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Workplace vaccination plan wins praise for Ford — but no action on sick pay

Workplace vaccination plan wins praise for Ford — but no action on sick pay
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Mobile vaccination clinics will help protect essential workers from COVID-19, but critics say another crucial step is missing from Ontario’s latest emergency order: Sick pay.

As Ontario Premier Doug Ford in an attempt to slow the spread of the deadly pandemic, he said the biggest focus in fighting the third wave will be on vaccinating people in vulnerable neighbourhoods, including in essential workplaces which have been the site of the majority of the province’s COVID outbreaks.

“We need to get the vaccines to where they will have the greatest impact as quickly as possible ... We need to move quickly and decisively,” said Ford.

As reported in the Star last week, Toronto Public Health data shows a full 68 per cent of all workplace COVID-19 outbreaks in the city so far have taken place in offices, warehouses, construction sites and food-processing plants.

The province breaks its sector-specific data down by case, not by outbreak, but the effect is the same. Within the same time frame, Ontario reported 3,266 cases linked to food processing and “other” workplaces, which includes offices, warehouses, distribution centres and construction sites. By comparison, it reported 824 cases linked to bars, restaurants and nightclubs, and 1,339 cases linked to retail.

Since TPH began publishing workplace outbreaks, four of the city’s largest have been at food manufacturers or distributors: Belmont Meats (94 cases), Johnvince Foods (83 cases), Dimpflmeier Bakery (53 cases) and Maple Leaf Foods (25 cases).

Dennis Darby, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, applauded the move to vaccinate people in their workplace.

“No matter what precautions are being taken in a workplace, employees come from the community and go back into the community. This is an excellent, helpful step to protect workers, and is something we’ve been asking for, for a while,” said Darby.

Bringing the vaccines to where people are will undoubtedly save lives, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist with the University Health Network.

“This will absolutely make vaccines more accessible. It helps individuals, it helps the community, and it helps stop the pandemic,” said Bogoch. “This will take some time, but it will save lives.”

Still, something else which would also help is paid sick days, said Bogoch, echoing a message many of his peers have been sending throughout the pandemic.

“There are a lot of things that would make a difference. And making sure that people who are sick don’t go into work is one of them. And one of the ways you do that is by making sure they have supports,” said Bogoch. “A lot of people can’t afford to take a day off work.”

During his press conference announcing the stay-at-home order, a furious Ford blasted critics who have been calling for paid sick days, saying they were “playing politics” and “doing a disservice” to workers seeking help.

Ford pointed to the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit as a way workers could get financial help while ill.

But Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers Action Centre, said the CRSB is too slow to be of use to most workers, the qualifying criteria are too strict, and it pays too little money compared to workers’ usual wages.
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