Sabrina Almeida

Wondering what the hullabaloo for paid sick leave is all about? You may be among the fortunate ones receiving this benefit and therefore of the opinion that all employers are obliged to pay it. After all this is Canada, a first world country!!! 

Or, you may be under the misconception that only part-time retail workers, typically students, are denied this benefit.

But there is no legal entitlement to paid sick leave either at the federal or provincial level. So thousands of workers depend on their employer’s good will. 

In fact a Conference Board of Canada study found that less than half of Canadians are covered by employer sick leave benefits.

Also, the lower the wages, the lesser the likelihood of any paid leave. 

While millions of workers have been subjected to this injustice for years now, the pandemic situation has brought it back into focus. And the reasons may not be altruistic. After all COVID-19 infected individuals who continue to work are responsible for community spread. It’s a numbers game of a different kind.

But it’s not apathy that makes these individuals work through their illness. Employees who do not have paid sick leave are doing what they have always done when ill with the flu, fever, cough or anything else. 

They don’t see the coronavirus as different from  any other illness that they may have laboured through. 

What matters to them is receiving that full paycheck because cuts will mean some bills don’t get paid. And with most of their colleagues in the same boat, everyone has accepted and adapted to their working conditions. 

Few cared about this… until now. And even now, I doubt these workers with precarious, part-time hourly-wage jobs care as much as government officials because they know they don’t have a choice.

If paid sick leave is a human right, shouldn’t it have been mandatory years ago?

So why are some employers (mainly small businesses) unwilling to provide sick-leave benefits?

Misconceptions about the cost and abuse of the benefit are two top reasons for employers’ reluctance. 

But in reality the reduced productivity a business suffers when a sick employee works might be costlier than paid time off. This problem is compounded when he/she transmits the illness to coworkers. Now you have an entire crew of sick people showing up just so that their pay is not docked.

A friend shared that one of his colleagues was so sick that he had to be driven home. Others could be heard coughing throughout the day during flu season and some admitted to having a fever No one gave it much thought.

But COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace have forced officials to acknowledge  what those in precarious jobs have had to endure for years. So the mayors of Mississauga and Brampton as well as Toronto and Peel Regional councils have joined the call for paid sick leave.

Yet the federal and provincial governments that claim to have the backs of all Canadians have remained mum. Trudeau of course shovelled the responsibility onto the provinces and territories.

The federal government has provided benefits for those who contract COVID-19, and will foot the bill during the pandemic, but what happens when the coronavirus is no longer an issue.?

Given Canada’s public health system, paid sick leave benefits are not just good for business but also the country’s bottom line. 

Before the coronavirus engulfed us, flu season was responsible for virtually crippling our healthcare system. 

According to a news report, one study estimated that the lack of workplace policies like paid sick leave during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 increased the number of cases of influenza-like illnesses by 5 million. But we haven’t learned from that.

Quebec and Prince Edward Island are said to be the only provinces mandating paid sick leave. 

It’s time the rest of the country also stepped up to the plate!




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