The Star, Toronto Board of Health Chairman Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York) said tougher protections for frontline workers were crucial to contain the second wave of the virus .

“The proposal presented here does not simply call for sufficient sick leave or sick leave as an indefinite concept. It presents a precise, clear and evidence-based position: 10 days immediately during a public health emergency, ”he said.

“We need to get past the repetitive cycle of increased restrictions without better support for those who cannot work from home,” he added. “Advancing restrictions without better support like sick leave is going to subject frontline workers to other illnesses.

Monday’s report also calls on the Ministry of Labor to “provide resources and funds” to support workplaces dependent on temporary workers to provide training and infection control measures.

Toronto Public Health has had “frequent” meetings with the provincial Department of Labor, the report adds, “to advocate for many changes in practice and policy that would promote healthier workplaces as part of the process. COVID-19 response and beyond.

This includes promoting better support for temporary workers and “strengthening recently implemented proactive inspections”.

Data previously obtained by the Star showed that between March and mid-December, the Department of Labor fined an employer for COVID-19 health and safety violations.

Provincial reports show that workplace outbreaks are a major factor in the transmission of COVID-19. There are currently 235 active outbreaks in the workplace, the second highest number behind those in care settings. Ontario only provides detailed statistics on outbreaks in agriculture, food processing, retail and medical sectors; the vast majority of active outbreaks are classified in “other” workplaces.

Last week, Toronto Public Health began releasing a detailed breakdown of workplace outbreaks in the city, including data for 11 sectors, and became one of the first local authorities to routinely name employers with major outbreaks. Announcing the new measures, Mayor John Tory said it was “high time” the province acted on paid sick leave.

While Ontario workers previously had access to two paid sick days, the measure was overturned by Premier Doug Ford in 2018.

“Public health officials have made it clear that sick leave is a critical public health response,” Cressy said. “At our very first board of health meeting after the emergency was declared in the spring, we asked for sick leave.

Only 42 percent of Canadian workers have access to paid sick leave – and that figure drops to 10 percent for low-wage workers, notes Monday’s report.

“Not only do they face an immediate loss of essential income if they do not work, but the fragility of their employment status also sometimes means that being absent from work in the event of illness could compromise their ‘quality’ with their employer or their future income, either by reducing their hours or losing their jobs, ”the report said.

De Villa’s call for 10 paid sick days is part of discussions at the federal level on negotiating a “new paid sick day scheme” with the provinces, which could eventually be offered through of the employment insurance system. For now, the federal government has implemented a pandemic sickness benefit that provides workers with $ 500 per week for up to two weeks.

“However, the benefit does not allow workers to benefit from compulsory and immediately accessible paid sick days. Plus, it pays less than a full-time minimum wage job in most provinces. As a result, some low-wage workers are still suffering financial loss, ”says the Villa report.

In August, a report from the Decent Work and Health Network (DWHN) found that Canada ranks in the bottom quarter of the world for sick leave protections. While the Yukon introduced a paid sick leave reimbursement for employers during the pandemic, only two other provinces – Quebec and Prince Edward Island – had paid sick leave provisions before COVID- 19.

Analyzing 22 developed countries, the DWHN study indicates that Canada is one of five countries where the vast majority of employers are not required to provide paid sick leave for short-term illnesses. Many countries, including Australia, Germany, Norway and Switzerland, legislate seven paid sick days for workers.

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“Like vaccines, paid sick days must be universal in order to protect the most vulnerable,” the report said.

“Research on self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has suggested that when compensation is assured, compliance is almost 40% higher.”

In Ontario, more than 8,700 workers have fallen ill with the virus due to occupational exposures, according to data from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

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