Paid sick days should not be a

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TORONTO, March 01, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Today, four major health and community groups – the Decent Work and Health Network, Workers Action Centre, Empower PSW Network, and Better Way Alliance – called on the Ford government to stop rewarding pandemic profiteers for bad employment practices while denying workers permanent employer-paid sick days. The joint press conference was held at Queen’s Park as Ontario’s temporary COVID sick days are set to expire yet again in 30 days.

“It’s hard to comprehend that Premier Ford and his government have repeatedly ignored calls from frontline healthcare workers to legislate 10 paid sick days. Instead they’ve created a program that benefits large corporations, but leaves patients behind during a major healthcare crisis,” stated Dr. Bernard Ho, an emergency and family physician and member of the Decent Work and Health Network.

The Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB) program has already transferred an astounding $189 million to the same corporations who sent workers into the pandemic without any protection, even as workers struggle to pay their bills during a cost-of-living crisis.

“The WIPB has benefited, by design, those corporations who had absolutely no paid sick days in place for the first year of the pandemic,” said Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre, a member-based organization of workers in precarious jobs. Only businesses who provided fewer than 3 paid sick days in April 2021 are eligible.

Jess Carpinone, a bakery owner and member of small business group Better Way Alliance, called the program “unfair.” “Small businesses like mine who already had paid sick days in place were excluded. Unlike large corporations, we cannot afford to treat our staff as disposable – in order to succeed, we need to invest in them and their well being,” she added.

Julie Chowdhury, a member of the Workers’ Action Centre and a former health worker, shared that, “Temporary programs are not enough for workers. When you are living paycheque to paycheque, losing a days’ wage means not being able to provide food for my family.”

At least 500,000 workers have accessed the Worker Income Protection Benefit to date. But since it never renewed and no days were added, even these half a million workers are once again left without paid sick days. Lack of paid sick days is contributing to overcrowding in hospitals and worsening the crisis in Ontario’s healthcare system.

Personal support worker and coordinator of the Empower PSW Network, Debra Slater, implored the government to fix the crisis in healthcare by learning from the pandemic experience in the long-term care sector. “If the government is denying paid sick days to workers like me, then they are not addressing the crisis,” she said.

As workers in Ontario face the highest inflation in 30 years, Ladd called the WIPB “shameful” for rewarding large corporations who made record profits during the pandemic, while workers continue to be left behind. “Workers and their families need every cent to survive right now. The option of staying home without wages is no option at all. Ten paid sick days is more urgent than ever,” she added.

Background:

  • Ontario’s temporary 3 paid sick day program for COVID-related reasons – the Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB) – was established in April 2021. ​​
  • The WIPB has been extended 3 times already without adding any more days. The initial three days are not renewable.
  • At least $189 million has been paid out to corporations as claims under the WIPB as of June 24, 2022.1 Under the program, eligible employers are reimbursed up to $200 per paid sick day per worker taken.
  • An additional $43.7 million was allocated to contracts with Deloitte – one of the largest consulting companies in the world – just to administer the program.2
  • Half a million workers had accessed WIPB by December 2022, taking an average of 2.5 days.3 These workers have now used their available sick days and are completely left behind by the WIPB program.
  • There are 7.8 million workers in Ontario.4 Approximately 60% of these workers do not have access to employer-paid sick days and around 500,000 are in minimum wage jobs. Low-wage workers are the least likely to have access to paid sick days.
  • Only 11% of workers without employer-paid sick days have actually accessed the WIPB. This means over 4 million workers have weathered the pandemic without accessing this basic protection, with a cost to individual worker health and public health.
  • Making paid sick days employer-paid and available to all workers as a permanent protection in the Employment Standards Act is the best way to ensure seamless access and maximize the effectiveness of paid sick days as a public health measure.
  • More and more US jurisdictions are implementing paid sick days based on their pandemic experience, including New Mexico, Colorado and Illinois.5
  • Many OECD countries across the world already provide adequate paid sick days protection for workers. Most recently New Zealand joined Germany, Australia, and Switzerland in providing at least 10 paid sick days.

For interviews please reach Sarah Shahid at sarah@decentworkandhealth.org or 514-415-4666

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1 D’Mello, Colin. “Ford government urged to extend paid sick leave amid COVID-19 wave.” Global News, July 5, 2022. https://globalnews.ca/news/8966089/ontario-paid-sick-leave-extension-doug-ford-covid-19/
2 Rubin, Josh. “WSIB, Ford government pay Deloitte $22.4M to run paid sick leave program.” Toronto Star, January 28, 2022. https://www.thestar.com/business/2022/01/28/wsib-ford-government-pay-224-million-to-global-consulting-company-deloitte-to-run-covid-19-paid-sick-leave-program.html
3 Bowden, Olivia. “Telling us we are not important’: Lack of permanent paid sick days making health-care crisis worse, say experts.” CTV News, December 17, 2022. https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/telling-us-we-are-not-important-lack-of-permanent-paid-sick-days-making-health-care-crisis-worse-say-experts-1.6199148
4 Ontario’s Labour Market. https://www.ontario.ca/page/labour-market
5 A Better Balance. “Sick Without a Safety Net.” March 2022. https://www.abetterbalance.org/sick-without-a-safety-net/



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