Not only has the Ontario government provided paid sick days that are less than adequate in number and only temporary in duration, but they have structured this policy to place the burden on workers to find out about their rights rather than make it the responsibility of employers. As a result, essential workers are continuing to go to work sick in the worst wave of the pandemic, despite temporary paid sick days.
Bosses are keeping paid sick days hidden from workers
I am a migrant student who has been working in a produce department in a grocery store in Toronto since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first week of the omicron wave, a couple of my coworkers came into work despite having covid-19 symptoms—and despite being eligible for 3 paid sick days. Why? They did not know about these paid sick days.
After talking to more of my coworkers, I came to a realization that most of them are not aware of their right to 3 paid sick days. I sent an email to the human resource department advising them that it might be wise to send an email to all the employees telling them that we all have three paid sick days to prevent symptomatic employees from coming in to work in the future. Unfortunately, and yet unsurprisingly, my request was being ignored.
In the past, our human resource department has sent a couple of emails telling employees to stay home if they have covid-19 symptoms, but somehow they chose not to include the part about our right to get 3 paid sick days. After more than 2 years into this deadly pandemic, they still have not placed a proper structure in order to ensure that workers can miss work if we have to. Employers are deliberately not communicating our right to paid sick days. Workers end up having to look out for each other while the bosses neglect us.
When they say “we are in this together,” they don’t mean the rich and the poor are in this together, they don’t mean that the bosses and the workers are in this together. Bosses are in it only for the profit, while we, the workers, are left out to look after each other. This is evident by our boss’ deliberate choice to hide our right to 3 paid sick days from us. It is also evident by our overcrowded break room, where we have to eat our lunches in a small room without ventilation and with no chance to keep a safe distance from each other. It is also evident by the lack of PPEs: while my store is making a killing selling N95 masks at a huge margin, the workers have to reach into our already slim wallets to buy our own masks to keep us safe.
Legislation and enforcement
The government is not on our side either. Throughout this pandemic we can see how they went from calling us heroes to say that our job is not a real job. Even if all workers knew about and could access 3 paid sick days, this is not nearly enough to curb the spread of Covid-19. These days are also only temporary: they were first scheduled to expire in September, then in December, and now in July. But all workers need 10 permanent paid sick days/year and an extra 14 days during a pandemic.
But to make things worse, many of my coworkers are not even aware of their right to the 3 temporary paid sick days. This shows there is a problem with how the government is structuring this policy: the burden should not be on workers to find out about their rights, it should be on employers to provide a safe workplace including information and encouragement for paid sick days. Like other aspects of workplace safety, this requires proactive inspections and enforcement of workplace rights so they don’t just exist on paper but also in practice.
Tell your family members, friends, coworkers, the cashiers at your local grocery stores, servers at your favourite restaurants about their temporary 3 paid sick days. And tell them to join the movement to expand these paid sick days and make them permanent—through government legislation and employer enforcement.
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