Sattler tables paid sick leave bill

London West MPP Peggy Sattler at a roundtable discussion of the Ford government's changes to Ontario's Autism Program, May 27, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

As the second wave of the pandemic rages on, the MPP for London West wants to make sure that workers in Ontario are financially able to stay home if they are sick.

Peggy Sattler of the NDP introduced on Tuesday a private members bill called the Stay Home If You Are Sick Act. The bill, if passed, would guarantee 10 personal emergency leave days each year, seven of which would be paid. It would also give workers an additional 14 days of paid leave during an infectious disease emergency, and provide financial help to struggling small businesses so they can provide paid days to their employees.

“Workers without paid sick days are the people we have relied on most during the pandemic,” Sattler said during an online news conference on Tuesday morning. “They have cared for our seniors, served us food, cleaned our buildings, and bagged our groceries. But when they get sick, or when their child wakes up with a sore throat, they must make an impossible choice, because staying home to recover or care for their child means giving up their pay. It could mean not being able to make the rent, not being able to pay the bills, not being able to buy groceries.”

According to Sattler, about 60 per cent of Ontario workers do not have access to paid sick days. She said the figure is higher among workers in the service sector and among racialized or immigrant Ontarians. She added the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which provides income support to employed and self-employed people who can’t work because they are ill or have to isolate because of COVID-19, is a “temporary stopgap” and will end next summer.

“It is all too clear how dangerous it is when workers must lose their paycheque to stay home when they are sick. If they are coming down with the flu, they can’t afford to stay home in bed. If they go for a COVID-19 test, they can’t afford to wait at home for the results. And when going to work sick is the only option, it puts us all at risk,” she said. “The best and most effective way to enable workers to stay home when they are sick is to make paid sick leave an employer responsibility through amendments to the Employment Standards Act—which is exactly what my bill does.”

Sattler’s bill has the support of the Ontario Federation of Labour, as well as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which said Tuesday that making sure people can afford to stay home if they are sick during a pandemic is both the right thing to do and an economical thing to do.

“When a worker protects themselves, they protect their colleagues and employer and in turn, they safeguard the entire business,” the Ontario Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.