An open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams.
As medical students in Ontario, we are writing to reinforce the pressing calls for a robust, comprehensive and permanent provincial paid sick leave program for Ontario workers. We join our physician colleagues, business owners and all of Ontario’s regional medical officers of health in urging the provincial government to protect Ontarians and curb the spread of COVID-19.
Ontario is at a critical point. Cases are rising rapidly, driven by more virulent and transmissible variants of concern, and there is a dwindling supply of available intensive care unit (ICU) beds. In Ontario today, we are building field hospitals and airlifting patients to hospitals with available beds, all while exhausted physicians plead for action on national television.
Front-line and essential workers and their families have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The insufficiency of existing programs has prevented many from self-isolating after the onset of symptoms, exposure to COVID-19 or a positive COVID-19 test, leaving workers little choice but to go to work. This is especially true for racialized, low-income and migrant workers who may find it difficult to self-isolate without financial support. Since existing federal programs such as the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) do not cover all potentially affected workers in Ontario, provincial legislation is necessary. Continued government inaction will only prolong the pandemic, resulting in longer shutdowns, further long-term economic damage and, ultimately, more preventable deaths.
Workplaces have been identified as increasingly significant drivers of the spread of COVID-19, and public health, epidemiology and infectious disease experts have urged the provincial government to enact a comprehensive paid sick leave program. Mandatory sick days in Ontario were rolled back in 2018 and experts have stated that the inadequacy of existing programs has exacerbated health disparities among Ontario workers. Workers in Ontario should not have to sacrifice the financial security of their families to follow public health measures and prevent the spread of COVID-19. In fact, permanent paid sick leave should be implemented to cover time off for other illnesses and be available to all workers regardless of employment status, immigration status or workplace size.
As medical students, we are actively learning that health extends beyond in-hospital and outpatient care. An individual’s health is influenced by factors like systemic racism, working and housing conditions and other structural inequities that disproportionately impact low-income and racialized communities. Policies like paid sick leave can protect workers and their families who have been – and continue to be – among the most affected by COVID-19, and ultimately alter the trajectory of the pandemic in Ontario. Our requests are as follows:
- Immediate implementation of a provincial paid sick leave program that covers illnesses, injuries and emergencies for all Ontario workers;
- Appropriate steps to ensure this paid sick leave program remains accessible and continues post-pandemic.
We all want to return to the activities that connect us with each other, like eating at restaurants, going to the movies and hugging loved ones. Paid sick leave will help push us in that direction and save countless lives in the process. We implore you to act now to protect Ontario workers and their families.
The undersigned, more than 500 medical students: