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Ontario to provide three paid sick days after months of pressure
Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 4:25 pm

The Ontario government says it will provide three paid sick days for workers who don’t have time off during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the province continues to push Ottawa to improve its federal benefit.

The new temporary provincial program, which will expire on Sept. 25, will require employers to pay their workers up to $200 a day for up to three days. Employees can use the days if they have symptoms, to get vaccinated or to care for others. The changes will be retroactive to April 19, and will be administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, with employers being reimbursed. The changes will be introduced through legislation.

The announcement comes after months of resistance from Premier Doug Ford’s government to creating its own provincial sick pay program, even as essential workers reported going to work ill with the highly-contagious coronavirus because they don’t want to lose their wages.

“With the new variants of concern, workers in Ontario need more support now than ever before,” said Labour Minister Monte MacNaughton.

For months, the Ontario government has faced calls from a chorus of medical experts, mayors, union leaders and opposition politicians to ensure that the often precariously employed workers who perform essential labour - such as stocking shelves in grocery stores or processing packages in warehouses - have paid sick days.

Mr. Ford has insisted that Ottawa improve its temporary program, offered to all provinces. But last week, after he issued a tearful apology for his government’s deeply unpopular public health measures, Mr. Ford vowed to bring in his own program.

In the meantime, Ontario has offered to double federal sick leave payments to $1,000 a week for workers in the province, but only if the federal government continues to administer the program.

Mr. Ford spoke to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc Tuesday evening to discuss how the two governments could work together to provide workers with paid sick days.

In the House of Commons Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa is open to working with the provinces to implement employer paid sick leave.

“We will now work with the provinces so they can bring it within their own jurisdictions,” he said. “We are encouraging them to bring in employer paid leave in the provincial regulated industries which is most of our workforce.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had urged Mr. Trudeau to bring in a national paid sick leave program similar to what Australia and New Zealand have done. Australia provides 10 days for full-time employees and pro-rata for part-time employees.

Critics say the federal sick benefit program offers too little – at just $500 a week – and takes too long to send cheques to workers who must apply for support after the fact, meaning too few are making use of it.

The federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit provides sick leave for up to four weeks to Canadians across the country, but the take-up has been far less than Ottawa initially projected. The federal government estimated in November that the benefit would provide nearly $5-billion in benefits over two years, yet slashed that forecast to just $738-million in the April 19 federal budget.

Only Prince Edward Island and Quebec currently mandate any minimum paid sick days. Employees in federally regulated industries, such as banking and broadcasting, are entitled to three paid sick days. When the Progressive Conservatives took office is 2018, Mr. Ford repealed the previous Liberal government’s two mandated paid sick days.

British Columbia’s NDP government has also faced pressure to address gaps in the federal sick pay plan since championing it a year ago.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said this week the province will also create its own permanent program to provide workers with sick pay after criticizing Ottawa’s plan as too flawed to simply top up. He said he believed the federal government was going to improve its benefit program but that his government was caught flat-footed when the federal budget provided no amendments.