City of Hamilton to lobby province, feds to implement paid sick leave during pandemic
Councillors disagree on whether to ask for a permanent change
The City of Hamilton will lobby the provincial and federal governments to legislate paid sick leave for workers in Ontario during the pandemic.
The motion initially asked for permanent inclusion of paid sick leave provisions under the Employment Standards Act to prevent transmission of communicable diseases, including COVID-19.
But during Wednesday's city council meeting, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12) said he had "grave concerns" about the wording, and wanted to change it to protect small businesses, who are "already on their knees during this pandemic."
"If this is being permanent, the government will make the employers pay for it," he said.
His amendment, which passed by a vote of 11 to four, ensured it was a "temporary" ask and specific to the COVID-19 virus.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger and councillors Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Nrinder Nann (Ward 3), and John-Paul Danko (Ward 8) voted opposed.
'Paid sick days save lives'
Wilson, who moved the original motion at board of health on Friday, said 58 per cent of workers in Canada do not have paid sick days. Those without them, she said, are also disproportionately low income earners.
"Workers who are denied paid sick days do not avoid illness. They bring their infections to work with them, and they transmit them to their coworkers," she said, noting paid sick days are crucial to pandemic recovery.
Coun. Nann said having people make a choice between earning their wages and compromising their safety would be "unjust."
"Permanent paid sick days save lives, and responsible business owners, regardless of the size of their entity, understand this," she said.
Province might 'bite' on temporary ask
But Ferguson said the motion still supports people during the pandemic. While the initial motion intended to target large businesses, he said, many of those already have short-term and long-term disability in place.
"We need to go slow on this thing," he said, noting smaller employers can't carry another load, especially if they're shutdown.
He said the province might "bite" if the motion was specific to COVID-19.
Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9) agreed, saying the governments wouldn't "jump" to provide paid sick leave across the board. But deciding to provide it during the pandemic, he said, might open the door for inclusion in any future pandemics, and also start the discussion.
Concern for mom and pop shops
Coun. Arlene Vanderbeek (Ward 13) said there needs to be a balance. For example, if this was implemented federally, she said, then all employers paying into EI would share the load.
She fears the burden for paying would fall on each small business owner.
"That might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back," she said. "I'm having a struggle feeling like we're asking the provincial government to burden our smallest business owners who are already gasping for air."
Coun. Brenda Johnson (Ward 11) said she's also heard from her constituents that it's the "mom and pop establishments" that would hurt from permanent paid sick days.
"Please leave them alone," she said.
City council voted unanimously in favour of sending the letter.
The letter will be sent to the Minister of Health Long-term Care, as well as the Ministry of Employment and Social Development. It will also be forwarded to local members of federal and provincial parliament.