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Health-care workers demand Trudeau fast track paid sick-leave policy

OTTAWA — A coalition of front-line health-care workers has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fast-track proposed legislative amendments to grant paid sick leave to federally regulated workers.
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OTTAWA — A coalition of front-line health-care workers has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fast-track proposed legislative amendments to grant paid sick leave to federally regulated workers. 

Trudeau has said an early priority of his newly re-elected government will be to give all federally regulated workers 10 days of paid sick leave, and work with provinces and territories on better sick-leave policies for all Canadians.

He pledged to do so within 100 days of receiving a new mandate, but the Decent Work and Health Network says that's not fast enough.

"My patients cannot afford any more delays. And frankly, we shouldn't have to wait 100 days for paid sick days," said Dr. Gaibrie Stephen, an emergency physician from Peel, Ont., with the Decent Work and Health Network.

"Diseases are not waiting 100 days to infect our patients."

A lack of paid sick leave has been a major problem for many Canadians during the pandemic who couldn't afford to stay home when ill, risking the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces.

During the election, Trudeau said as the country’s largest employer, it is up to the federal government to set the example.

The Decent Work and Health Network held an online news conference to call on the government to immediately amend the Canadian Labour Code to provide 10 paid sick days for federal workers, with 14 extra days during public health emergencies. 

The group also asked the government to convene the provinces to create adequate sick-leave policies that would include migrant, precarious, and contract workers.

"As health experts, we are recommending patients with flu-like symptoms stay home and isolate, but without access to paid sick days this is difficult for working-class families who are disproportionately racialized," said Stephanie Sarmiento, a public health nurse in Toronto. 

The issue is particularly urgent as Canada enters flu season, Sarmiento said. 

"Children and adults with cold and respiratory viruses are on the rise across the country," she said.

The lack of paid sick leave can have far-reaching implications on schools and hospitals, said Dr. Shazeen Suleman, a Toronto pediatrician.

She said several schools in her area have already been shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks, which could have been prevented.

"Many of the children who go to these schools have caregivers who cannot afford to stay home and care for them when they are sick," she said. 

When parents can take time off to care for their kids, the children are also more likely to be treated early and less likely to end up in emergency rooms, she said. 

“No one should have to make the difficult choice between having to go to work sick or stay home without pay," said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a statement Wednesday. 

The NDP said the change cannot be made to the Canadian Labour Code without recalling Parliament, which is not scheduled to happen until Nov. 22. 

"Justin Trudeau should reconvene the House of Commons so we can make sure every worker has access to paid sick leave and save lives," Singh said.

Currently, there is a patchwork of sick-leave legislation across the country but no Canadian jurisdiction has adequate policy, the group said.

According to the Decent Work and Health Network, the only jurisdictions with any permanent paid sick days are federally regulated sectors, Quebec and Prince Edward Island with three days, two days and one day respectively.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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