Spike in COVID-19 cases sparks renewed calls for improved Canadian paid sick leave

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – There are increasing calls for provinces and the federal government to step up on paid sick leave, as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic sees a spike among younger people and essential workers contracting the virus.

The nature of this pandemic is changing, as variants start to hit more people who have to physically head in to work, such as those in essential industries like manufacturing, grocery, retail, and transit.

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, says says it’s troubling to see so much spread linked to young or low-income workers stuck in a tough situation.

“If you’ve got symptoms, you should not come to work and infect other people. But you’ve got to come to work if it means you can’t pay your rent,” he said.

He believes it’s clear that Canada needs a proper paid sick leave system to prevent this from happening.

“Once it gets loose in a workplace, guess what? The entire company suffers. The entire society suffers [and] we cannot rely upon that essential service anymore. It’s just mind-numbingly obvious,” he said.

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Deonandan feels governments need to use all the tools available to get a handle on the pandemic, especially when it comes to paid sick leave.

“The stakes are higher and the risks are higher. The room for error is smaller,” he said.

The federal government has introduced a sickness benefit of $450 per week for up to four weeks. But Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, says many essential workers are still going to work with symptoms because the benefit doesn’t provide enough money, there is too long of a wait to get the cash, or people fear losing their jobs.

Dias says provincial governments were supposed to help fill that gap.

“The provinces have failed 100 per cent,” he said, arguing it’s time for the federal government to improve their program.

“The feds now need to say to the employers, ‘You pay the employees to stay at home, who are sick, and we will reimburse you,'” he claimed.

Both Deonandan and Dias say shifting vaccination strategies to prioritize essential workers would also be a critical move to try to flatten the third wave.

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