Image shows a person, outdoors, wearing a raincoat, gloves, a toque, and a face mask and holding a sign that reads "Paid Sick Days Save Lives."

Ontario’s three paid sick days are set to expire on July 31, unless the Ford government again changes its mind.

Premier Doug Ford’s labour minister, Monte McNaughton, didn’t respond to questions about the program on Wednesday, including whether it would continue.

Toronto pediatrician Dr. Daniel Bierstone noted that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet. Even when it is, paid sick days are a good idea, he said.

Bierstone, a member of the Decent Work and Health Network, said 10 permanent paid sick days would let workers take adequate time off when they — or their kids — feel sick. That leads to fewer illnesses spread by people forced to go to work or school, and better health outcomes when people don’t have to choose between getting medical help and losing a day’s pay.

“In my line of work as a pediatrician, I have families who have to make the horrible choice of being able to take their child to … a mental health appointment or a medical appointment … and missing a day of work,” he said. “Because missing a day of work without being paid for it may be the difference in terms of being able to pay the rent for that month or putting food on the table.”

Ten paid sick days would also reduce emergency room visits and overall health costs, Bierstone said, noting that it’s much cheaper to pay for cancer screening than cancer treatment.

“So, after all this, after all we have learned, it’s totally inconceivable, just reckless, that the government is now planning to quietly let these already inadequate three paid sick days expire,” he said.

There is a health science consensus that paid sick leave works well to reduce illness. It’s been recommended by Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, and the Ontario Medical Association, among others.

READ MORE: Consensus emerges on paid sick days as PCs call on feds to step up

Bierstone said the sick days should be seamless — meaning workers don’t have to apply to get their pay reimbursed. There should be no doctor’s notes required, to cut down on spreading illnesses in health centres, he said.

The Ford government moved quickly when elected in 2018 to scrap the province’s existing paid sick days. It passed the three sick days in April 2021, after months of pressure from health experts, opposition parties, unions and workers.

Ford had said he was against even federal paid sick leave, saying it was unnecessary. He argued that a provincial program would lead to workers “double-dipping.”

CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said paid sick days are especially important as inflation nears seven per cent while wages flag. He said employers should pay for the program.

“Loblaws, and Amazon, and Shoppers Drug Mart, and whatever, are making enough money that they can afford to provide paid sick leave,” he said.

As for small businesses, many offer paid sick leave on their own, Hahn said. And he said the government could support them in offering 10 days.

“Having an employee come to work sick, making others sick — not good for business. It doesn’t matter the size of your business,” he said.

Hahn and Bierstone said their organizations plan to keep up the pressure. On Tuesday, the Decent Work and Health Network met on Monday to plan for “next steps” after the election, including how best to fight for sick days, higher wages and more.

Both said that although they haven’t heard anything from the government, they’re cautiously hopeful.

When Ford first scrapped paid sick days in 2018, polling suggested over three-quarters of Ontarians disagreed with the move. Sick leave has remained popular across party lines during the pandemic.

Hahn said most people he talks to across the province understand why paid sick days are a good idea.

“This is a government that, in the past, has responded to public pressure,” Bierstone said. “I don’t see how they could let this expire if there is sufficient media attention.”

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