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Ontario announces paid sick days plan for those impacted by COVID-19

Monte McNaughton, Ontario's Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

Province to reimburse employers for up to three paid leave days due to COVID-19 per employee

TORONTO – After voting down a paid sick day program nearly two dozen times over the past year, the Ontario government has changed its tune.

On Wednesday, the provincial government announced their plan to introduce a paid leave program for workers impacted by COVID-19.

The plan, dubbed the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Program, will offer up to three paid sick days per employee.

The program will be administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and the provincial government will reimburse employers 100 per cent of the employee’s wage for up to $200 a day.

Under the program, sick days could be used for taking time off to get a COVID test, staying home waiting for the results of a test, being sick with COVID-19, going to a vaccination appointment, staying home due to side effects from vaccination, self-isolating, and taking care of a dependent who is sick or has symptoms, or is self-isolating due to COVID-19.

The province says the program, if approved, will be retroactive to April 19 and effective until Sept. 25, when the Canada Recover Sickness Benefit (CRSB) is set to expire.

The Ontario government has also offered to provide the federal government with funding to double CRSB payments to Ontario residents.

Currently, the CRSB provides $500 per week, before taxes. Recipients are entitled to up to four weeks between Sept. 27, 2020, and Sept. 25, 2021.

The province says doubling the CRSB payment combined with the three days of paid leave would provide Ontario workers with access to the most generous pandemic paid leave in Canada.

“If passed, all workers will soon have access to three paid sick days. This is more than the one day available to workers in Prince Edward Island and the two days available to workers in Quebec,” Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said on Wednesday during a press conference.

“This is a game-changer, and this will save lives.”

More information about the program, including eligibility requirements, can be found on the province’s website.

Criticism of plan

While news the plan was welcomed by some, many are criticizing the Ford government, saying it’s not enough.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath took to social media following Wednesday’s announcement to voice her disappointment in the plan.

“This comes far too late. Too late to stop COVID-19 from getting out of control, and too late for workers who already got sick,” she wrote on Twitter.

“And it’s still too little. COVID-19 recovery takes a couple weeks. Even getting a test and results can take several days. Three sick days is not enough. Thank you to those who fought for paid sick days. We share your disappointment and we’re going to keep fighting alongside you.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, MPP for Guelph, released a statement saying the Conservatives’ was not enough.

“It astonishes me that after 407 days since the first COVID State of Emergency was declared in Ontario, this is the best plan Doug Ford can come up with,” he said.

“This is not the best paid sick day program that the Premier promised… I was hopeful that after the Premier took taxpayer-funded paid sick days to isolate after a workplace exposure, he would have had a change of heart.”

Schreiner is calling for a plan that includes 10 paid sick days, paid time off for workers to get tested and vaccinated, and temporarily closing all workplaces “that aren’t truly the most essential” among other measures.

Steven Del Duca, leader of the Liberal Party, called the plan “half-hearted.”

“Today’s half-hearted attempt at a paid sick leave program is an abandonment of workers,” he said. “It’s been a week since his apology and 412 days since my first letter on paid sick leave, and what Doug Ford came up with is a failure. In the last week alone, more than 20,000 people have gotten sick and 159 have died while we waited for some form of action.”

Del Duca also questioned the end date for the program.

“I don’t understand why Doug Ford arbitrarily picked September as an end to this program instead of the end of the pandemic, as defined by the Science Table,” he said.

“I also don’t understand how he could think three days is enough time, when he himself has been in isolation for more than a week after testing negative.”