Federal Sickness Benefit Falls Short of Paid Sick Leave Protections, Says Advocates

The federal sick leave program that was created to make sure people wouldn’t face financial hardship if they have to miss work due to COVID-19 is facing criticism for not protecting enough people who need it.

The Canada recovery sickness benefit (CRSB) was designed to make it easier for workers to follow public health advice urging people to stay home if they are sick. It provides $450 after taxes per week for up to two weeks.

But critics, workers’ advocates, public health professionals and policy experts say the program is flawed — and that it’s an insufficient replacement for having employers guarantee paid sick leave — which they argue would give low-wage and essential workers the income protection and job security they need to stay home if potentially infected with the coronavirus.

Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said provincially mandated paid sick leave is a superior policy because the missed pay is applied automatically to a worker’s paycheque, whereas the CRSB is paid out similar to employment insurance, meaning workers must apply and are paid by the government days or weeks after forgoing income.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said CRSB applicants can expect to receive benefits after 3-5 business days if they have established direct deposit receipt with the CRA. Otherwise, your payment will arrive within 10 to 12 business days by mail.

OFL is calling for seven days of paid sick leave in Ontario, plus another 14 during the pandemic, Coates said. The group held a rally outside Queen’s Park in Toronto on Wednesday.

According to a Decent Work and Health Network report, an estimated 58% of Canadian workers do not receive paid sick leave. That number rises to 70% among people making less than $25,000 a year.

There are currently only two provinces that guarantee paid sick leave – two days in Quebec and one day in Prince Edward Island. The remainder offers many unpaid sick leave, while federal employees get three paid sick days.

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