Shaver: Second COVID-19 wave drives home need for better sick leave benefits for health workers

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The Throne Speech announced a new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit that pays $500 per week up to two weeks, even to the self-employed, if forced to self-isolate. However, this is an inadequate amount and hardly meet the needs of MDs and even many nurses in provinces such as Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba, which currently provide no other benefits.

Most British Columbia physicians under age 70 were already covered by a government-funded disability plan; this paid from day one of a quarantine period. Last spring, a special Quarantine Replacement Benefit was set up to protect those doctors not in the government plan.

Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and the Yukon all cover their MDs for lost income from day one of self-isolation or illness. Only Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have left their physicians totally unprotected.

The Decent Work and Health Report released in August by an organization of Ontario health workers and trainees said universal paid sick days were a “necessary, evidence-bases protection” to mitigate the second wave of COVID-19. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) advocated the same position in a policy statement released in March. It also supported “extending paid leave coverage to non-standard workers, including the self-employed.” This would include physicians. After the Throne Speech on Sept. 23, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stated that his support for the Liberal government’s Bill C-2 depended on increasing the CERB and putting in “sick leave for all Canadians.” If this is to be effective and deter MDs and certain well-paid health professionals from working, the benefit must be sufficient to cover most of their lost income.

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