HAMILTON — As Ontario moves into phase two of its re-opening, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath joined physicians and nurses to call on the province to implement paid sick days for all workers — including migrant workers now engulfed in COVID-19 hotspots. Without paid sick days, stage two could fail and plunge Ontario back into lockdown.
“Ontarians have worked too hard to flatten the curve to watch all the progress we’ve made together squandered by Doug Ford, who won’t give workers the ability to stay home when they’ve got symptoms of COVID-19,” said Horwath. “Workers all over the province go to work when they feel unwell because they’re forced to choose between that, or losing the day’s pay. For some, it’s a choice between going to work sick, or being unable to keep food on the table. And migrant workers fear they could be fired, or even be deported if they call in sick for work.”
Hundreds of migrant workers reportedly have tested positive for COVID-19, and two have died of the virus. On Monday, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change released a shocking report that detailed cramped living conditions, poor access to food, and being forced to work for weeks without a day off. In the case of migrant workers, the province needs to step up to obtain hotel, motel or dorm rooms to help anyone who is unwell to self-isolate, said Horwath.
“For generations, toughing it out and going to work when you’re under the weather has, unfortunately, been seen as a good thing,” said Horwath. “In this new COVID-era, we need a new norm in all sectors where all workers are supported and thanked when they decide to stay home and isolate if they feel unwell.”
On Tuesday, Horwath was joined for a virtual event by Carolina Jimenez, registered nurse and coordinator at the Decent Work and Health Network, as well as family physicians Dr. Monika Dutt and Dr. Gary Bloch.
Carolina Jimenez RN, MPH, Coordinator Decent Work and Health Network:
“Like PPE, paid sick days are an essential protection. Reopening workplaces without permanent, legislated paid sick days puts our patients -- and the wider public -- at risk.
Workers need seamless access to paid sick days. We know from our own experience with doctors’ notes that any obstacles to workers receiving their pay will defeat the purpose. Workers who can’t risk losing pay or delaying pay, will wind up going to work sick.”
Dr. Monika Dutt, Family Physician and Public Health Specialist:
“In jurisdictions with paid sick days, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear. Paid sick days prevent the spread of infection and can save lives. Any government serious about protecting public health, needs to move on paid sick days immediately.
If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we cannot afford to think of paid sick days as a cost, particularly for those in precarious work situations. Paid sick days need to be a permanent investment in public health that results in saved lives, healthier communities and lower health care costs.”
Dr. Gary Bloch, Family Physician and Associate Professor, University of Toronto:
“Paid sick days are crucial for frontline workers in jobs with low pay, few benefits, and little protection, who are disproportionately racialised, Black and Indigenous workers. When faced with a choice between paying rent or losing pay because they’re sick, most workers will choose rent. Without paid sick days, they will go to work sick. It’s that simple.
If we are serious about protecting the frontline workers who have been keeping the economy functioning, then we need an adequate number of paid sick days for all workers.”