CUPE Ontario, representing 280,000 public sector workers, responded to the passage of legislation providing unpaid job-protected leave for Ontarians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, by calling for workers to remain on payrolls over the course of the crisis. Where that is not possible, the union is calling on the province to assist employers with the creation of a supplementary emergency EI top up fund.

The legislation, which amends the Employment Standards Act, protects the jobs of Ontarians in isolation or quarantined, or those who need to care for children or other relatives because of school or day care closures, with unpaid leave. But the legislation, welcome as it is according to the union, doesn’t address the challenges faced by workers impacted by layoffs and a loss of income.

“This legislation is a critical part of what we need now,” said Candace Rennick, CUPE Ontario Secretary-Treasurer, about the measure that’s retroactive to January 25, 2020, and does not require employees to provide sick notes. “But this passed at an emergency sitting of the legislature, and what’s truly an emergency is that the many Ontarians losing their jobs need their incomes protected.”

Before 26 Members of Provincial Parliament sat in the legislature and unanimously passed the legislation, CUPE Ontario called on the province to ask employers to keep workers on the payroll despite closures. And, where that’s not possible and there are layoffs, the union urged the province to support employers with the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit Plan (SUBP), a measure that does not require a vote in Queen’s Park, and which allows employers to top up employees’ EI benefits during a period of unemployment due to a temporary layoff. With this fund, workers eligible for EI can expect benefits approaching 100% of their income.

“The reality of widespread layoffs and income loss is serious, and it will get worse,” said Rennick. “A laid off worker who can only receive up to 55% of their income with EI, and who will face challenges with paying rent and putting food on the table, deserves better.”

“We want employers to step up and keep workers on the payroll during this crisis, and we know that many will,” said Rennick. “But when they can’t, the province needs to step up for all of us.”

“Now’s the time for the province to take another step and defend Ontarians.”