The federal Liberals were re-elected on a platform promise to introduce legislation providing 10 paid sick days for federally regulated workers within a 100 days and convene provinces and territories to develop a national action plan to legislate paid sick days across the country.
But in the middle of the fourth wave of COVID-19, and the start of influenza season, we can’t afford to wait 100 days. Paid sick days save lives and are good for the economy, there is overwhelming support across the country, and both federal and provincial governments need to mandate them now.
Paid sick days can’t wait
It’s been more than a year since Prime Minister Trudeau said, on May 25, 2020: “the government will continue discussions with the provinces, without delay, on ensuring that as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, every worker in Canada who needs it has access to ten days of paid sick leave a year.” In the 16 months since that promise there have been another three waves that have infected 1.5 million people and left 21,000 dead.
We are now in a fourth wave, and these promises can’t wait any longer. There have been 200,000 infections and 1,500 deaths in the past 100 days, and waiting another 100 days will add more unnecessary suffering and death. All workers need paid sick days, and they need them now.
The medical evidence is clear: paid sick days save lives. Workers with paid sick days, and their children, are more able to stay home when sick–which reduces the spread of infections in workplaces and schools. Workers with paid sick days, and their children, have greater access to primary care–so they are less reliant on the emergency department, and have greater vaccination rates. Paid sick days are also an equity issue—because racialized workers are disproportionately denied paid sick days, disabled workers have greater needs for paid sick days, and women disproportionately use their own paid sick days to care for children.
Like any medical intervention, the dose matters: a US study found that “a moderate number of paid sick days (6 to 9) indicated a significantly higher profile of having accessed preventive services compared with those with 0 to 2 days … and paid sick days of 10 or more days indicated an even higher profile.”
So to be effective, paid sick days need to be 1) universally available to all workers without exception, 2) fully paid, 3) adequate in number, 4) permanent; and 5) immediately accessible on the first day of symptoms, without sick notes or applications.
Employer-paid sick days are good for the economy
Large corporations perpetuate the myth that workers abuse paid sick days and that paid sick days harm the economy and small business. But evidence is equally clear: workers use paid sick days carefully, paid sick days are associated with less injuries and infections in the workplace, and healthier workers; as a result, paid sick days are good for the economy.
Where permanent and employer-paid sick days have been mandated, there has been opposition from large corporations but the vast majority of employers (including small businesses) have supported them, and there is no evidence that workers have abused them. For example, when New York City mandated employer-paid sick days (including for undocumented, temporary and part-time workers), 86% of employers supported the law. The only significant abuse was some employers not providing paid sick leave as mandated by law.
Popular support but government inaction
Heading into the pandemic, Canada was in the bottom quarter of countries around the world that do no guarantee paid sick leave on the first day of illness. Many countries around the world have expanded paid sick days during the pandemic–including many jurisdictions in the US. States that gained access to federal paid sick days saw 400 fewer COVID-19 cases per day.
But Canadian provincial governments first ignored paid sick days, and then claimed they were unnecessary because of retroactive federal income supports like CERB. After overwhelming calls for paid sick days from workers and medical organizations, a number of provinces implemented small numbers of government-subsidized paid sick days. These have helped expand access to the COVID-19 vaccine but are not universal, fully paid, adequate or temporary; and they subsidize profitable corporations whose denial of paid sick days fueled the pandemic.
A strong majority support permanent and employer-paid sick days. Before the pandemic, 77% of Ontarians opposed Doug Ford cutting paid sick days, and during the pandemic he had to reverse course and promise the “best paid sick days in North America” while still voting against paid sick days. A year into the pandemic, 83% of people across Canada agreed that “government should make all employers provide paid sick days for all employees,” including a majority of voters for all parties. A recent report in BC found that 86% support 10 permanent and employer-paid sick days.
This pressure has pushed the BC government to promise permanent and employer-paid sick days, but more pressure is needed to ensure they are adequate: the BC government is contemplating between 3 and 10 days and polling businesses about how many should be provided, which is like asking whether people should take a few ineffective days of antibiotics for an infection or taking the actual dose as prescribed. The movement has also pushed both NDP and Liberal parties in Ontario to table legislation (Bills 7 and 8) for 10 permanent paid sick days, plus two weeks during public health emergencies. Now the movement needs to push Ford into passing this legislation, and finally fulfilling his promise of having the “best paid sick days in North America.”
From words to action: immediately mandate 10 permanent and employer-paid sick days
The medical evidence, and the vast majority of people across the country, support permanent and employer-paid sick days. The Liberals were re-elected on this promise, and this can’t wait. Justin Trudeau needs to translate words into action: immediately mandate 10 paid sick days for federally regulated workers, and convene the provinces and territories to develop a national action plan for similar legislation across the country. And provincial governments, from BC and Ontario to the rest of provinces and territories, need to follow.
But paid sick day policy can’t rely on myths, or subsidize corporations that have denied paid sick days and fueled the pandemic. Policy needs to be based on the medical evidence, which shows that permanent and employer-paid sick days are good for workers and the economy, and that they need to be universal, fully-paid, adequate and immediately accessible. Policy also needs to reflect the urgency of the pandemic, close the longstanding gaps in equity, and follow the democratic mandate: paid sick days now.
Send a letter to your elected representatives to demand 10 permanent paid sick days and an additional 14 during public health emergencies
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