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With Ontario finally getting paid leave, let’s be generous | David Israelson

Tuesday, April 27, 2021 @ 10:53 AM | By David Israelson

David Israelson %>
David Israelson
Now that Premier Doug Ford has relented and says he will bring in paid sick leave for Ontario workers — after voting against it 19 times — it’s time to look at what should go into any new provincial legislation.

Now is the time to see a clear proposed model bill from the Progressive Conservative government, one that can be backed too by supporters of sick day benefits, who up to this week included just about everyone in Ontario except Ford and his PCs.

Right now workers in Ontario, wherever they work, face tough choices when it comes to taking off work because of COVID-19. The federal Canada recovery sickness benefit pays $500 per week for up to two weeks if you’re required to quarantine. This is a $1.1-billion program that’s supposed to help workers who may be exposed to the virus but who work for employers not providing sick leave.

This may sound like a big program, but it hasn’t been enough to get people in Ontario who need to be paid or fear getting fired to go home to prevent coronavirus from spreading.

Let’s move forward right away following Ford’s tearful and slow, but apparently heartfelt, recognition that gee, it’s pretty bad for people to be afraid to stay home though they might have COVID-19 and risk infecting everyone at work. His sudden understanding was news, now let’s see the details.

What will go into a new law on sick leave? Who would it cover? How would it work? How much will it cost and how much would it pay out?

Filling the gaps

It should not be hard to draft a bill right away that will address these questions. The place to start is to look at what’s not covered now and what current protections for workers in Ontario are inadequate, and then fill in gaps.

Ford’s government actually removed legislation that the previous Liberals had brought in that provided two emergency paid sick days per year and another 10 unpaid ones where peoples’ jobs would be guaranteed. They replaced this with three unpaid days, boasting about this cruelty and insisting it was OK, right up to Ford’s apparent epiphany.

Now what? Ford’s PCs do have a point when they suggest that provincial legislation should augment and be in sync with the federal benefit program. The Ford folks already slapped down two draft bills — one from the opposition New Democrats in March that would have given Ontarians seven paid days of emergency leave and a private member’s bill by Liberal MPP Michael Coteau that proposed 10 paid emergency days.

Although the PCs spiked Coteau’s bill only hours before the premier’s tearful repentance, we should take Ford at his word that he’s now working on a paid leave plan. That means we’re no longer debating the idea; it’s the number of days workers get paid if they’re off.

Listen to experts

Here are some suggestions. First, to come up with the right number of days, let’s work back from the quarantine requirement, which sends people away for 14 days. It sounds like a lot of days, but the experts say that’s what’s needed to beat COVID.

It would be good for Ford to listen to the experts for a change.

Of these 14 days quarantine, $1,000 is covered by the federal program, so the province won’t bear costs alone for this relatively large number of paid emergency days. As long as the pandemic persists, though, most of the costs for paying people to stay home should be borne by governments; businesses are already struggling doubly, in lost revenues and having fewer people on the job.

There could be a sunset provision in paid leave legislation that would have the number of paid days come up for review after a set time, say either one year or six months after the World Health Organization declares that pandemic officially over. This doesn’t mean ending paid leave after that — we should just review the number of days.

Paid leave that’s humane, and lasting

A key principle should emerge from new paid leave legislation that should stick long after COVID-19 has been beaten. Paid emergency leave is a good thing, for the workplace as well as individual workers — it should be permanent even if some aspects change later. Pandemic or no pandemic, who wants to show up at an office or construction site with someone coughing all over you because they couldn’t afford to get better?

Let’s be a bit generous to Ford for finally coming to realize what nearly everyone else in Ontario knew already — we need paid leave. But let’s also make sure he comes up with a program that’s generous to hard-working Ontarians.

David Israelson is a non-practising lawyer, author, journalist and communications consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @davidisraelson or on Linkedin.  

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