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The decision by Premier Doug Ford’s government to extend its COVID-19 sick days program has pushed the issue of paid leave back into the spotlight for many employers and their employees.

 

The province announced Dec. 7 that it’s COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit, which require employers to provide up to three paid days off related to the pandemic and was to expire at the end of December, will continue until July 31.

 

But what happens after that date remains unclear, especially as the pandemic continues to drag on.

 

“In terms of what we do going forward, this is a question that deserves debate and discussion because on the one hand, there is a sound rationale to having a program like this in place, but the government can’t be footing the bill for everyone endlessly,” says Daniel Safayeni, Vice-President of Policy for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “And on the other side, small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis and the cost of doing business has gone up.”

 

He says it is worth noting the government budgeted $1 billion for the provincial program and that less than one-tenth – approximately 10% - has been used since it was launched last April. Under the program, employees receive a maximum of $200 per day, with the province reimbursing the employer. To date, employers have submitted more than $80 million in wages for sick pay claims for more than 235,000 workers.

 

“What we’ve seen in the numbers, on average by those who’ve used it, is no more than two sick days,” says Daniel.

 

The idea of transitioning this support to a more permanent sick day program of 10 days is something the Ontario Federation of Labour has been lobbying the provincial government to implement. In fact, a poll conducted by Envrionics Research in the last two weeks of November of 2021 indicated that 80% of the 1,210 respondents supported the Federation’s call for 10 permanent employer-paid sick days. 

 

“It is far past time for Ford’s Conservative government to finally do the right thing and introduce permanent, adequate, employer-paid sick leave and Ontarians overwhelmingly agree,” said Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President, in a Dec. 9 post on the group’s website. “The Worker Income Protection Benefit is temporary and inadequate. While Ontarians face the rise of a new COVID-19 variant and flu season, we urgently need this common-sense health measure to keep ourselves and our communities safe.”

 

But rising inflation and budgetary constraints faced by many businesses at this time would make implementing such a permanent program difficult, which is why Daniel says careful discussion is imperative.

 

“Ideally, there is a balance that can be struck in some future version of this program (Worker Income Protection Benefit) in which the government can still support these three sick days, particularly for smaller businesses that are in-person and don’t have the remote capabilities or don’t necessarily have the resources to fund an additional benefit like this,” he says, adding many larger businesses may already have sick day policies in place. “Perhaps there is some evolution that can occur for those that don’t, and that expense is eventually transitioned over to the employer. But this stuff needs to be done in consultation with the business community and the timelines need to match the economic backdrop.”

 

Daniel says implementing a more permanent paid sick leave program should not be part of any election promises.

 

“Right now, it’s getting mixed up within the context of an election,” he says. “It also has to be thought of within a broader package of benefits and compensation that employers are providing.”

 

And while the pandemic continues, especially for workplaces like smaller manufacturers, Daniel says the need to extend this program is important.

 

“The other backdrop to this is there is a war on talent and labour shortages and you’re seeing businesses trying to compete in the benefits they offer and to try and be an attractive place to work,” he says, adding providing a safe workplace for employees should remain the top priority right now, especially in the ‘essential’ sectors of retail, administration, and manufacturing. “It’s in no one’s best interest for a business to be in a situation in which they are risking the health and safety of their employees and by extension, the continuity of their business operation.”

 

Daniel says now is the time to investigate where this paid sick day benefit program can lead.

 

“It was wise of the government to extend this program, but let’s use the time we have between now and July to determine what the next step for this will look like,” he says. “As a Chamber network, we need to continue to do more work to understand where our members are at this time and what avenues for us going forward could be used to have a productive solution in place.”

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From Europe to the U.S.A., our largest trading partners are burning up with anti-trade fever. Is it a short-term flu of harmless populism or the most destructive strains of anti-globalization since the 1930’s?

 

Last week the Trump Administration leaked a draft executive order to withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA. “I was all set to terminate,” Trump told the Washington Post “I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.” What changed his mind?

 

He backed down after an uproar from U.S. business groups, ferocious blowback from Congress (Senator John McCain said it would be a “disaster”), and calls from the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Apparently the decisive factor was a map of the United States showing the areas that would be hardest hit from cancelling NAFTA and highlighting that many of those counties, particularly in agriculture and manufacturing had voted Trump last November. The blustery threat and same-day retraction inflamed public opinion in Canada and Mexico, so that it will be even harder for those governments to make concessions to the U.S. What could be nuttier?

 

Frexit. If France elects a President dedicated to exiting the European Union and abandoning the Euro, it would be much worse than Brexit, perhaps leading to a break-up of the EU. Should we be worried?

 

We will find out on May 7th when the people of France vote in the second round of the Presidential election. The parallels with the U.S. are striking – Marine Le Pen presents herself as a champion of the oppressed working class, les oubliés (“the forgotten”) and she promises to stop immigration, withdraw from the EU, and impose tariffs to protect French business. Her opponent, Mr. Macron is in the centrist Hillary position with somewhat vague promises that are proEU and include investments in training, along with more flexibility and lower taxes for French business. Mr. Macron has a massive lead in the polls, but analysts point to severe trauma in the French political system. From the Euro crisis and bank bailouts, to an influx of migrants, economic stagnation, and terrorist attacks, the French have never been more disenchanted with their elites. In fact, both of the major parties (the equivalents of the Liberals and Conservatives) were eliminated in the first round.

 

There’s been much talk about a world-wide trend of government elites losing to anti-trade populists, but don’t count on a big win for Madame Trump. Extremist candidates were defeated in the Netherlands and Austria, because of concern about the economic consequences and also because messages of openness do resonate. Polls show that significant numbers of Trump voters and Brexiteers are experiencing regret.

 

Personally, I think Ms. Le Pen has pushed her luck too far with a promise to exit the Euro. This means that all financial assets, debts and pensions would have to be converted from Euros to some new currency to be introduced by Ms. Le Pen. Hear that, French seniors? Your life savings could be devalued and switched into new Francs from the Front National. Good luck.

 

That’s the point of Brexit, Frexit, threats to withdraw from the EU/NAFTA and trade wars generally. It’s lots of fun to bluster and bash trade, but there are real consequences and real job losses. Sometimes we only see the benefits of free trade when someone threatens to take it away. So let’s hope the French come to the same conclusion as so many Dutch, Austrians, remorseful Brits and American businesses to embrace openness. Because despite all the uncertainty, faster growth in global trade is just around the corner.

 

For more information, please contact:

Hendrik Brakel,

Senior Director, Economic, Financial & Tax Policy

613.238.4000 (284)

[email protected]

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