On July 21, the Ontario government announced the extension of the Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB) to March 31, 2023. This is the second such extension of the WIPB since it was brought in on April 29, 2021.
The WIPB amended the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to require employers to provide employees with up to three days of paid infectious disease emergency leave related to COVID‑19. Eligible employers are entitled to be reimbursed the amount of infectious disease emergency leave pay that they paid to their employees, up to $200 per employee per day taken.
This government-subsidized temporary paid sick days program was brought in because workers and healthcare advocates raised the alarm about the lack of access to paid sick days, especially during a pandemic.
Across Canada, only 58 percent of workers have access to paid sick days from their employers. Low-wage workers fare even worse — 70% of people earning less than $25,000 a year lack sick day provisions from their employers. Workers without paid sick days are more likely to be in low-wage jobs, which are disproportionately held by women, racialized workers, and workers with disabilities.
When workers don’t have paid sick days they are likely to go in to work sick, as they are unable to afford to take time off to properly recover. The lack of paid sick days means illness is more likely to spread.
Organizations like the Decent Work and Health Network have outlined the five principles for effective paid sick day legislation: universal, adequate, permanent, employers-paid and seamlessly accessible. While three temporary paid sick days through WIPB is certainly better than no paid sick days, it comes up well short of these principles and does not meet the needs of workers.
The WIPB’s three paid sick days are now being stretched to cover a nearly two-year period (710 days!). Workers who used the three paid sick days because they have gotten COVID or because they had vaccine side effects over the last year are not eligible for more paid sick days. Ontario is currently in a seventh wave of the pandemic and there is new information indicating that the newest variant can not only spread more easily but can also cause repeated reinfections. The three paid sick days offered through the WIPB are not even enough to take the time off to get the two shots and two boosters for COVID. The WIPB leaves workers vulnerable.
Over 470,000 workers have claimed a sick day through the temporary WIPB. Most of these workers work in the manufacturing, retail and healthcare sectors. This high number of workers taking paid sick days under the WIPB shows a desperate need for permanent paid sick days. Extending the program is not good enough as fewer and fewer workers will be eligible to access these temporary paid sick days.
The design of the WIPB, which directs the government to pay employers for sick days taken through the program, has allowed for $190 million to be paid out to employers. It is no surprise that a government concerned with lowering program spending costs would choose to avoid adding to any pandemic-era program. Ultimately though, this is a cost that should be carried by employers, not the government. Handing out government subsidies to large and profitable corporations in this way simply increases growing inequality and lets employers off the hook on providing necessary supports for workers.
WIPB also only applies to COVID-related illness; workers who get the flu or are sick for other reasons cannot access the three temporary paid sick days. It is clear that workers need robust paid sick days that meet the principles set out by public health advocates. Paid sick days need to be universal, adequate, seamlessly- accessible, permanent and employer-paid.
This is why ISAC echoes the decent work movement’s call for 10 permanent employer-paid sick days that should be accessible for all workers. This demand has overwhelming support, with 80% of Ontarians supporting 10 permanent employer-paid sick days. Three temporary government-paid sick days over the span of 710 days is just not good enough for Ontario’s workers.