HAMILTON AND SCARBOROUGH — Frontline essential workers, including many health care workers, are among the many workers who don’t have paid sick days. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says that has got to change in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Horwath and Scarborough Southwest MPP Doly Begum met with Yasmin*, a Speech-Language Pathologist who assesses acute care patients in a GTA hospital, including COVID-positive patients. Yasmin doesn’t have paid sick days. Scarborough is home to many racialized, low-income frontline workers who are facing an increased risk of COVID-19 due to unsafe workplaces and lack of paid sick days. Many are having to choose between keeping themselves and their families safe, and their economic livelihoods.
“For frontline workers like Yasmin, coming down with a cough or realizing you’ve been exposed is not only scary — but it forces a terrible decision between going to work and potentially spreading COVID-19, or being unable to make ends meet,” said Horwath, who pointed out that Scarborough is among the hardest-hit regions, and home to thousands of essential workers.
“A lot of folks can’t afford to miss a shift. For some it means their kids will go to bed hungry, or the bills won’t get paid. Staying home can feel like an out-of-reach option for someone living paycheque to paycheque.”
Yasmin, a Scarborough resident, said she’s had to take a day off several times to get tested because of minor symptoms. That means she’s losing money to try to protect her patients and other health care workers.
“It is heartbreaking to see people from my community constantly put themselves at risk so that our province can keep running. Folks are having to ride in crowded buses to go work in long-term care, factories, big-box grocery stores and barely making ends meet while not being able to stay home when they’re sick. This is unacceptable and unsustainable. It’s actively putting Scarborough at risk,” says Begum.
“Simply asking people to stay home is impractical when essential workers don’t have the option to. Doug Ford and his government can change this. If they actually want to save lives, they need to immediately legislate paid sick days — so people can actually stay home and save lives. I think he’s still listening to big-box-store lobbyists, and trying to save a buck, because there’s no good reason to keep denying working people the paid sick days they need to help stop the spread.”
Ontario only had two paid sick days prior to 2018. Instead of increasing that to a reasonable number, Ford took them both away.
“Providing access to paid sick days is at the heart of caring for our communities. This is especially true for workers with essential, low wage, and insecure jobs who play a vital role in our society. Protecting and caring for the most marginalized in our communities should be a key objective of our government during this pandemic.
Being a frontline healthcare worker without paid sick days has added an additional burden on myself and colleagues within the province. No one should have to choose between bearing a financial repercussion and keeping the people around them safe. Everyone should have equitable access to care - paid sick days is imperative for this.”
The NDP’s Stay Home if You Are Sick Act was introduced by MPP Peggy Sattler (London West) in Sept. 2020. It guarantees paid sick days to all workers, and was praised by both the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
* The NDP is protecting Yasmin’s last name and specific worksite at her request due to concerns about possible repercussions.