Although municipal leaders and public health officials have been calling for sick pay for essential workers for several weeks, the province’s newest lockdown measures don’t appear to offer financial compensation for people who cannot work from home.
Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, says that while new restrictions are welcome at a time when the region is experiencing an uptick in new cases, more must be done to curb spread in workplaces.
“I welcome the province’s announcement…it underlines the grave situation that Peel and Ontario are in,” Loh told insauga.com.
“But I’m very concerned [because] we do need to remain focused on the essential workforce. Isolation centres that will [curb household spread] are being brought online, but greater protections for workers such as sick pay and more proactive inspections [are needed].”
Loh isn’t the only concerned about sick pay not making its way into today’s announcement.
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The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) said that its members are “shocked” that new COVID-19 emergency measures fail to include workers’ protections, including guaranteed paid sick days.
“Health experts have said loud and clear: paid sick days save lives,” said Patty Coates, OFL President, in a statement.
“It is appalling that Ford’s government continues to refuse to act on this common-sense advice.”
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, has also called on the province to implement guaranteed paid sick leave, something she described as an “essential protection.”
Over the course of the pandemic, a significant amount of infections have been linked to workplaces. According to Peel Public Health’s website, a total of 193 outbreaks have been linked to workplaces in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon since March 2020. According to data posted on the site, 39 per cent of outbreaks have been linked to manufacturing and industrial facilities.
In a Jan. 11 statement, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie joined other Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) mayors and regional chairs in calling for action on sick pay and funding for hard-hit municipalities.
The statement says that while the mayors and chairs are happy with the province’s decision to take a Quebec-style curfew off the table for now, they are insisting that the federal and Ontario governments sort out who should backstop workers who lose their paycheque when they test positive for COVID-19.
The letter said the failure to pay ill workers is discouraging them from getting tested and prompting them to work while sick, enabling further spread of the virus.
Peel has been one of the hardest-hit regions in Ontario, logging 406 new cases alone on Jan. 12.
On Jan. 12, Premier Doug Ford announced new limits on outdoor gatherings and issued a formal stay at home order in a bid to stop community spread and protect the health care system. He also said that the province will provide up to 300,000 COVID-19 tests per week to sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and food processing.
The province is expecting to receive 12 million Panbio tests from the federal government over the next several months and “continues to pursue opportunities to purchase additional rapid tests.”
But while some public health officials say increased tests could help, many say that ensuring ill workers stay home while sick is crucially important.
“I would say that sick pay is a win-win–it’ll get workers the support they need and interrupt transmission,” Loh says.