TORONTO — Ontario MPPs are expecting a showdown over paid sick days when the provincial legislature resumes on Tuesday, as the NDP tries to push forward legislation that would affect thousands of businesses owners and their employees.
The calls for provincially legislated paid sick leave have been growing during the pandemic, as public health experts and municipal leaders argue that essential employees choose to go to work with COVID-like symptoms rather than self-isolate over worries of lost wages.
“They are caring for our seniors in long-term care homes, they’re keeping our food supply chain going in warehouses, they’re bagging our groceries, they’re preparing our food for take out and delivery, they’re dropping off our packages,” the NDP’s house leader Peggy Sattler said.
Sattler tabled a bill in December called the “Stay At Home If You’re Sick” act, which would give employees the right to seven days of paid emergency leave and another three unpaid days of leave every year, while a provincial support program would help businesses owners cover the costs.
When MPPs return to Queen’s Park on Tuesday, the NDP will ask for unanimous consent to trigger an immediate debate on the proposed legislation — which will likely receive support from the Ontario Liberals and Green Party, which have been calling for similar measures
“Until we make it actually possible for every worker in Ontario to stay home if they are sick, we won’t be able to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Sattler said.
The effort, however, is unlikely to sway the Progressive Conservative government, which has repeatedly rebuffed the pressure for paid sick leave.
The Doug Ford government initially repealed key portions of Bill 148, in 2018, that would have increased minimum wage to $15 per hour and provided employees with two days of paid emergency leave.
In January, Premier Doug Ford said “there’s no reason for the province to jump in” and “duplicate” the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CSRB) , launched by the federal government during the second wave of the pandemic.
The CSRB provides $500 per week for up to two weeks, for workers who are sick or must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19, or have underlying conditions that would make them more susceptible to COVID-19.
Critics argue the CSRB is a year-long, time-limited measure that would need to be replaced with provincial legislation to provide employees with proper support.
Officials in the Ministry of Finance confirmed to journalists last week, that the Ontario Public Service has yet to sketch out what a provincial sick leave program would look like, or how much it would cost.
Government House Leader Paul Calandra, whose office oversees the schedule and maneuvers inside the PC-led legislature, indicated an openness to a discussion about paid sick leave.
“I think we’ve been very open … to listen, to debate and ultimately we’ve passed a number of pieces of legislation that made sense for the people of Ontario, but we’ll see what [Sattler] brings forward,” Calandra told CTV News Toronto.
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