The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) appeals to the Ontario government to immediately introduce paid sick leave legislation to protect the most vulnerable and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
The NFU-O joins the Decent Work and Health Network’s call for the immediate introduction of 7 days of permanent paid sick leave for all Ontario workers, with an additional 14 paid sick days during our current public health emergency. This legislation should be universal (available to workers, regardless of immigration status, job type, or size of the workplace) and fully accessible with no barriers to access or disruption of income.
As small and mid-sized farm operators, the NFU-O also supports Ontario government subsidies to help small businesses cover the costs and to ensure the universality of the legislation.
From its inception, the National Farmers Union has stood up for the health of local communities by advocating for policies that promote the environmental, social, and financial health of the farms and farmers who form the backbone of our food systems. Currently, members of our communities, particularly women and racialized workers, including migrant workers, are bearing the most catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we cannot stand by and allow the lives of our valued friends, neighbours, co-workers, and fellow producers to be threatened because they cannot protect themselves by staying home when they or their loved ones are sick.
The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is out of control; ICU beds are full, and massive outbreaks in food processing plants, warehouses, grocery stores, and in other low-paid essential workplaces are endangering the lives (and livelihoods) of these hard-working Ontarians.
We know that, in Canada, over 58% of workers have no access to paid sick days and that number rises to over 70% for those earning less than $25,000 annually.
What paid leave legislation we do have is not working. Ontario briefly required employers to provide workers with 10 sick days (2 paid) but this was scrapped in 2019 prior to the pandemic. The federal government’s emergency Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) is insufficient – it is a temporary measure, only covers those who are directly infected with COVID-19, and has too many restrictions for low-income, precarious, and migrant workers.
The lack of permanent and inclusive paid sick leave legislated at a national and provincial level is, for a country that prides itself on its universal health care system, an international embarrassment; it is also a major factor in our escalating COVID-19 crisis. Canada is in the bottom quarter of countries without paid sick leave.
The World Health Organization has stressed that “the absence of paid sick days forces ill workers to decide between caring for their health or losing jobs and income, choosing between deteriorating health and risking to impoverish themselves and often their families.” A recent Peel Public Health study found that up to 25% of those with COVID-19 symptoms continued to work out of fear of employer retaliation.
Medical professionals, public health organizations, labour unions, workers’ rights groups, mayors across Ontario, opposition parties, and countless others have all called upon the Ford government to introduce paid sick leave. A recent EKOS survey found that Ontarians support the implementation of paid sick leave by a margin of more than 4-to-1. More than two-thirds of respondents also support provincial subsidies to help small business cover the costs.
We need to follow the clear advice of medical health experts: paying workers to stay home when unwell or unsafe is the #1 measure the Ontario government can take NOW to save lives.
The NFU-O is proud to continue to speak up for the health of our communities and insist on the implementation of policy that will protect the lives and livelihoods of all essential workers, on and off the farm.