A motion from councillors Shawn Menard and Catherine McKenney calling on the Ontario government to implement a program to support workers to stay home when sick passed nearly unanimously on Wednesday’s Ottawa city council meeting.
The motion asked Ontario to amend the Employment Standards Act to mandate businesses to provide five days of paid sick days per calendar year and an additional 10 days during an infectious disease emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move comes as Ontario is preparing to unveil details Wednesday afternoon of a paid sick day program that officials have hinted was coming in the past week.
The Ottawa Board of Health, joining Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, other municipalities and advocacy groups across the province, recently put similar pressures on the province as experts have pointed to sick day support as a key tool in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus through workplace outbreaks.
Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who chairs the board of health, urged his council colleagues to support the motion, not only for the current pandemic but future health crises.
“Don’t kid yourself. This happened to us once and it can happen again,” he said. “If anything good comes out of COVID, it has to be our ability to learn from it.”
Numerous councillors noted that the motion came before them on the National Day of Mourning for workers injured or killed on the job.
McKenney recounted their recent experience receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and said they experienced side effects but were able to take two days to stay home and recuperate — a luxury not afforded to all workers in Ottawa.
They said the motion was important to show Ottawa was actually doing all it could to support workers who have kept the city running for the past 13-plus months.
“I don’t think essential workers want us to call them heroes anymore,” McKenney said. “I think they want us to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect them, protect their families.”
While most councillors expressed their support for the motion, some noted that it was important that whatever policy is implemented does not put the onus for funding sick days on the city’s small businesses.
Mayor Jim Watson, who opposed a similar item last October that would’ve pushed the province to provide protected sick leave for workers in the pandemic, said the clause in this motion that asked the province to support businesses in providing sick pay was a key consideration.
The motion was ultimately amended to include a direction to staff calling for the city to consult with businesses through Ottawa’s council of BIAs and provide that feedback to the province on the final shape of any sick pay program.
College Coun. Rick Chiarelli was the sole dissenting vote on the motion. He cited a lack of consultation and analysis of the proposal in his opposition.