Sudbury’s Board of Health passed a motion supporting paid sick days during its regular monthly meeting on Thursday.
The board called on the government of Ontario to support the permanent inclusion of paid sick leave provisions under the Employment Standards Act “as a public health measure to prevent transmission of communicable diseases including COVID-19.”
The gap in access to paid sick days is a longstanding health equity issue, said Public Health Sudbury and Districts’ Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is correspondence attached to this motion that points to the importance of being able to be home sick when you are sick. The ability to be paid for that enhances people’s ability to comply,” said Dr. Sutcliffe.
“Not everybody is equally able to comply with our public health directions if staying home means that you don’t get paid, you don’t eat, or you’re worried about paying your rent.”
The motion does not provide a specific solution to the issue, added Dr. Sutcliffe, but is rather a general motion of support.
Board chair Renee Lapierre pointed out that the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) discussed this issue during a board meeting and the question was raised as to whether public health officials should involve themselves in labour discussions.
It was determined that paid sick leave should be treated as a public health measure, and the association sent a letter to the province stating as much on Feb. 9.
“This motion captures very well that we should support this in light of the public health process of not having infectious people out there in the community,” said Lapierre.
Board member Ken Noland said that he had “a little bit of concern” about the motion because there are so many businesses struggling financially due to the provincial lockdowns.
“Having to pay up on sick days could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed by board member Jacqueline Paquin, who wondered if mandating paid sick days could potentially have unintended consequences.
“My primary concern is that with so many mandatory paid sick days, those that are already struggling to get by because of the increased pressures of COVID-19 are going to end up cutting staff to keep costs low, and we will end up with the opposite of what was intended,” she said.
The board’s motion did not include a specific number of mandated sick days or specific policy recommendations.
Some health units are supporting five paid sick days annually and 10 paid sick days annually during an infectious disease emergency.
In a briefing note, Dr. Sutcliffe included information identified by the Decent Work and Health Network about an “optimal sick day policy.”
This includes universal paid sick leave with no exemptions, paid at 100 per cent of a worker’s wages for no loss of income, and at least seven permanent paid sick days and 14 during public health emergencies.
The motion, which was passed with no objections, concluded that permanent and legislated paid sick days through employment standards are an “effective measure to protect public health during pandemics and beyond.”
During the meeting on Thursday, the board of health also appointed a chair and vice-chair as well as other committee members for the year.
Lapierre was reappointed to the position of board chair for 2021, and Jeffrey Huska was reappointed vice-chair.
Randy Hazlitt, Ken Noland, and Claire Gignac will sit on the board executive committee as members-at-large, and Hazlitt, Carolyn Thain, and Marc Signoretti will sit on the finance standing committee.
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Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star