As Nursing Week draws to a close (May 10 - 16), members of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) are renewing their call for action to the Ontario government: Increase the number of paid sick days for workers who do not have access to this employee benefit and boost the province’s minimum wage.
RNAO says the pandemic has widened the divide between people who are able to work from home and those who have no choice. Many workers take risks on a daily basis travelling to their jobs. Many work without sick time benefits – including part-time, casual and agency nurses. In this rich province and country, there remain vulnerable workers who earn minimum wage and work in precarious employment. They face deplorable conditions. They are part of communities that have suffered the brunt of the pandemic, with a larger proportion of essential workers who experience food insecurity, who live in crowded, multi-generational housing with limited ability to properly isolate, and less access to health services and to vaccines.
“Providing only three paid sick days is utterly inadequate,” says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth, adding that “We want Premier Ford to deliver on the recommendation he received from his own science table: ‘10 paid sick days on permanent basis.’ This will ensure Ontarians have the protection and peace of mind they deserve so they can stay home when they are sick and not fear they will lose their jobs.”
RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun says the government must also take steps to increase the minimum wage, currently $14.25, which is, in effect, a poverty wage. Two years ago (on Jan. 1, 2019), the provincial minimum wage was set to increase to $15 per hour as promised by former Premier Kathleen Wynne, and then to be tied to inflation. However, Premier Ford cancelled the planned increase soon after his party was elected in June 2018 and froze it for two years, pushing families further into poverty. At the same time, his government cancelled the two sick days for persons in precarious employment, and eliminated the pay-equity that forced employers to pay part-time and casual staff at the same rate as full-time workers. “Reinstating the wage increase and taking steps for additional increases will bring Ontario closer towards a living wage and that’s essential because so many people are struggling,” adds Grinspun. The Ontario Living Wage Network estimated with 2019 data that a living wage in Ontario varied by region between over $16 to more than $22 per hour. Since 2019, the cost of living has increased considerably across the province, a situation worsened by the pandemic.
“The primary goal of nurses is to keep people healthy. To help us do that, our province has to invest in healthy public policies. Our recommendations are just two examples of what the premier can do to advance the health and wellbeing of Ontarians, treat them more equitably and help build a society that leaves no one behind,” says Hoffarth, adding the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that health and the economy go hand in hand.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.