Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Ontario government should consider working directly with the employers of essential workers to deliver paid sick leave as the province grapples with the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Prime Minister’s comments come just hours after the province ducked calls for its own paid sick leave program.
Instead, the Progressive Conservative government offered to boost the number of money employees can receive from the federally-mandated Canada Sickness Recovery Benefit (CSRB) for four weeks.
The province’s labour minister confirmed to the Ontario Legislature that the government wants to double the CSRB from $500 to $1,000 per employee and that the province is willing to fund the cost to increase the support.
Speaking at a separate news conference in Ottawa hours later, Trudeau said Ontario should work directly through the employers of essential workers to deliver the support, which the federal government “can’t do.”
The proposition from the PC government comes after intense political debate about the need for paid sick leave, with the NDP suggesting the measure could save the lives of front-line employees who have continued to work during the pandemic.
Paid emergency leave was also a key recommendation from the Ontario Science Advisory Table, which said symptomatic employees have been showing up to work largely because missing a shift could jeopardize their ability to purchase groceries and pay other essential bills.
The CSRB has been criticized as an inadequate program because it forces an employee to miss 50 percent of their workweek to qualify for the benefit and pays them less than minimum wage.
The Doug Ford government has acknowledged that the $1.1 billion CSRB hasn’t been fully utilized by employees and claimed the program was riddled with “gaps” that needed to be addressed.
“Our plan would pay $25 an hour, $1,000 a week for four weeks,” McNaughton told MPP and said the program – if approved by the federal government – would be retroactive for six weeks.
The Ontario NDP, however, said the province needs to create its own program allowing employees to call in sick without having to sacrifice pay.
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