As panic grows over the coronavirus in Ontario, who will protect low-wage and precarious workers? The provincial and federal governments must come to workers’ defence against all illnesses this flu season, and against the racism and devastating loss of income that result from such health issues. Right now, there is an urgent need for 7 paid sick days, an emergency relief fund for workers affected, and an end to racist xenophobia targeting the Chinese community.
With Ontario’s third confirmed case of coronavirus, we are already seeing heartbreaking examples of xenophobia against Chinese workers. We can’t let anyone use the coronavirus as an excuse to fan the flames of racism. Government officials need to take the lead on combating misinformation and protecting Chinese workers in the service, health, grocery and hospitality sectors who bear the brunt of this prejudice. This also means creating an emergency, non-repayable relief fund for workers who lose hours at work because of the coronavirus, or who are likely to face barriers to accessing Employment Insurance
Public health experts are saying that anyone who feels sick should stay at home, but for most workers in low-wage jobs, this is simply not possible. A year ago, the Ford government made Ontario workers much more vulnerable to viral outbreaks by taking away our meagre 2 paid sick days and reducing access to unpaid emergency days. Over 6 million Ontarians who rely on basic employment standards now only have 3 protected unpaid days for when they get sick. No one can stay home for over 15 days of “quarantine” without severe consequences to their finances and employment status. Staying home means you could get demoted or fired. The boss demanding a sick note means being forced to obtain and pay for a doctor’s note while you lose a day’s pay.
We urgently need 7 paid sick days to be implemented now—there is no time to lose. We are calling on the Ford government to respect the health of workers and immediately bring back these essential protections for workers, without causing more harm.