Union representing local workers critical of province's paid sick leave program
KITCHENER -- The province's new paid sick day program was formally approved on Thursday, but a union representing local front-line workers says the program doesn't go far enough.
The announcement also comes as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths connected to workplaces in Ontario continues to grow.
Longtime Cambridge Zehrs employee Cecil Pearcey was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January and has been battling the disease in hospital. His colleagues setting up a go-fund-me page on his behalf.
"He's had a very difficult time and we sent him all of our best wishes as he continues to recover," said Tim Deelstra, spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers 175 and 633.
Deelstra adds that Pearcey's situation demonstrates the need for greater protection of front-line workers who put themselves at risk every time they clock in.
"Every day they go to work to face the public not knowing if today is the day they could be potentially infected with COVID-19 themselves, or bring it back to their families."
In Waterloo Region, workplaces are the largest source of outbreaks, accounting for 32.4 per cent of all outbreaks over the course of the pandemic. They've also been connected to two deaths in the region, one in construction and the other at an optometry practice.
Across the province, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is seeing COVID-19 related claims pour in.
"We’ve had 21,000 COVID claims from people who believe they have gotten COVID as a result of the workplace," said WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer.
WSIB says 28 people in Ontario died as a result of contracting COVID-19 from their workplace last year. This year, the province is already on pace to exceed that number within the first four months.
"People do have the right to refuse unsafe work," added Witmer.
In that case, workers can bring safety concerns forward to the Ministry of Labour.
"Any worker who does not feel safe should speak to their supervisor, health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee. If the matter cannot be resolved, they should contact our ministry so we can investigate," said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development in an email to CTV News.
The Ford government also introduced a three day paid sick day program to run until Sept. 25, but Deelstra says that plan doesn't go far enough or run long enough.
"We're having people isolate for a 14 day-period, so people need to be able to do that as safely and securely as possible."
Deelstra says they would like to see at least seven paid sick days for workers at all times and says during a pandemic an additional 14 days should be added.