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Front-line workers say 3 paid sick days not enough

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A day after the Ford government announced its new paid sick leave program, front-line workers say it’s not what they expected to be offered.

Premier Doug Ford called the plan “one of the best” paid sick leave programs in North America, but that’s not how Barb DeRoche, the president of Kingston’s hospital workers’ union, would describe it.

“We’re a commodity — without us, business doesn’t function. They’ve been calling these workers, you know, heroes. But it’s very disappointing,” said DeRoche.

DeRoche along with members of the hospital’s union have been advocating for paid sick days for years, especially after the Ford government eliminated the plan in place after he took office in 2018.

The local CUPE president says part-time essential hospital workers, especially, need to know they don’t have to decide between their health and losing income.

“They needed to know that if they got ill they could go home, they could recuperate without worrying about what if, and what’s going to happen after,” Deroche said.

Under the province’s plan, full-time and part-time workers experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, getting vaccinated or isolating would qualify for the three paid sick days benefit. This retroactive benefit is temporary and is set to end on Sept. 25.

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

In comparison, Quebec offers workers two paid sick days per year after three months of working at their job. Prince Edward Island offers employees who’ve worked at the same job for five years one paid sick day per year.

Vicki McKenna, the president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, says what Ontario is offering doesn’t go far enough to deal with the situation facing workers during the pandemic.

“Three days is not enough, and certainly that’s not the number of days the epidemiologists and the science table were recommending either. But it’s a start,” McKenna said.

Kingston and the Islands MPP Ian Arthur echoes that concern, and says he was hoping to see a plan that would offer paid sick days indefinitely, if not forever.

“We do not know when the pandemic is going to be over, so putting an arbitrary end date on a piece of legislation like this, I think is preemptive and, frankly, unreasonable,” Arthur said.

McKenna says it is possible that some people may take advantage of the new sick benefits, but adds that it’s on employers to figure out how to manage, not on employees to go without.

“It’s like an insurance policy and the same reason you buy car insurance, house insurance, or contents. It’s there in case you need it,” the president of the nurses’ association said.

Two main questions remain: how three paid sick days will protect workers when the minimum COVID-19 isolation period is 10 days, and how workers will be able to take advantage of the program retroactively, for the time they’ve already taken out. Hospital workers throughout the province are keeping a close eye on any updates regarding clarity from the Ford government.

Read more: Ontario is launching paid sick leave. Should other provinces follow suit?