London NDP MPP proposes bill to guarantee paid sick leave for Ontario workers

London West New Democrat MPP Peggy Sattler. Peggy Sattler

NPD MPP for London West Peggy Sattler is tabling legislation that would see Ontario workers get seven guaranteed paid sick days and an additional 14 paid sick days during an infectious disease emergency.

The “Stay Home if you are Sick Act” provides a framework for paid sick leave during and after the pandemic and will be tabled in the Ontario Legislature on Tuesday afternoon.

The move comes nine months into the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and at a point where Ontario is seeing daily case numbers close to the 2,000 mark.

“These are the workers we have relied on the most during the pandemic and they are also at the highest rate of exposure,” Sattler said.

“When they get sick or their child wakes up with a sore throat they must make an impossible choice because staying home to recover or care for their child means giving up their paycheque.”

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Sattler said with the risking case numbers “it is all to clear how dangerous it is when workers must lose their pay to stay home when they are sick.”

The new bill would make the leave flexible for individual workers’ health care needs, and would expand upon the three unpaid sick days already guaranteed under the Employment Standards Act.

Sattler also noted that the paid sick days would apply to all workers, including those classified as part-time as long as they had completed at least one week of work.

Decent Work and Health Network estimates least 60 per cent of all workers in Ontario do not have paid sick days, which Sattler said is especially the case if they have a lower wage, such as grocery store clerks, cleaners, or a PSW.

“Every day in our practice we see people who can’t take sick days simply because they can’t afford to,” said  Carolina Jimenez, a registered nurse and coordinator of the Decent Work and Health Network.

Jimenez said a study by the network also showed that for those in low-income occupations, the percentage of work without paid sick leave is over 70 per cent, and that the number is even higher for women.

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“Workers who are denied paid sick days are actually the ones who need it the most. They are my patients working in lower-wage precarious jobs, who are disproportionately women, migrant, Black, and Indigenous workers.”

Sattler noted that one of Doug Ford’s first acts as premier was to eliminate paid sick days for workers, and the federal government’s Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is a temporary stopgap that is only available to workers who qualify and that will end next summer.

“It is all too clear how dangerous it is when workers must lose their paycheque to stay home when they are sick,” Sattler said.

“If they are coming down with the flu, they can’t afford to stay home in bed. If they go for a COVID-19 test, they can’t afford to wait at home for the results. And when going to work sick is the only option, it puts us all at risk.”

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