Ontario was getting back to work on Tuesday. From regions of the province approved for re-opening, to the first day of the new session of the Legislature, returning to some degree of normalcy was the order of the day. At Queen’s Park, Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner got back to work with a media availability, and the announcement of a safe back-to-work plan for everyone.
“We are now almost a year into the pandemic, and it is clear that safe workplaces are a critical issue that must be addressed,” Schreiner said from the media room at Queen’s Park. “That’s why today I am putting forward a motion calling on the government to deliver a comprehensive plan for safe workplaces.”
With the number of COVID cases in a community directly tied to the number of essential workers on the job, Schreiner unveiled a six-point plan meant to make workplaces as safe as possible. The plan includes making sure all employees have access to proper PPE, that workplaces have break rooms that allow for physical distancing, rapid testing at facilities like meat plants that have seen significant outbreaks, and a vaccine rollout strategy for essential workers in regional hotspots.
But the first, most important part of the plan is to implement 10 paid sick days for all Ontarians, and the elimination of the requirement to produce notes from a medical professional. “I’m willing to work across party lines in supporting MPP [Peggy] Sattler’s private member’s bill that delivers on this mandate,” Schreiner added, referring to the bill introduced by the London West NDP member in December.
“I’ve been hearing reports that in some cases even people who work in long term care homes have not gotten the vaccine even though it was available to them because they couldn’t take the time off from work,” Schreiner explained.
This will be a tough sell because Premier Doug Ford has already declared his hesitancy to the idea of mandatory sick days when there’s the Federal recovery sickness benefit that provides people with $500 per week for up to two weeks if they’re unable to work due to illness.
“If people don’t feel they are getting it quick enough than we need to change the program and if they need to top it up a little more because $500 a week isn’t feasible then we change it” Ford said in January. “Let’s be very, very clear there’s no reason for the province to jump in there when less than 27 per cent of the overall program hasn’t been taken up.”
“The Federal benefits are insufficient, and they’re not accessible,” Schreiner said Tuesday. “Imagine you’re a worker and you wake up in the morning not feeling well. You’re worried about paying rent, putting food on the table and paying the bills, and you’re faced with an impossible decision: Do I go to work and possibly sick, or do I stay home and maybe access some inadequate benefits if my application is approved?”
“[Ford] keeps saying he’s going to listen to the advice of scientists and public health experts. Well, scientists and public health experts across the province are calling on the government to bring in paid sick days,” Schreiner added. “I’m asking the Premier to put his ideology and his personal politics aside for the greater public good, so we can get ahead of this virus and keep people safe.”
In an interview on Monday, government house leader Paul Calandra left the door open to taking up the matter of sick pay, but made no promises. “I think we’ve been very open … to listen, to debate and ultimately we’ve passed a number of pieces of legislation that made sense for the people of Ontario, but we’ll see what [Sattler] brings forward,” he said.
“I’ve spoken with business leaders, workplace advocates, family health physicians healthcare experts, and epidemiologists in developing the plan, and not everyone agrees with every particular point of the plan, but overwhelmingly these are the points we’ve heard from people,” Schreiner said. “We need paid sick days and the other elements of a comprehensive plan if we’re truly going to keep our work places safe and begin to contain this virus.”
With people heading back to work and school, and business across the province starting to re-open, Schreiner said the the Government of Ontario has not done all it can do to keep COVID case counts low, and people safe from infection.
“The government has deeply disappointed me with the fact that they haven’t made the investments in our schools to reduce class sizes and ensure proper physical distancing,” Schreiner said. “While I was pleased to see that the government finally announced the roll out of rapid testing on Friday, after we’ve been asking for it for months, they’ve got to ensure that they make the investments for proper staffing to be able to deliver those rapid testing in schools, long-term care homes, and other workplaces.”