By Mike Baker
Representatives from the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce say the Ontario government’s decision to introduce a temporary paid sick day program is “a step in the right direction.”
Premier Doug Ford unveiled plans for the initiative last Wednesday [April 28]. The proposed Ontario COVID-19 Worker Protection Benefit program would pay up to $200 per day for workers who are sick, have symptoms of COVID-19, have a mental health issue, or need to be vaccinated.
The temporary program is retroactive to April 19, and will end in September.
The sick days, Ford noted, would not need to be taken consecutively, and workers are not required to provide a sick note to their employer.
The move follows months of lobbying from health care professionals, union representatives and political leaders to provide a safety net for individuals who have been forced to choose between doing the right thing and staying home and isolating in the event they have symptoms of COVID-19, or putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head by going to work.
Andrea Strano, president of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, expressed her support for the program last week. With Ontario still in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic, with no real end in sight, she hoped the initiative would be extended to provide relief for workers and businesses for as long as they need it.
“Our position continues to be that businesses, particularly small businesses, simply cannot afford the additional financial responsibility to fund sick leave at this time, which is why [we] support the notion of a temporary paid sick program that is paid for by the government for the duration of the pandemic,” Strano said. “Any paid sick program must be fully and immediately accessible to workers who need it, with a quick and seamless reimbursement for employers. When workers protect themselves, they protect their colleagues, their employers and their communities.”
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott believes this latest announcement is proof that the Ontario government will do “what is necessary” to control the spread of COVID-19, and support the province’s work force.
“Ontario introduced the most comprehensive approach to COVID-19 sick leave in the country,” Scott told the Echo. “Workers who miss work because of COVID-19 will gain three days at regular pay, filling the gap for people to access the federal support program… [We want to ensure] workers can stay home if they’re feeling symptoms of COVID-19.”
Responding to Ford’s claims that the program was the best of its kind anywhere in North America, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said it didn’t go far enough, noting that “three days of paid sick leave will not cut it.”
The Liberals were also disappointed, with the party’s former interim leader MPP John Fraser telling CBC that many of his colleagues had called on Ford to institute 10 paid sick days, following consultation with provincial health care leaders.
Instead, the province offered to cover the cost of doubling the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit payments, providing an additional $500 per week to eligible individuals. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the offer, saying the federal benefit is designed to support workers who don’t have a regular employer, or to serve as a stop-gap until provinces mandate paid sick days.
As discussions continue, Strano called on political leaders to take necessary action to support those who need it most.
“We would like to see all levels of governments open to further adjustments of their programs – as they have been with other programs rolled out in the pandemic – to ensure programs meet the needs of workers and the market in the Haliburton Highlands,” Strano concluded.