Ontario’s finance and labour ministers announced Wednesday the province is introducing a “Worker Protection Benefit” that will allow for qualified workers to receive three paid sick days for full-time and part-time positions.
As part of the plan through the Employment Standards Act, if passed, eligible workers will qualify for mental health days and will be able to stay home in order to care for relatives or family members sick with COVID-19.
Contingent on approval by the feds, this will raise the federal paid sick day program to $1,000 a week for four weeks. Payments will be administered through Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and introduce requirements that will grant people paid time off to receive a vaccine.
The program – retroactive to April 19 – will run until September 25, the same day the CRSB expires, and costs between $750 million and $1.5 billion. It will pay eligible workers up to $200 a day.
“Our government has long advocated for the federal government to enhance the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to better protect the people of Ontario, especially our tireless essential workers,” said Labour Minister Monte McNaughton.
“It is a tremendously positive step that the federal government has signalled their willingness to continue discussions on the CRSB. Now we can fix the outstanding gap in the federal program so workers can get immediate support and can stay home when needed.”
McNaughton repeated that the provincial government is “disappointed” this wasn’t addressed or fixed when the federal budget was released.
Pressure to implement a province-wide plan built up significantly in recent weeks with legislators and pundits pressing the Ford government to fulfill their promise and protect frontline workers.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlanvalvy and McNaughton made the joint announcement one day after a spokeswoman for Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister said Ottawa will help when Ontario is ready to mandate a sick-leave program for provincially regulated businesses.
During today’s Question Period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will be helping provinces set up their own paid sick leave programs.
“We know that employer leave is the most direct support for workers,” said Trudeau.
“Effective September 2019, workers in the federally regulated workplaces and industries have access to paid leave to treat an injury or illness. The NDP voted against that, but we will now work with the provinces so they can bring it in in their jurisdictions.”
Constitutionally, provinces are responsible for employment laws like paid sick leave, however, Ontario and British Columbia had been calling for changes to the federal benefit.
#BREAKING – The Ford government will legislate three paid sick days to both full and part time Ontario workers. Will be paid out through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. The program will run until September 25th and cost between $750 million and $1.5 billion.
— Richard Southern (@richard680news) April 28, 2021
The federal COVID-19 benefit only applies to those forced to take time off due to contracting the virus or being ordered to isolate due to coronavirus concerns.
Provincial paid sick leave generally forces companies and employers to offer paid time off if a worker is sick for any reason.
Trudeau says Ottawa has been in talks with Ontario but stressed that such leave should be delivered directly through employers.
“We need to work together and provinces need to look at the way to deliver a sick leave directly through employers, which the federal government can’t do,” he said.
Advocates and experts have said a provincial program is needed because the federal program’s funds take too long to arrive, individuals need to apply for the benefit, and some money is clawed back for taxes.
Ford promised last Thursday that Ontario would bring in its own program after the federal government did not enhance its existing benefit in its latest budget.
That same day, however, Ontario’s finance minister wrote Ottawa to ask for their co-operation to top up the federal measure.
Bethlenfalvy said Tuesday that Ontario would give the federal government funding to double its existing benefit if Ottawa would administer the topped-up payment to workers in the province. The move would give $1,000 a week to eligible workers, he wrote.
Labour minister McNaughton said that changing the federal program would be the fastest and simplest way to help workers.
“There’s no reason for any province across the country to duplicate that infrastructure,” said McNaughton.
“We’re willing to pay 100 percent of the cost to double this program, to make it retroactive for 60 days, and get cheques out the door as quickly as possible.”
The Ford government has been heavily criticized for failing to bring a provincial sick-leave program during the pandemic.
Public health experts, labour groups, and local officials have been unrelenting in their calls for sick leave support, arguing it would greatly reduce COVID-19 spread in workplaces and at home.
- Health officials express continued frustration with province on paid sick leave proposal
- Health workers continue calls for paid sick days; new COVID childcare benefits start today
- ‘Not good enough’: Opposition, health care providers react to paid sick leave plan
Dr. Michael Warner, head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, posted a video to Twitter breaking down the numbers and highlighting how paid sick days would directly impact the family of one of his patients.
— Michael Warner (@drmwarner) April 27, 2021
The recent COVID-19 death of a 13-year-old Brampton girl whose father is an essential worker renewed calls for an Ontario program.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it’s clear the federal government had “rebuffed” the province’s request.
“That’s not going to stop the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces and it’s not going to stop the deaths,” she said.
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh lashed out at the Trudeau government for not changing the federal COVID sickness benefit ahead of time.
Singh claims the quickest way to deal with this is through the feds.
“It is not helpful to get into a blame game or get into a standoff,” said Singh. “Whether or the provinces should do it or the federal government should do it. We just need to get it done.”
Meantime, the Ford government announced Wednesday that hospitals in Ontario will now be able to transfer patients waiting for a long-term care bed to any nursing home without their consent in an effort to free up space.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says the government has issued a new emergency order to allow for such transfers.
With files from 680 NEWS Parliament Hill reporter Cormac Mac Sweeney