‘It breaks my heart’: Essential workers in Ontario plead for paid sick days amid COVID-19 wave

TORONTO — Living paycheque to paycheque and then being forced to choose between the health of your colleagues and money for essentials is a choice that no one should have to make, several essential workers tell CTV News Toronto.

That need for around $100 of income a day is one reason the province’s ICU beds have been filling up with patients suffering from more infectious COVID-19 variants, observers said, highlighting the need for paid sick days.

“I get upset with people coming into work because they’re sick and they can’t get paid for sick days. It breaks my heart, it really does,” said Anna Hodgson, a 69-year-old pensioner who works at a grocery store to make ends meet.

“If you call in sick, that’s a lot of money you’re losing,” she said.

Someone working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job looks to get just under $600 — with deductions, a day is about $100 — a pittance compared to the cost of an ICU stay.

“You’re living paycheque to paycheque, you get paid on Thursday, you can’t wait for it. You need your money on Thursday. You need it now,” she said.

Niki Gurgen, a personal support worker, said she believes if her workplace had paid sick days, an outbreak that infected 14 people could have been caught earlier.

“These are stressful and dangerous times,” she said. “And now it’s all happening again and we still don’t have sick days.”

In response to a question from CTV News Toronto, Dr. Michael Warner of Michael Garron Hospital laid out the math.

“My patient is in her mid-40s. She got it from her husband, who got it from the factory he works at,” he said.

“If he had to miss a day of work, he misses out on $133.21 which could be the difference between him meeting rent and missing rent,” Dr. Warner said.

Naureen Rizvi of Unifor told CTV News Toronto she was amazed at how Ontario’s provincial government had rejected paid sick days, then signalled the policy was a possibility, then edged away from it again.

“It’s been quite the political football. There’s a lot of growing frustration,” she said.

“There’s an opportunity for our premier to do the right thing and turn the ship around. It’s not just moving in the wrong direction, it’s sinking, and sinking fast,” she said.

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