“The bulk of cases now that seem to be driving this pandemic are happening in workplaces where essential workers are unable to fully physically distance from one another,” according to Dr. Camille Lemieux, medical lead for the University Health Network’s COVID-19 assessment centre.
This is one of several reasons why it is critical that the province reconsider its position on paid sick days. Paid sick days are a key contributor to getting Ontario healthy again.
Take the fact that over 70% of low-wage workers in Canada do not have paid sick days. When feeling unwell, these workers are faced with the impossible decision of going into work and risk exposing others to COVID-19, or losing their wages and not being able to afford their basic necessities, like food.
Daily Bread’s Hunger Lives Here report found that food bank clients are at greater risk for exposure to COVID-19. Close to 60% of employed food bank clients were in occupations facing the highest COVID-19 cases, including sales, trades and transport, manufacturing and utilities to name a few.
COVID-19 cases have been concentrated in areas where individuals face systemic social and economic disadvantages. Overcrowded housing, higher use of public transit, and a greater need to travel outside one’s own home to work, or access food have all contributed to higher COVD-19 cases in these areas. Workers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of colour have been hardest hit by COVID-19 within Toronto and these communities continue to disproportionately experience lower-incomes and reduced job security.
While the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit provides up to 10 days of income support for people who have COVID-19 or are required to self-isolate, this benefit does not fully meet the need of low-wage workers. For example, the benefit is only available if the worker misses at least 50% of their work week and has earned at last $5,000 in the prior year. Workers must apply for the benefit and there is a time delay to receiving the payment, leaving many in financially precarious positions. And finally, the $500 per week benefit is less than what a minimum wage worker in Ontario would earn working a regular 40 hour work week.
Paid sick days on the other hand are timely, responsive, and ensure no income disruption for workers so they can stay home when feeling unwell to protect those around them.
Providing paid sick days is critical, now more than ever, to address the immediate challenges of so many in our community who are forced to make the choice of a keeping food on the table, or going to work while feeling sick. The lack of paid sick days exacerbates the inequities that marginalized communities face during the pandemic.
During this crucial window of time, we are hopeful that the Government of Ontario will do the right, safe and healthy thing – and legislate paid sick days.