Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Jerry Dias is the national president of Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada.

People are going to work sick. They always have. The difference is that now it’s deadly.

In Alberta, major outbreaks at a meat-packing plant have seen hundreds contract COVID-19, and too many deaths. People reported going to work even as they displayed symptoms, under pressure from their employers to come in.

Story continues below advertisement

In Peel Region, west of Toronto, which has had 218 workplace outbreaks, a study found that of 7,874 people with COVID-19, almost 2,000 went to work with symptoms, and 80 even went to work after a positive test result.

It’s easy to shake your head. It’s easy to say you’d stay home and do the right thing, but ask yourself what you would do if you risked losing a day’s pay because your nose was runny or the coffee that morning didn’t smell as strong.

Better yet, tell me how easy it would be to give up a week or two or three weeks’ pay or more. Whatever your income, that would hurt. Too many of us live paycheque to paycheque as it is.

For those without paid sick days, that’s the kind of decision they’re forced to make when they get sick, and the pain they are forced to contemplate. Only 42 per cent of all workers in Canada have access to paid sick days. For the lowest-paid, it’s only 10 per cent.

We can shut all the restaurants we want, force every retailer to switch to curbside pickup and fine people for hugging their neighbours, but until we get serious about paid sick days, there will be no way out of this pandemic.

The fact is, the workers we have come to rely on most during this pandemic are the most vulnerable to workplace outbreaks – low-paid and often temporary employees.

These are the people in grocery stores with no option to work from home. Warehouse employees pushed to the limit as we all shop online. Delivery workers, food manufacturers, long-term care staff all have low unionization rates, declining pay and few benefits. So making the simple and obvious choice to stay home when they are sick is not so simple.

Story continues below advertisement

Of course, staying home when you’re sick is about more than feeling better before you go back – it’s about not getting your co-workers sick.

It’s tempting to think that vaccines mean we’ll soon all be safe to return to work, but that’s just fooling ourselves. We won’t be anywhere near full vaccination until the fall – still months away – and in the meantime, thousands more will get sick without proper workplace safety. I don’t want to think about how many will die.

With new super-spreading variants taking hold across Canada, the stakes are now even higher, and the need for paid sick days even stronger.

Paid sick days are a basic part of workplace safety. Unifor is calling for three weeks’ worth of paid sick days until the pandemic is over and one week after that.

This would obviously be good for workers, but also for business, which is why more business groups are coming around to the idea.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, for instance, has said that paid sick days not only protect workers, but also “safeguard the entire business.”

Story continues below advertisement

Public-health officials across Canada have long called for paid sick days, as has Toronto Mayor John Tory, a former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario.

This isn’t a left-versus-right, labour-versus-business issue any more. It’s just good policy.

At the same time, no business wants to go first and offer paid sick days when their competitors are holding out. Only legislated paid sick days. paid for by the employer, can keep the playing field level while ensuring workers don’t spread this virus, or any other one, on the job.

We have gone far beyond politely admonishing co-workers who come in with the sniffles or a cough. How many times have you said, or been told, “You sound awful, you should go home,” only to laugh and keep working?

In a pandemic or post-pandemic world, that’s just not good enough. Not any more.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies