Ontario Construction News writer
All workers in Ontario now have access to three paid sick days if they are feeling sick, caring for a sick child, self-isolating or getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says workers accessing the program will continue being paid and the province will reimburse employers through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board up to $200 a day.
Also, the province will pay to double the federal government’s plan – giving workers access to $1,000 per week for four weeks if they are away from work due to COVID-19.
“To our frontline workers building schools, hospitals and homes . . . we’ve got your backs. Please use these new benefits if you need to,” McNaughton said at a news conference.
The legislation dubbed the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit, was announced on Wednesday.
Payments are retroactive to April 19 and will continue until Sept. 25.
Minister McNaughton says access to the sick pay funds will be simple, with no application or doctors’ note required. Instead, he said, employers will pay the employee without delay and will be reimbursed by the province.
“Workers shouldn’t have to choose between their job and their health,” McNaughton said. “We have offered to double sick day payments to $1,000/week. Partnering with us to support hardworking families should be a priority for our federal government.”
“Ontario workers now have access to the most generous sick pay program coast to coast,” McNaughton said.
The offer double payments of the federally-mandated Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) from $500 to $1,000 has not yet been approved by the federal government.
Ontario is the only province to offer a COVID-specific sick pay plan and to increase the federal benefit.
“We have stressed from the beginning that anyone who is sick should stay home from work, but we know that for some people it was hard to heed that advice because they couldn’t afford to take time off work,” McNaughton said.
“If a scratchy throat or a simple sneeze meant they could lose day’s pay or more, some people were reluctant to stay home. This should never happen, and it ends now.”
The provincial plan will also ensure that “businesses survive the pandemic and people have jobs to go back to.”
Finance Minister Peter Bethanpalby did not provide a budget for the new program and he said the province moved to “fill the gaps” after the federal government failed to change the program.
“We were disappointed that the 2021 federal budget provided no additional funding and no direction to improve the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to protect our essential workers when they are ill or worried they have COVID-19,” he said.
“Ontario’s not alone. British Columbia has expressed a similar concern about the shortcomings of the federal government.”
While the top priority remains “getting vaccines in arms”, McNaughton said the new program givers workers flexibility.
“It will help those workers who have to stay home and self-isolate if they are sick,” McNaughton said. “If workers need to take a mental health day related to COVID-19, if you’re a mom or a dad out there who has a son or a daughter who has symptoms and isn’t feeling well you can stay home and use one of these three days.”