Municipal leaders are growing impatient with a lack of response from senior levels of government to address requests for paid sick leave to help slow infection rates among essential workers.
For weeks, several municipal leaders have been signaling the need to help those who don’t have the luxury of isolating at home if they develop symptoms of COVID-19. Many of those who find themselves in that situation are going to work sick.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called the current system for paid sick leave broken. The programs which are available now, he said, are either available for far too few people or take too long for them to get access.
Brown said there has been more than 120 workplace outbreaks in Peel Region.
“Where you have significant amounts of essential workers like Brampton, the lockdowns don’t really affect our workforce, they’re continuing to go to work,” he said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, along with the city’s medical officer of health, have been calling for senior levels of government to address the situation for over a week.
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“The notion that we should just continue to let them go to work and spread this to other people because they’re afraid of losing their paycheque is ridiculous,” Tory said.
On Monday, Tory’s patience with a lack of commitment appeared to be growing thin. He said both the requests to both the federal and provincial governments have yielded nothing more than a polite response.
“We need somebody to act now, they should sort it out as between the two governments and the private sector,” said Tory.
Mayor Brown said the issue has been brought up in a number of settings, including the Ontario Big Cities Mayors meeting, where it got unanimous support.
“It’s beyond frustrating that this key tool in the COVID-19 response isn’t available yet,” he said.
Infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla said areas experiencing lockdowns aren’t providing enough incentive for low-income residents to stop working when they are sick.
“For their own hierarchy of needs, they’d rather put food on the table for their family or pay their rent,” he said, rather than isolating or quarantining. A nimble sick leave program, he said, would take away those fears and allow infection rates to drop.
“As you’re trying to drive rates of transmission down in communities that are very affected, particularly ones where they are a huge part of the work force, it’s very hard to do this without incentivizing people to actually go get tested,” said Chagla.
Chagla said the existing government benefits favour those who are already well off.
“It doesn’t favour the people who are being paid under the table with cash, who are financially illiterate, or new Canadians,” he said.