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London business owners say new paid sick leave 'step in the right direction' but simply not enough

Small business owners in London, Ont., say the newly announced paid sick leave program is a "step in the right direction" for workers — but three days is just not enough.

Newly announced sick leave benefit, if passed, will offer workers up to 3 paid days, $200 per day

A man delivers restaurant supplies to an eatery along Richmond St in downtown London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Small business owners in London, Ont.. say the newly announced paid sick leave program is a "step in the right direction" for workers — but three days is just not enough.

A new program announced by the provincial government will now allow both full-time and part-time workers up to three paid sick days of up to $200 a day, if passed.

The legislation introduced as "Ontario COVID19 Worker Protection Benefit Program" was announced by Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton during a Wednesday news conference. 

Robin Pero, owner of Grow & Bloom Collective, a flower shop on Richmond Row, said the announcement came as welcome news for her small business.

"As a small business owner with just a handful of staff, I can say that I think that this is a step in the right direction," Pero said. "Because I believe that my staff members deserve to have some kind of security when they're home and know that they can safely take sick days off without losing pay."

"[But] I definitely don't think that three days is enough because what happens if your employee takes three days off because they're feeling ill and then that's all they got, was three days and they're still waiting for test results?" she said.

The benefit, which is projected to cost anywhere between $750 million and $1.5 billion, will be administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) who will reimburse employers for full cost.

Workers will be eligible for the benefit if they are sick, have symptoms, are getting vaccinated or suffering COVID-19 related mental health issues and no sick note will be required.

The government also announced plans to top up the federally-mandated Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) from $500 to $1,000 per week before taxes.

People still have to choose between their health or rent

Malvin Wright, owner of YaYa's Kitchen, said the new benefit is simply not enough to keep people from coming into work when they are sick.

"I think it shows from a government point of view or from a public health point of view, that is simply not enough ... I think there's a real disconnect between the reality on the ground and in terms of actually ending the pandemic moving forward," Wright said.

The new benefit, if passed, would only offer up to three paid sick days for individuals. However, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days.

For that reason, Wright said, people will still be making the decision to come into work.

"People are still placed in a position where they have to choose between their health or paying rent, or feeding their family and often times those of us who are not getting in a position to actually work from home, the choice we make is to go to work."

Coun. Arielle Kayabaga, who has been pushing for enhanced paid sick leave, said the introduced legislation does not address what advocates and health experts have been calling for.

"It's definitely not what we expected ... I think if the government really wanted to even do a half plan on it, they could have gone at least five days or six days and not three days, three days is simply not helpful," Kayabaga said. 

The Ward 13 councillor said another issue with the temporary program is that it will only remain in effect until Sept. 25.

"It's not responding to the the current issue, which leads me to believe that we're going to be having the same conversation again in September and it's not a really proactive approach to saving lives."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Jabakhanji

Reporter-Editor

Sara Jabakhanji is a general assignment reporter with CBC News in Toronto. You can reach her at sara.jabakhanji@cbc.ca.

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