Doctors have been pleading with the Ontario government to legislate paid sick days. Apparently, Doug Ford -- now that he is self-isolating -- is considering the policy. Martin Regg Cohn writes:
This province long ago closed its eyes not merely to a natural virus, but to our own human nature. COVID-19 spreads in unpredictable ways, but our premier acted in utterly predictable ways and his supporters never gave it a second thought.
To understand how we got here — in mid-pandemic without payroll protection for sick workers — we have to go back to pre-COVID times and ask ourselves:
Ontario's previous premier -- Kathleen Wynne -- had legislated two paid sick days for Ontario's workers. One of the first things Doug Ford did when he came to power was to get rid of them -- claiming that they were "job killers:"
Too many businesses begrudge workers who ask to be paid a day’s wages when they book off sick — seen as something for nothing. Bigger companies can afford to be more generous; unionized firms are compelled to be more accommodating; but left to their own devices, most businesses will duck — and dock pay.
The business lobby pushed back hard when a previous premier (ah yes, remember Kathleen Wynne?) changed the law to require two paid sick days for workers. It will be the death of us, they argued — we can’t afford it.
Pre-pandemic, his popularity at its peak, basking in his honeymoon, Ford wiped out Wynne’s other social reforms — including a $15 minimum wage, free pharmacare for young and old adults, a basic income pilot, a ban on doctor’s notes.
“Keep fighting with me — you know that I’m here to fight for the little guy,” Ford said in late 2018 as he set his sights on sick pay.
How things have changed:
An open letter to Ford early last year from health-care experts noted, “The medical literature consistently states that employees with no sick leave are more likely to go to work and expose others to infection.”
Which is precisely what happened among workers who live paycheque to paycheque. It’s human nature for the working poor to avoid losing a day’s pay, just as it is human nature for employers to avoid paying them for a sick day.
That’s why we elect governments to step in to do the right thing. What was indefensible then remains unfathomable today.
Perhaps personal experience will teach Doug something.
Image: The Toronto Star