Our battle with COVID seems to be far from over. As new variants emerge, and provinces struggle to reduce transmission rates, public debate continues over what else, if anything, can be done to curb the virus. The federal government has rolled out different programs, and provided financial assistance to provinces in the fight against COVID-19. Despite millions having been given to each of the provinces, most have used federal money for spending on the pandemic, arguing that they are financially strapped to do more. The reality is that most provinces are underspending on the pandemic, meaning that money is available for critical measures.
One such measure provincial governments can implement, which is not only known, but proven to curb the spread of the virus; are paid sick days. Health advocates, as well as, health experts unanimously agree that paid sick days are essential in stopping the spread of COVID. Moreover, paid sick days reduce healthcare costs in the long term, ensuring we’re not overwhelming the health system with cases.
Most recently, the Ford government rejected NDP Ontario’s bill to mandate paid sick days, stating that the federal government offers a program to address the issue of going to work sick. The Ford government is either intentionally ignoring or recklessly ignorant over the fact that the program does not provide universal coverage, leaving many to go to work sick.
Toronto’s Board of Health stated that only 42% of working Canadians currently have access to paid sick leave, and among low-wage and front-line workers that number is about 10%. A year into the pandemic, it’s become clear that workplace exposure is a major contributor to community spread, yet nothing is being done to manage this major risk. Public Health data indicates that 49% of COVID-19 cases in major urban centers were among people living in lower-income households, who also tend to be in low-wage employment.
As our communities and workers struggle through another wave of the pandemic, and the recovery becomes more tenuous, all efforts must be taken to protect our communities. The very last and essential effort are mandated sick days. The Ford government’s commitment to protecting Ontarians is measured by its willingness to defer to expert knowledge and finally mandate paid sick days for everyone.