Published Wednesday, April 28, 2021 1:34PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 28, 2021 3:44PM EDT
The province says it will introduce legislation on Thursday that, if passed, will require employers to provide workers with up to three days off if they miss work due to COVID-19. Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says the province will reimburse employers up to $200 per day for each employee.
The program, which has been dubbed the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit Program, will be administered through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and will end on Sept. 25, the same date that the federal government's Canada Recovery and Sickness Benefit (CRSB) is set to expire.
"Our action today means that if a warehouse worker is told to self-isolate, she can do so without losing her paycheck. And if a grocery store clerk needs to take time off to get vaccinated, they can get paid while doing so," McNaughton said during a news conference at Queen's Park on Wednesday.
The province says the paid sick days program they plan to introduce will bridge the gap for employees waiting on their CRSB payments.
Critics of the federal program say there are too many barriers and note that applicants have to wait days for their application to be approved before they receive any money.
As part of the provincial plan to improve sick benefits for vulnerable essential workers, McNaughton said the Ford government has also reached out to the federal government with a plan to top up the CRSB payment from $500 to $1,000.
The province says it will foot the bill for the top up but it is not yet clear if the federal government will sign off on the proposal.
“Our government has long advocated for the federal government to enhance the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to better protect the people of Ontario, especially our tireless essential workers," McNaughton said in a news release issued Wednesday.
“It is a tremendously positive step that the federal government has signaled their willingness to continue discussions on the CRSB. Now we can fix the outstanding gap in the federal program so workers can get immediate support and can stay home when needed.”
The total estimated cost for the proposed new measures has not been released by the province.
Today's announcement comes after the Ford government faced mounting pressure from medical experts, including members of the province's own Science Advisory Table, who for months called for a provincial paid sick days program above and beyond the CRSB.
Experts warned that without proper paid sick days, community transmission of COVID-19 would remain high in Ontario due to the prevalence of outbreaks at essential workplaces.
Hours after the province announced the program, Ontario’s science table published a brief on the benefits of paid sick leave program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report stated that introducing a paid sick leave program will support essential workers in following public health protocols and reduce COVID-19 cases. It will also prevent the emergence of further outbreaks as vaccines are being rolled out.
The advisory table looked into how the temporary paid sick leave program instituted by the U.S. helped control the spread of COVID-19. A study found that the introduction of a paid sick leave program reduced mobility and saw a 50 per cent decrease in confirmed coronavirus cases per state per day.
“Real-world evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic and from influenza-like illnesses indicates that paid sick leave can support workers in following public health measures, reduce viral transmission and workplace outbreaks, promote higher vaccination rates among essential workers, increase work productivity, and reduce worker absenteeism. Paid sick leave also protects the larger public from harm by containing the spread of infectious diseases and optimizing economic stability,” the report stated.
“Reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission is a collective effort across all sectors of society. Enabling employers to provide paid sick leave to employees during the pandemic ensures workplace safety, and protection of the public.”
The Ford government eliminated a paid sick days program introduced by the previous provincial Liberal government in one of its first acts after taking office in 2018.
"I think the government could have and should have implemented paid sick days from day one," Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said following the announcement.
"We have watched one by one as various municipalities have passed motions, various mayors have urged the government to come forward and they just dragged their feet because they didn’t want to do. No matter how much they are trying to rewrite history we all remember when Doug Ford said he didn't agree with federal plan."
She said the Ford government's plan is far from the best program in North America, a claim Premier Doug Ford made last week before announcing any details of his program.
"We know that other jurisdictions have done much better and this government could have done better but chose not to and people will still have to make really difficult decisions because three days of paid sick leave is not enough if you are battling with COVID-19. It is simply not enough," Horwath said.
"They came forward today with a back of the envelope kind of solution that is really not enough to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our workplaces."