Ontario's Front-Line Workers Call For Paid Sick Days

Workers on the COVID-19 front line deserve better benefits and higher wages, an advocacy group says.
Carolina Jimenez, a registered nurse, Febe Jimenez, a personal support worker, and Tina Dagnall, a nursing aide, speak to reporters by video conference on April 16, 2020.
Carolina Jimenez, a registered nurse, Febe Jimenez, a personal support worker, and Tina Dagnall, a nursing aide, speak to reporters by video conference on April 16, 2020.
HuffPost Canada

The people running Ontario’s clinics, nursing homes and grocery stores during the COVID-19 pandemic “deserve more than a ‘thank you,’” one group of front-line workers said Thursday.

“The government refuses to implement basic paid sick leave protections for the very same people they deem heroes,” Carolina Jimenez told reporters at a virtual press conference. She is a registered nurse and the coordinator of the advocacy group Decent Work and Health Network.

“I’m a nurse at a clinic in Toronto and I don’t have paid sick days.”

“If we are heroes, we deserve these protections.”

- Carolina Jimenez, registered nurse

She said all workers deserve 14 paid sick days during the pandemic, at least $15 an hour and seven paid sick days a year on a permanent basis.

“If we are heroes, we deserve these protections,” Jimenez said.

Febe Jimenez (no relation), a personal support worker at a Hamilton retirement home, said she works full time and does not have paid sick days. She said her co-workers have been “extremely afraid” to come to work with others who work in multiple homes, in case they contract COVID-19.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government announced Tuesday they would no longer allow workers to work in multiple long-term care homes, effective next week. Premier Doug Ford also said he would provide extra funding so that people can get full-time hours from one job. But these changes only apply to long-term care homes, not retirement homes.

His government got rid of a requirement that all employers provide their employees with at least two paid sick days a year in 2018. It also froze the minimum wage at $14 an hour instead of raising it to $15 as the previous Liberal government had planned to do.

Earlier: Premier Doug Ford says permanent changes may be needed in Ontario’s long-term care homes. Story continues after video.

A spokesperson for Labour Minister Monte McNaughton did not directly answer HuffPost Canada’s questions about paid sick days or wages Thursday, but said the government has guaranteed that workers won’t lose their jobs if they stay home sick.

“Our government took swift action at the beginning of this pandemic to ensure job-protected leave for workers impacted by COVID-19. This leave provides flexibility for workers as it can be used when sick, quarantined or caring for loved ones,” Bradley Metlin told HuffPost by email.

“No one should lose their job for following the best medical advice of our health professionals.”

The government has also said its 2018 changes would create jobs by lowering labour costs for businesses.

Workers say they’re running out of sick time

Nursing aide Tina Dagnall said Thursday the government should do something for workers who are burning through their sick time or being forced to take time off without pay.

She works at Regency Manor Nursing Home in Port Hope, Ont. and is a union steward for Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).

Dagnall said her co-workers accrue a maximum of 12 paid sick days a year. But that doesn’t go far enough when workers are staying home as a precaution every time they get a cough or a sniffle, she said, or when they are tested for COVID-19 and must wait at home for the results for seven days.

“Why are we using our sick time for precautions for COVID?” Dagnall asked. “I just feel that the government needs to step up and do something.”

“There's a lot of anxiety ... We’ve had crying in the parking lot.”

- Tina Dagnall, nursing aide

She said her co-workers are terrified that one of them or one of their patients will test positive for COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” she said. “We’ve had crying in the parking lot.”

Toronto grocery store worker Rechev Browne said he feels he’s risking his life every time he goes to work on public transit.

“It’s super scary. It’s super dangerous,” he said.

Browne said grocery store workers need access to personal protective equipment, emergency leave and for their $2 an hour premium pay to be made permanent.

When customers come up to thank him at the grocery store, he said he’s now asking them to go online and sign the Decent Work and Health Network’s petition for permanent changes.

“Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk,” Browne said.