Haldimand-Norfolk’s top doc joins call for paid sick days

·2 min read

The public health mantra to stay home when feeling sick can be hard to follow for workers who can’t afford to miss a shift.

That’s why Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Haldimand-Norfolk’s medical officer of health, has joined the chorus of health officials and politicians calling on the province to implement mandatory paid sick days for all workers in Ontario.

“I think that in the context of the pandemic, eliminating disincentives for people to report illness, and financial disincentives from staying home when they’re ill, is a good strategy,” Nesathurai said.

“We know that people will potentially come to work (when sick) because they’re concerned about their economic status. So to that extent, I think giving people paid sick leave is an appropriate response to managing the pandemic.”

Premier Doug Ford has said his government has no plans to introduce paid sick leave, saying the federal program currently in place provides sufficient protection.

But critics of Ottawa’s Recovery Sickness Benefit — which gives ill workers $500 per week for a maximum of two weeks — argue those payments are insufficient and can take weeks to process. To be eligible, workers have to miss at least half their work week while at home with an illness or in self-isolation, and the program can only be accessed twice.

Labour advocates and public health experts worry that without the ability to take a paid day off when under the weather, low-wage essential workers — many on part-time or temporary contracts — may feel forced to come to work.

“For front-line workers … coming down with a cough or realizing you’ve been exposed is not only scary, but it forces a terrible decision between going to work and potentially spreading COVID-19, or being unable to make ends meet,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.

The Ford government scrapped the previous Liberal government’s paid sick program — which mandated two paid days for all workers — in 2018.

On Wednesday, Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton called for Ottawa to amend its program to avoid duplication at the provincial level.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator