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Freelance and gig workers left out of Ontario COVID-19 sick day program


Ontario politicians passed a bill Thursday afternoon that will provide employees three paid sick days in the event of illness, isolation, or any other work absence related to COVID-19.

The measure, which was announced a day earlier, will be in place until Sept. 25 and will be administered through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Despite its unanimous passing, it is clear there are many around Queen’s Park who feel the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Program could have been much heftier.

Read more: Ontario’s COVID-19 paid sick leave program to include 3 days for workers

The leader of the official opposition, the Ontario NDP’s Andrea Horwath, slammed the Ford government on Thursday for limiting the payout to three days instead of giving people the full length of a quarantine “just like the premier’s doing.”

“Let’s face it, [Doug Ford] is on day 10 of his quarantine and he hasn’t lost a penny,” she said, referring to his absence from the legislature due to being exposed to a staff member who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Adelsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, also told reporters at an afternoon news conference that the measure “is for a shorter period of time that we’d suggest is necessary.”

Read more: Ontario COVID-19 modelling shows high-level cresting of cases, but ICUs and workplaces major issues

“[The program is] a good start, but it doesn’t reflect the assumptions that we’ve made based on the programs that we’ve seen elsewhere,” he told reporters.

While some question the validity of sick pay for three days, freelance and gig workers Global News spoke with said they feel left out of consideration altogether.

“It feels just like another way that we have been forgotten,” said Toronto wedding and lifestyle photographer Anastasia Panakos, who owns Olive Photography.

“Small businesses have just been set aside.”

Panakos told Global News her schedule would normally be booked through the summer by now, but instead it’s reduced to, at most, 10 per cent of its normal capacity.

Excluded from Ontario’s paid sick day program, she said if she were to get sick and have to cancel one of the few bookings she has left, she would lose out entirely on a crucial paycheque.

She said she has already dealt with much confusion and frustration at the federal level where she learned she wouldn’t be able to apply for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) if she fell ill because she is already receiving the similarly named, but much different, Canada Recovery Benefit to keep her somewhat afloat.

Read more: Canada still ‘a long way off’ from COVID-19 economic recovery, experts say

“I’m living off savings. Some of the supports that are provided are helpful, but they don’t even cover my mortgage,” said Panakos.

Gig workers make their living differently than the average nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday worker since they are often self-employed and get paid in larger, per-gig lump sums.

Toronto hair and make-up artist Sara Ortiz, who runs Makeup By Design by herself, said there is still work available, but that it is sparse even with modified operations and all necessary personal protective equipment.

She told Global News she is worried that, just like in other industries, workers will take risks if they’re not adequately covered by the government.

“It’s been over a year and there’s nothing in particular for freelancers, and sometimes people have to go to work even though they’re sick, which is not ideal,” said Ortiz .

“I do believe that there should be something more tailored to our needs. I know that might be difficult for the government because … not everybody earns money the same way, they don’t have the same amount of monthly income. But it should be something you can at least reach to and at least feel that you’re backed up.”

Global News contacted the Ontario Ministry of Labour to ask for comment. A spokesperson said the provincial program is only eligible for employees covered by the Employment Standards Act, adding those who are self-employed will need to apply for CRSB.

The spokesperson added the ministry “continues to examine how we can better support self-employed workers in our ongoing workforce development consultations.”