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Without providing access to paid emergency leave, Ford’s COVID-19 legislation misses the mark, says Ontario Federation of Labour

20 Mar 2020

TORONTO, March 19, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In these unprecedented times, the government of Ontario must put the health and safety of all workers and the public first. The OFL is hopeful that the bill tabled today by the Ontario government is merely a first step toward protecting Ontarians. This legislation leaves out essential elements that will protect all Ontario workers and vulnerable people in this province, most notably 21 paid emergency leave days, says the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).

“Job-protected leave is no good if workers can’t afford to use it. The government must make it possible for workers to follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, and practice social distancing and self-isolation to slow the spread of this virus. Unless all workers have paid emergency leave and other supports so they can take recommended precautions without financial hardship, Ontario’s ability to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic will be impeded,” said OFL President Patty Coates.

“Not all workers are covered under this emergency legislation. Front line workers who are doing the essential work to keep this province healthy and safe need assurances and protections. The government must ensure that all public services are properly funded, accessible, and affordable for all workers that are keeping Ontarians healthy and safe during this crisis. Needed supports should be available to all, regardless of their status, immediately and without barriers, so everyone can take care of their health and the safety of their families and communities,” said Coates.

While Ford’s emergency provisions take modest first steps, such as removing the requirement for workers to obtain a sick note and providing job protections to stop employers from implementing reprisals against workers who self-isolate, it still leaves far too many without needed protections.

Shortly after being elected, the Ford government removed two paid sick days for all workers from the Employment Standards Act. Previous to this crisis, they repeatedly ignored calls from labour and community organizations to improve decent work laws, including providing seven paid sick days.

The OFL reminds all workers that they have the right to refuse what they believe to be unsafe work, and that employers are required by law to take every reasonable precaution to ensure safe and healthy workplaces.

Labour, community, and migrant organizations are the voice of workers in this province and must be at the table and involved in creating, planning, and implementing a COVID-19 response that will work for all Ontarians, and to ensure that no one is left behind.

“The Premier continues to say that workers should ‘stay home when [they] are sick,’ when he knows very well that it is impossible for workers to follow that directive if they do not have paid leave and other supports,” said Coates. “Ontario is only as healthy as the most vulnerable person in our province.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour provided recommendations to the government of Ontario to flatten the curve during the COVID-19 global pandemic, and sent a letter to the Premier outlining recommendations for the legislation and needed supports.

“Ontarians want to feel confident that the government is looking out for them,” said Coates. “We urge the government to take further measures to protect workers when they present their fiscal and economic update.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow @OFLabour on Facebook and Twitter.

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