By not announcing paid sick days for all hospital, long-term care and other essential workers, Ontario’s Premier missed a key opportunity this week to tell “this important workforce who are at greater risk of COVID-19 infection that the province has their back for the increased risk they face,” says Michael Hurley the President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

In the health sector, to protect patients, residents and other front-line staff, quarantine and isolation are required for workers exposed to the COVID-19 virus. But more than half of the health care workforce are part-time and casual employees who do not have paid sick leave. When they are asked to isolate or quarantine, they lose several weeks income. Half of the WSIB claims for hospital staff who have contracted COVID-19 at work have been contested.

13,800 health care workers have contracted the virus and 18 have died. The pandemic continues to expose the unequal treatment of workers, Hurley says. 60 per cent of COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring in essential workplace environments including health care. Only 10 per cent of lower waged workers have paid sick days.

“Most hospital workers are keenly aware that the hospital CEO who opted to ignore provincial travel guidelines and vacation was rewarded with two years pay – well over $1 million. Most health care staff have been denied any time off throughout the pandemic  their vacations have been cancelled. They go to work at great risk. They must have the confidence that if they are exposed to or contract COVID-19 that they will not lose weeks of pay. This is true of all of the province’s essential workers,” says Hurley.

Media reported this week that Niagara health system and St. Joseph’s Hamilton CEO, Tom Stewart who was forced to leave his position after vacationing in the Caribbean during the December holidays is eligible for over $1 million in payouts.

OCHU/CUPE is asking the Ontario government to provide paid days for health care and other essential workers who contract COVID-19 and time off with pay for essential workers who are required to isolate or quarantine following exposure to the virus.

In Ontario, OCHU is the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). CUPE represents more than 90,000 health care workers in Ontario including about 45,000 in the province’s hospitals.