Open letter from health professionals

All workers, especially those with low wages and precarious jobs, need 10 days of permanent paid sick leave or their health will suffer, diseases like COVID-19 will be more likely to spread – and more people will end up in the hospital.

That’s the message that more than 160 doctors, nurses and other health professionals are sending to the province with an open letter published on Friday, urging the government to legislate 10 days of paid sick leave for all workers, public or private.

The charter was created by the Decent Work and Health Network, a health and labor rights advocacy group operated by health professionals.

The health workers and advocates who signed the letter told the Star that it is unacceptable that the province has yet to make the move, two years into a pandemic that has disproportionately led to the hospitalization of low-income, racialized workers who do not have sick leave.

Ahead of a seventh wave that could come in the fall, all workers need all the protection they can get, they said.

The letter arrives as the three temporary paid sick days, called the Worker’s Income Protection Benefit, for COVID-related matters expire at the end of July. It was introduced in April 2021 after pressure from public health experts. When it was released, it faced criticism that more days are needed and that it should have been implemented sooner.

“Our patients should not have to choose between putting food on the table and following public health advice to stay home when they are sick,” the letter states.

It also says that Ontario’s current benefit has always been inadequate and “far from what frontline workers needed.”

“With the program’s expiration date approaching, we fear that the government will turn its back on our patients in the most vulnerable situations.”

Paid sick days are associated with a reduction in the spread of infection, increased vaccination rates and fewer ER visits, he says.

“This call has been echoed by healthcare professionals, public health officials, experts, since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Birgit Umaigba, a signatory and ICU nurse from Toronto.

“Once a worker has used these three paid sick days, they are not (renewable). If they get sick again with COVID-19, they don’t qualify. This open letter renews that call because it is past time to act.”

Umaigba said he took care of colleagues who caught COVID from colleagues because they went to work sick. With inflation at a four-decade high, few can afford to stay at home without pay, she said.

“Immigrants and racialized groups are overrepresented with precarious work… and are less likely to have paid sick days.”

It is difficult for workers in precarious jobs to ask for paid sick leave they are entitled to, previous Star reports have shown.

Workers of color and newcomers to Canada often take precarious jobs to survive and have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Only 42% of workers in Canada have access to paid sick leave. That number drops to 10% for low-income workers in the country, according to a 2021 report by Decent Work and Health.

In February, Ottawa urged all provinces to adopt 10 days of paid sick leave — even as the federal government failed to live up to a pledge to introduce 10 days of paid sick leave for federal employees.

No province or territory has since answered the call. British Columbia introduced five permanent paid sick days in January for workers who worked for their employer for at least 90 days. Other provinces and territories have introduced paid sick leave since the beginning of the pandemic, but most are part of temporary programs.

Toronto’s medical health officer also published a report in January 2021 calling on the Ontario government to implement five paid sick days and introduce 10 during an infectious disease outbreak.

When Ontario introduced the three paid sick days, Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said the province was moving in the right direction, but the federal government wasn’t working fast enough to get other benefits from the COVID-19 for Ontario residents. .

An Ontario Labor Federation survey released when the province brought in these sick days found that 83% of Ontarians surveyed supported the government by making employers pay for sick days.

Some small businesses also voiced their support for paid sick leave in February of last year.

Workers don’t just need paid leave for themselves, they need to stay home with their children if they get sick, said Shazeen Suleman, a pediatrician at St. Michael who signed the letter.

Young children will have 10 to 15 colds a year, and often when children are very young, they become seriously ill, she said.

“A child has no choice when they are sick,” Suleman said. “If their parents don’t have access to paid leave, they have to send them to school sick and go to work to put food on the table or take care of their children.

“These are low-wage workers who are typically denied the ability to stay at home. Therefore, your children will be the ones who cannot receive care when they need it.”

Paid sick leave should be a top priority for Ontario and would be a move towards greater labor and racial justice, as racialized groups are most affected by the lack of paid sick leave, said Dr. Naheed Dosani, health equity leader at Kensington Health and a member of the Decent Work and Health Network.

“This is something that needs to be put in place because we’ve seen the impact of a severely overstretched healthcare system right now,” he said.

“Have we not learned any lessons from the immense suffering that frontline workers had to go through?”

With files from Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Robert Benzie

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