Earlier this month, a private member's bill was introduced in the Ontario legislature by MPP Peggy Sattler. It proposes paid sick leave for all workers in the province during the COVID-19 pandemic and after.
The Stay Home If You Are Sick Act proposes that every worker get 10 personal emergency leave days in a calendar year, of which 7 are paid. It would also guarantee employees another 14 days of paid leave in case of an infectious disease emergency.
The bill directs the Ontario government to set up a financial support program as well to help employers meet the costs of the proposed paid leaves. Payments, of course, would only be made if the legislature has acquired funds for the program.
In a perfect world, such a measure would be welcome. But the current state of the economy is anything but ideal and such a proposal is unrealistic.
With the second wave of the pandemic forcing another round of lockdowns on us, many businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, are on the verge of bankruptcy.
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), between 55,000 and 218,000 small and medium-sized businesses are at risk of closing due to the pandemic.
A week of paid sick leave would have been hard on businesses even in the pre-pandemic economy. In the current circumstances, it may prove to be the proverbial last straw that snaps the camel's back. Hence, unlikely to pass.
New paid sick leave legislation would also make it harder for cash-strapped businesses to hire more workers or even go back to their pre-pandemic staffing capacity.
It also seems unlikely that the legislature would be able to appropriate money to help employers cover the costs of paid leave.
The Federal government has already spent over $240 billion on COVID-19 relief between mid-March and the end of November 2020. As it prepares a new set of relief programs for the second wave, the national deficit is projected to touch a new high of at least $381.6 billion this financial year.
It should be noted that the federal government already provides income support to workers on sick leave due to COVID-19 through the Canada Sickness Recovery Benefit program.
The current recession is likely to impact the economy for the foreseeable future. Ontario is still struggling to control the surging COVID-19 case numbers.
Instead of newer economic burdens, what Ontario small businesses need at present is continued financial support so that they can weather this recession. Vaccinations have begun rolling out in Canada, and we can now hope for an end date on our collective ordeal.
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