SICK ON THE JOB
Campaign waged for paid sick days for all
You wake up in the middle of the night, ill and in pain. The symptoms tick several boxes on the COVID -19 checklist. Now make a choice: Call your boss in the morning to report you are too sick to come in. Or drag yourself to work in order to put food on your table.
Those are typically your only options when you are one of the nearly 60 per cent of Canadians whose employers do not provide one single paid sick day.
“Lack of paid sick days is another example of COVID-19 showing there are major cracks in our society. It's another example of expanding inequities here in our own community,” says Brian Hogan, president of the Windsor and District Labour Council (WDLC).
“Paid sick days save lives. Countless medical people have been saying this throughout the pandemic,” Hogan notes.
The WDLC applauded and echoed the actions of the Windsor-essex County Board of Health when it urged the Ontario government to “introduce paid sick leave” during the pandemic and also “provide funding to assist employers to encourage employees to follow pertinent public health measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as well as all infectious diseases, outlined in Bill 239, Stay Home if You are Sick, Act 2020.”
“Individuals earning less than $30,000 per year are 1.9 times more likely to contract COVID -19 and 2.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to the rest of the population,” the health unit informed the provincial government in February of this year.
“Guaranteed sick days are imperative to help prevent people from attending their place of work while having symptoms of COVID-19, causing a significant barrier to pandemic management efforts. People need to be able to stay home for their health and the health of others, and should not have to choose between income and wellbeing. This is unacceptable in 2021, and Ontario workers deserve better. Recent modeling projections by the province's public health officials notes that Ontario will not be able to control the virus without the safety of paid sick days.”
In the 2021 Ontario budget, paid sick days for workers were not included. Premier Doug Ford maintains his position that the federal government is already providing a pandemic-related paid sick leave benefit for workers.
Hogan argues, “The premier's lack of care for workers impacts families and communities.”
When the government says just stay home, “many workers want to do just that when unwell. But sadly, lots are working underpaid jobs, often cobbling together two or three parttime positions, trying to make ends meet. They have to go to work to pay their rent and feed their children.”
The pandemic is exerting even greater stress on longstanding cracks in society. Studies are proving women, racialized workers, workers with disabilities, precarious workers and the working poor are bearing the brunt of this health and economic crisis.
Then there are the hordes of white-collar workers who feel fortunate they can stay employed while working from home. If they become sick, however, they may feel pressured to bring their laptops to bed and get the job done.
“Many workers in for-profit longterm care homes do not have access to paid sick days. Many of our elderly would still be alive today if workers were better taken care of,” Hogan believes.
When it comes to workers' benefits, “there are the many have-nots and lots of have-just-a-little-bits,” Hogan says. “I think workers who have certain benefits at their workplace during this scary 13 months are appreciative. I also think they are looking more carefully at their benefit packages and saying, `I wish we had more sick days, or I didn't know we don't have short-term sick leave.'”
“Statistics show that workers going to work sick result in more mistakes and higher risks of injury. Workers with paid sick days are 28 per cent less likely to get injured at work – PRE-COVID.”
The state of Colorado just implemented paid sick days, fully transitioning to cover all employees by 2022. “Why can those politicians understand the value of life and the need to do all you can - yet our Ontario premier and certain wealthy employers can't?” Hogan wonders.
“The economy and keeping people well – they are not in competition, they are connected. You make the province safer, the economy will work out,” says Hogan. “If you are so narrow-mindedly focusing on opening up things, you just have to close them later because you did not take care of the workers. When you do things halfway, you don't get a full solution.”
The COVID-19 vaccination rollout is also revealing inequities among workers. “There are laws regarding people getting time off work to cast votes in elections. Surely, in a pandemic, the government should legislate paid leave so people can get vaccinated,” Hogan says.
“Imagine someone juggling a couple of part-time jobs, taking public transit to work, or working scheduled for the afternoon or night shift. They sign up for vaccination and are assigned a 2 p.m. weekday appointment. How is that going to happen? There will be thousands of people getting vaccination time slots who can't take them because they can't get off work or get to their appointments in time.”
He is encouraged by the recent addition of certain pharmacies for getting shots in arms. Another partial remedy could be adding mobile vaccination at hot spots that already introduced mobile COVID -19 testing, such as migrant worker sites and meat packing companies, Hogan suggests.
Praising the many responsible, good businesses that are taking care of their workers, in and out of pandemic, Hogan says, “The WDLC and I want our companies and economy to flourish. We need to tackle COVID-19 properly to make it all work together.”
Paid sick days save lives.
- BRIAN HOGAN