As a country and as individuals, we have done a lot to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, there is one obvious step for which we have made only timid efforts—paid sick leave.
Going to work sick was once a badge of honour. Taking one for the team. Not letting your side down.
It was never a good idea, but in the midst of a pandemic it’s particularly dangerous. It isn’t good for the worker’s health, it’s not good for their co-workers health, and it’s not good for the bottom line of the companies they work for. Think of the Vancouver Canucks, sidelined since March with 25 players and staff testing positive for COVID-19.
But many workers have little choice about whether to stay home or not. Almost 60 percent of Canada’s workers don’t have any paid sick leave, and that percentage rises to 70 percent for low-income jobs. And low-income workers — many of whom are essential workers on the front lines at grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail outlets, can’t afford to miss even one day’s pay.
So they go to work and hope for the best.
After the pandemic hit, people immediately pointed out this problem. The NDP pressured the federal government to bring in paid sick leave for Canadian workers in order to help restrict the spread of the virus. After many months, the government reluctantly introduced the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB).
The CRSB is far from perfect. The remuneration is less than minimum wage. You could only apply for one-week blocks of time, so if you stayed home one day with symptoms then felt better the next, you would have to stay away for the whole week to qualify. When you do claim it, you must stay home and wait to find out if you’ll be reimbursed. And only people with COVID are eligible--if you felt sick and stayed home for the week but got a negative test result, you weren’t paid.
Needless to say, even with the CRSB on offer, many workers feel that it makes more sense to keep going to work so that they can pay rent and buy food. And that negates the main point of the benefit—to encourage sick workers to isolate at home.
Finally, the CRSB was designed just for the COVID pandemic. When the pandemic ends, the CRSB will end and Canada will no longer have any form of universal paid sick leave.
The NDP has been calling for paid sick leave since the beginning of the pandemic and continues to pressure the Liberal government to fix the glaring flaws in the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.
This is one of the many weak points in our country’s social safety net that has been exposed by the pandemic. The federal government must work with the provinces to ensure that all Canadian workers will have access to meaningful paid sick leave as we build a better Canada after the pandemic ends.
Paid sick leave is essential at all times, pandemic or no pandemic, since it acts as a firewall to workplace-spread illnesses. A national paid sick leave program would keep Canadians healthier and Canadian businesses more productive and profitable.
To contact me about this issue, or any other issue, please email me at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-770-4480 (Penticton) or 250-365-2792 (Castlegar).
Richard Cannings, MP South Okanagan-West Kootenay