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New federal sick leave benefits no replacement for permanent paid sick days, say advocates

Despite the recently announced federal paid sick leave benefits for those taking time off related to COVID-19, there is still a need for permanent paid sick days, say advocates.

Despite the recently announced federal paid sick leave benefits for those taking time off related to COVID-19, there is still a need for permanent paid sick days, say advocates.

Carolina Jimenez, a registered nurse and the coordinator of the Decent Work and Health Network, said the federal government’s Thursday announcement of new sick leave benefits does not change that.

“This definitely won’t close the gap because it’s not paid sick days. It’s COVID-19 related income support,” said Jimenez.

In a press release, the BC Federation of Labour said the same, calling the benefits “no substitute for permanent paid sick leave that all workers need.”

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit will provide $500 a week for up to two weeks for workers who do not have access to paid sick leave through their employer, and who must take time off because they are sick or self-isolating due to COVID-19.

The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, also at $500 a week, will be available to those who must stay home to care for any children under 12 whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19, or whose child must stay home under the advice of a medical professional. These benefits are expected to come into effect on September 27, and the program will last one year.

The program is a welcome start, said Jimenez, but she is concerned that the measure might halt the conversation around paid sick days, and ultimately disincentivize provinces to legislate paid sick days into employment standards.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE Ontario, said that permanent paid sick days are still needed. Walton said sick days are needed for all workers, but as September draws nearer, shared concerns about the lack of paid sick days for education workers, such as casual custodians.

“While I think [the federal benefit] is a great beginning, at the end of the day, it really needs to come down to the provincial government,” she said in an interview.

The specificity to COVID-19, combined with the temporary nature of the benefits, as well as barriers to accessing the benefits are all concerns for Jimenez.

“We’re coming up on flu season and we need everyone to have the ability to stay home. We know that paid sick days are really critical for accessing preventative services, for decreasing healthcare costs, so in terms of the scope of this we need it to be beyond COVID-19,” she said.

Jimenez said that any barriers to accessing the paid sick leave benefit could mean workers still go to work sick, or send their children to school sick because they cannot stay home to care for them.

Any sort of administrative burden like needing a sick note, or the possibility of an interruption in wages, can be deterrents to taking time off work, she said. As of yet, it’s unclear how quickly the federal sick leave benefits will be administered.

“People need to have these days automatically. There’s so many people living paycheck to paycheck, and losing wages can really make the difference even temporarily. Ultimately it’s not going to have the same public health impact,” Jimenez said.

Paid sick leave tied to reducing illness in schools

Without permanent paid sick leave, parents working precarious, low wage jobs are more likely to send their kids to school sick, where one sick child can easily spark a school-wide outbreak of disease, said public health specialists and educators at a Wednesday press conference.

“In a normal school year in public health we get called about flu outbreaks, outbreaks of diarrhea, all kinds of different things,” said Dr. Monika Dutt, a family physician and public health specialist.

“I think we really need to look at an adequate number of permanent days to cover both COVID-19 as well as the other illnesses and health conditions that people deal…

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