Yesterday the Ontario government announced a program for full-time and part-time workers who need to take time off due to COVID-19. Workers will be eligible to receive up to three paid sick days which expires in September.
Orillia Zehrs store manager Randy Rutledge believes the three paid sick days program will be a good thing for Ontario workers.
“I think it’s going to help some of these people working in warehouses and distribution centres, those are full-time jobs that people can’t afford to walk away from, so I think it will definitely help families in need,” he said.
The Orillia Zehrs store has had its own protocols and sick leave programs in place before the provincial government took action on Wednesday.
“We have a protocol here where if you are not able to come to work because you’re sick, you have to sign off to say if you're healthy or not,” Rutledge explained.
“The beauty is if they aren’t feeling well, they can make that time up later because most of our staff is part-time and we have a lot of colleagues here.”
Rutledge believes his staff will feel even less pressure now to work sick with the help of the provincial government’s paid sick day plan.
“If someone gets sick now, at least there is an opportunity for them to get some form of subsidy, I think it’s just going to help people from a financial standpoint,” he said.
Local labour activist Tshweu Moleme says he is disappointed in the province for only budging on three days of paid sick leave.
“This is really shocking. The premier has given Ontario workers nothing but hopelessness here, and this is a time where there should be hope, especially from political leadership,” Moleme said.
Many unions and doctors within the province have been asking the provincial government to approve 10 paid sick days for quite some time, Moleme says.
“Offering the three paid sick days, which expires in September, is nothing but an insult to Ontario workers, especially workers who have been working so hard to keep the economy going and keep us all safe from COVID-19,” he said.
“Mr. Ford has been quick to call workers heroes but really he’s treating them as zeros in his book of priorities in the province.”
Premier Ford himself has been in isolation since last week after coming into close contact with a member of his staff who tested positive for COVID-19.
“He can afford it, but we have to ask, what about the poor?” Moleme asked. “What about the Ontario family who is forced to go to work even when they are not in good health and will likely bring COVID home?
"They don’t have the luxury and privilege that the premier has got, he’s given the workers three days while he’s off for 14 days.”
As of early Thursday afternoon, over 8,000 people have died across the province due to the COVID-19 virus; Moleme believes that if workers had 10 paid sick days, many of those lives may have been saved.
“How many more deaths will it take before the premier finally does something for workers?” he asked.
Kubota Materials Canada Corporation inspector Coddie Leroux works at the factory on Commerce Road. He fears that some workers will use the paid sick leave for the wrong reasons.
“I think with what we’ve seen with CERB, people are already taking advantage of free money, so I feel like people might abuse a paid sick leave,” Leroux said.
Despite his concerns, Leroux believes the province's paid sick leave program will help families and workers facing financial pressures.
“My personal concern would be other people getting the virus and then coming to work because they can’t afford to not work,” he said.
“If I were ever sick, I would have no problem being off and I would feel like it’s the right thing to do. But I understand other people feel more financial pressure and that could put me at risk,” he explained.
While Leroux says he hasn’t faced any financial pressures during the pandemic, he has seen others risk the health of themselves and others in order to receive a paycheque.
“I’ve seen people at work and been like ‘you don’t quite sound right today and given everything, should you be here?’” he said.
“Whether they can’t afford it or don’t want to lose money, they just show up and pretend everything is good, so hopefully those kinds of pressures will be alleviated now," said Leroux.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced Wednesday that Ontario was introducing legislation that, if passed, will provide three days of paid sick leave to Ontario residents who have to miss work due to COVID-19.
The legislation would require employers to provide workers with up to $200 of pay for up to three days if they have to miss work because of the pandemic. Employers could then apply to be reimbursed for the payments.
The program will be retroactive to April 19 and run until Sept. 25, the same day the federal CRSB expires.
"By providing time-limited access to three paid leave days, the province is ensuring employees can pay their bills as they help stop the spread of the virus, including by getting tested, waiting for their results in isolation or going to get their vaccine," stated a news release from the Labour Ministry.
The federal government has expressed a willingness to double the amount paid out through the CRSB, which currently provides $500 a week in payments for four weeks between Sept. 27, 2020 and Sept. 25, 2021.
The province said it has offered to provide the additional $500 per week to the federal government so Ontario workers could receive $1,000 a week for four weeks, instead of $500.
Finance Minister Peter Bethenfalvy said since the federal government already has the infrastructure in place to deliver payments through the CSRB quickly, it makes sense for Ontario to top up that program rather than create a new one.
For more information on the paid sick days program, the province is recommending employers and workers call the COVID-19 Sick Days Information Hotline at 888-999-2248 or visit Ontario.ca/COVIDSickDays.