The City of London is on track to officially request that upper levels of government work together as quickly as possible to enhance paid sick leave for all in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19.
The corporate services committee unanimously endorsed the motion from Coun. Arielle Kayabaga on Monday, which was seconded by councillor and deputy mayor Josh Morgan. The motion next heads to full council for final approval.
Kayabaga told the committee that she’s received messages from community members asking the city to show that it supports paid sick leave, a measure labour unions and public health experts have been calling for.
“It is both a labour rights issue and a vital part of helping to limit workplace spread of the virus. So I think it’s important that we join also the call to ask both governments to work together to find an understanding to support community members to reduce the spread of COVID,” she said.
Morgan said the key part is the “relation to the pandemic and COVID-19.”
“Certainly, we don’t want anyone to feel like they have to go to work because they don’t have the proper benefits and enhance the potential spread of the virus.”
Coun. Anna Hopkins suggested the motion be amended to include the phrase “as soon as possible,” which was agreed upon by Kayabaga and Morgan.
She stressed that while some people who don’t have paid leave can dip into savings or are otherwise able to make do with being off of work for two weeks, there are “a lot of people that aren’t able to do that.”
“This has been a conversation at the AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) board. I chair the Large Urban Caucus, and that is something that we have been supportive when it comes to the Ontario big city mayors,” she said.
“They have also brought forward a motion to highlight the crucial needs for paid sick time so workers, particularly essential workers, do not choose to go to work sick due to economic hardship during COVID.”
Morgan also noted that other municipalities have passed similar motions.
Just last Tuesday, Toronto’s city council adopted recommendations from the board of health that included a request to the provincial government to require employers in Ontario to provide no fewer than five paid sick days annually.
In November, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called the current system for paid sick leave broken.
“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 at the time.
When asked about paid sick days in mid-January, Ontario Premier Doug Ford touted the federal government’s COVID-19 benefits for residents and called for a shortened application period.
“We aren’t going to duplicate areas of support … they have that paid sick leave and that’s very important,” he said Jan. 12 when asked if the current federal benefits are enough.
“That will get people over the hump for a couple of weeks. If it extends (beyond two weeks), there’s EI benefits.”
In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act allows for up to three days each calendar year of unpaid job-protected leave in the case of personal illness, injury or medical emergency.
However, if any employment contract provides “a greater right or benefit” than under the ESA, the terms of the contract apply instead. For example, if a business chooses to provide a certain number of paid sick days, then that supersedes the provincially mandated three days unpaid.
Due to the pandemic, the ESA was amended “to include an unpaid, job-protected infectious disease emergency leave.”
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For federally regulated workplaces, employees are entitled to up to five days of personal leave per calendar year for a variety of reasons, including for illness. If a worker has been at the job for three consecutive months, the first three days are paid.
Employees are also entitled to unpaid medical leave protection for 16 or 17 weeks depending on the reason. The federal government introduced unpaid protection specific to COVID-19 that is scheduled to be repealed on Sept. 25.
However, the government says that those on unpaid COVID-19-related leave may be able to access other supports like the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit or Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit.
Some 58 per cent of workers in Canada lack enough paid sick leave, according to the Decent Work and Health Network, and that percentage rises as wages drop.
— with files from Global News’ Matthew Bingley and Katherine Ward as well as Reuters’ Anna Mehler Paperny.