Bailey says province wants to ‘fill the gaps’ for paid sick leave

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Bob Bailey is seen here speaking virtually to Michigan lawmakers on Line 5. He says the province is considering some form of paid sick leave.

Heather Wright/The Independent

Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey says the Conservative government is looking for a way to “fill the gaps” for paid leave for essential workers.

This comes after months of calls from top doctors and scientists for the move and dozens of chances to implement paid sick leave through private members bills to help people make the choice to stay home when they’re sick with COVID-19.

Friday, Premier Doug Ford tightened restrictions in the Stay at Home order including closing playgrounds and giving police extraordinary – and unconstitutional powers according to some experts – to stop people randomly and enforce the order. He walked back both of those restrictions later.

That left scientific experts questioning again why the province wasn’t making paid sick leave mandatory. The Conservatives have always said employees should use a federal benefit designed for use in the pandemic.

Tuesday, after the federal budget, cabinet signalled they were looking at “filling the gaps in the system,” they said since the federal government didn’t increase the benefit – a comment echoed by Bailey.

“We were hoping that they (the federal government) would take that $700 million that the federal government set aside to pay this benefit and improve it, add to it, maybe restructure it; use that money. But they didn’t do that. So, now the provinces, we’re gonna have to step in, I guess and do that as well.”

Under the provincial Employment Standards Act, the province has the power and authority to implement paid sick days. The Ford government reduced the number of paid sick days to just two when it took office.

During the pandemic, it guaranteed people would not lose their jobs if they stayed home ill, but many essential workers, who made minimum wage, were not able to take the time off and make ends meet. The federal benefit does cover up to four weeks of sick time, but there is a wait of days – sometimes – weeks to receive it. That leaves lower income earners without cash while they’re sick.

Bailey says cabinet, including the premier – who has been absent from the Legislature both Monday and Tuesday – is considering a new program now.

“I don’t know what they’re going to call it, they’re going to fill in the gaps. That’s what the minister said, ‘fill in the gaps in the federal program.’ So, I don’t even know what it is yet. But they know, I was just talking to premier and others there. He said, ‘Now they haven’t done that, we’re going to have to step in and do something to fill in those gaps.’

“I personally didn’t understand why we didn’t encourage the employers to continue paying their employee and get reimbursed by the Feds…because you know, they’re already on payroll, these employees, they’re already in the system, they probably get their banking information, they’re about to get direct deposit. To me, I would have tried to work for something like that.”

As cabinet tries to fill the gaps, the COVID-19 Science Advisory committee again asked the government to implement a paid sick leave and limit even more businesses from operating to stop the spread of COVID-19.