Growing In Popularity: The Paid Sick Day (And Other Wacky Ideas)

Just a few months ago, a lot of progressive policy initiatives were seen as radical. As we live in a world with COVID-19, however, it seems more and more people seem to be realizing the validity of past policies that were seen as perhaps wacky ideas, at least that’s what I’m seeing here in Canada. The reality is, many of these proposals would directly benefit Canadians living with asthma and other chronic medical conditions and disabilities.

Income support for those who lost their jobs

Right now in Canada, many Canadians are receiving government income support through either Employment Insurance programs or the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit to replace their income if they have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. In some cases, the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy allows employers who have had to shut down to keep employees on the payroll.

These programs are the closest things we’ve seen to a widespread basic income project, and it is my belief that the effects of COVID-19 on the economy truly underscore just why a universal basic income that we could have budgeted for is so important. It will be interesting to see the research that comes out of this to inform future policy.

COVID-19 and paid sick days

In Canada, the most recent proposal as I write this on May 27, 2020, is ensuring workers have a minimum of ten paid sick days a year. This is, of course, at present to avoid spreading a potentially serious or life-threatening, contagious virus transmitted through respiratory droplets.

Ensuring everyone has paid sick days just makes sense to me — even if they are part-time workers, seasonal employees, or perhaps even independent contractors! It should’ve made sense all along. As a person with chronic disease, but who is normally pretty healthy, I’ve had one job with paid sick days — which we were paid out for if we didn’t use.

I’m not suggesting the federal policy go that far, because it defeats the purpose a bit, but what we need is a balance between workers using sick days when they need to, and not just when they want to.

The job where I got paid out for sick time actually also gave us 2 paid mental health days a year, and our birthday off with pay. Part of this also, to me, means keeping up flexible work arrangements: yes, I may be slightly sick and maybe contagious and thus unable to go into an office, but be perfectly able to work from home with the right setup. For example, I might just have an asthma cough, but I get why people are scared of that now, too. Most workers with jobs where it’s possible now know how that setup works from home, too.

Thankful for having a job under these circumstances

As a person with severe asthma, I’m grateful that during the first wave of COVID-19 I had a job where I’ve already spent the last 11 months working from home anyways. Without a proper paid sick leave policy, however, many in shared workspaces are left extremely vulnerable to illness as colleagues “tough it out”. The tolerance of this practice is coming to a screeching halt due to COVID, and for that, I am thankful as a person with asthma who gets sicker than most with even so-called minor illnesses.

More paid sick days across the board, and the potential for some degree of universal basic income are now policies that are making more and more sense to many, perhaps even those across the political spectrum, as they’ve been impacted by COVID-19.

Pharmacare

Additionally, with job loss comes an unfortunate and greater understanding of why national universal Pharmacare is so important. I don’t advocate for national Pharmacare just because my medications are expensive; I do it because I feel people — in this case, patients — need to come before profit.

In April, many Canadians faced job or income loss at the same time as their annual Pharmacare deductibles came due. Others may have lost their employer-provided insurance plan and had to decide what to do next — in a situation they could hardly have anticipated and budgeted for.

Moving towards a more just world?

All of these realizations we are having as a collective, I think stable income, paid sick days, and the importance of affordability of medicines may help to move us toward a more just world; one where people certainly still have to work to thrive, perhaps, but their very survival is not threatened by the unexpected.

Maybe I’m just a disillusioned young progressive. Or maybe coexisting more fairly together is possible— and an ideal growing number of us will come to share as we reconstruct our post-COVID world.

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