Toronto

Health care workers call on Doug Ford government to reinstate paid sick days

A group of doctors and nurses gathered in the rain near the Ontario Legislature on Monday to demand that the Doug Ford government bring back paid sick days.

Doctors, nurses gather in rain near Legislature ahead of flu season

Members of the Decent Work and Health Network say the Doug Ford government should reinstate paid sick days ahead of what is expected to be a severe flu season this winter. They also called on the government to scrap rules that allow employers to demand sick notes from workers. (CBC)

A group of doctors and nurses gathered in the rain near the Ontario Legislature on Monday to demand that the Doug Ford government bring back paid sick days.

The health professionals, members of the advocacy group Decent Work and Health Network, said the province should reinstate paid sick days ahead of what is expected to be a severe flu season. They also called on the province to scrap rules that allow employers to demand sick notes from workers.

"We see this is a huge risk to public health," said Carolina Jimenez, a registered nurse and network organizer.

"Workers need to be able to stay at home if they are sick. But right now, we know that workers are going to work sick because they cannot afford to take the day off work ...  And this is going to be a huge risk especially for the flu season that we know is going to be quite harsh," she said.

Members of the network held placards and banners, chanted and handed out information to passersby at one corner of University Avenue and College Street, south of the Legislature, on Monday afternoon.

On Jan. 1 this year, as part of amendments to the Employment Standards Act, the province repealed two paid personal emergency leave days, established by the previous Liberal government, and replaced them with three unpaid days for personal illness.

The government also now allows employers to require that employees provide sick notes when taking short medical leave for minor illnesses.

Registered nurse Carolina Jimenez says: 'Workers need to be able to stay at home if they are sick. But right now, we know that workers are going to work sick because they cannot afford to take the day off of work.' (CBC)

The demonstration comes after Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott reminded the public to get the flu shot. On. Oct.30, Elliott went to a pharmacy at Women's College Hospital in Toronto to get vaccinated herself.

Elliott said at the time: "Every Ontarian can join our efforts to put an end to hallway health care by getting their flu shot. In fact, getting your flu shot is an important part of keeping all Ontarians healthy and out of hospital."

Flu shot not enough, nurse says

Jimenez said the network agrees with the minister but said the shot is not enough to keep Ontario residents healthy. "We also need paid sick days and we also need no sick notes so workers can stay at home and rest," she said.

The flu is very contagious, she said. "If you have symptoms, you're contagious. If you are going to work sick, not only are you putting your own health in danger by not resting, but also, you are putting in danger the health of the people you work with, and that's just not acceptable," she added.

"This is a basic protection that we need."

Jimenez said the people most vulnerable under the new labour rules are low wage workers, people in part-time or casual positions and employees exempt from Ontario's Employment Standards Act. 

Kate Hayman, an emergency room doctor, says: 'We know that paid sick days are a really important public health measure to stop the spread of the flu.' (CBC)

Policy needed to prevent spread of flu, ER doctor says

Kate Hayman, an emergency room doctor and a network member, said the flu can last much longer than two days and good government policy is needed to prevent it from spreading.

"We are getting prepared right now for one of the worst flu seasons we have ever experienced. We're preparing for a huge influx of patients. The emergency departments have been more crowded than ever this year as well," she said.

"We know that paid sick days are a really important public health measure to stop the spread of the flu. People who have paid sick days are more likely to actually get the flu shot," Hayman added.

"We need the government to have policy in place so that people can stay home, not spread the flu in their workplaces and have time to get vaccinated."

According to the Canadian Medical Association, sick notes are a public health risk because many Ontario workers may go to work ill instead of getting notes from their doctors. The association ran a letter-writing campaign, "Say No to Sick Notes," last year to oppose the requirement.

Last flu season, the government said there were about 5,450 flu-related hospitalizations in Ontario and 275 flu-related deaths.

With files from Radio-Canada

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