‘Infuriating’: Renewed calls for essential workers to receive paid sick days as third wave threatens health care system

TORONTO — Doctors and community advocates are angry and frustrated the Ontario government hasn’t created a plan for all essential workers to receive paid sick days when they stay home due to COVID-19.

On Friday Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions but nothing around paid sick days, despite workplaces being a significant source of virus spread.

“It was infuriating,” Michelle Dagnino, Executive Director of the Jane and Finch community and family centre told CTV News Toronto Monday.

Dagnino said she’s pushing workers to received two weeks of paid leave but two to three days paid sick days would help many.

She adds 30 per cent of workers in the hard hit area are also on public transit, which can be crowded early in the morning.

“They do not feel they have the option to stay at home, because if they stay home they may not be able to buy groceries … They are living paycheque to paycheque. Many cases day to day.” 

“It’s time for paid sick days. And action today will save lives tomorrow,” said Palliative care physician Dr. Naheed Dosani.

Nearly 750 people are in the ICU with COVID-19, and hospitals are working to find space and staff to care for the sick. 

Outbreaks at dozens of workplaces around GTA

Across the province, there are employees who go to work at facilities with outbreaks but don’t get paid when they stay home sick or need to isolate.

Poultry inspector Enoc Vila is one of them. 

“Every day is stressful because you don’t know who is beside you. You can take care of you, but you don’t what your co-worker is doing after job,” said Vila leaving Maple Leaf Foods Inc’s Ethel Avenue location, near Weston Rd. And St. Clair Ave. West. 

An outbreak was declared there March 29th with 15 cases. The company says five active cases remain.

The company said in an email since the pandemic began it has offered a top-up to government provided benefits for COVID related absence. It said it’s taking several health and safety precautions and encouraging workers to get vaccinated. 

Vila would like to see workers be paid for sick days. He recently stayed home and lost wages because of a situation at his child’s daycare.

“I think the government has to work with the company to help us. If the company has to give us money, the company is going to lose too,” he said.

The City of Toronto reports 59 active workplaces/community outbreaks as of Thursday. 

Cumulatively, there has been 357 outbreaks at offices, warehousing businesses, shipping and distribution, construction and manufacturing, along with 65 in food processing, 59 in retail, grocery and malls, followed by 54 in bars and restaurants. 

Cost in the ICU vs. minimum wage 

Right now, the cost between critical care and staying home is stark. The daily average cost of a patient in ICU, more than $3,500 dollars.

A minimum wage worker makes about 114 dollars a day, 570 dollars a week.

The COVID-19 science advisory table advising the government also wants action.

“People should not have to chose between keeping food on the table and keeping others safe by staying home,” said co-chair Adalsteinn Brown.

People living and working in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood who spoke with CTV News Toronto said they believe paid sick days are the right thing to do. 

“In a pandemic like this, if you don’t have money to survive, what are you going to do?,” said one bus driver.

“I think they have a responsibility to help every single person. Doesn’t matter what is your work,” said mom Adriana Aguirre, now pregnant, who also worked as a massage therapist without benefits during the pandemic.

Ontario says workers can access federal benefits 

Premier Ford’s office said in an email, anyone in Ontario who is sick or needs to self-isolate due to COVID-19 has access to paid sick days through the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.

“For months now, Ontario has been advocating for improvements to the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. When workers are ill or worried they may have COVID, they need to know that they have immediate access to this program. They can’t wait days.”

Ford’s office said it expected improvements would be included in federal budget.

The federal budget did announce employment Insurance sickness benefits enhanced would be enhanced from 15 to 26 weeks.

Advocates said money from the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit can take months to arrive, and workers need the money in days. 

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