Workers in B.C. will be eligible for “fair and balanced” sick leave pay that provides a minimum of five days a year starting Jan. 1, 2022, according to Labour Minister Harry Bains.
The new sick leave policy affects all workers covered by the province’s Employment Standards Act, including part-time workers, he added.
“I firmly believe that no worker should have to choose to go to work sick or stay home and lose wages. But about half of the B.C. workforce does not have paid sick leave. The workers without coverage are usually the most vulnerable in our society, those in low-paying jobs, often women and racialized people.”
According to the government, more than one million workers in B.C. don’t have paid sick leave. Bains said a government consultation period gathering feedback on sick leave options of three, five or 10 days generated 60,000 responses.
“We promised to listen to everyone’s perspective and develop a fair and balanced regulation,” he said. “Not surprising, some have called for three days or less, while others have asked for 10 days or more. Five days is a sustainable solution based on the challenges faced by many sectors.”
Bains said employer and employee data gathered during the survey from within and outside of Canada found the average amount of sick time workers used during a year amounted to 4.8 days. But Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, says the B.C. government’s data indicates that, while workers may take an average of 4.8 sick days annually, countries like Australia, Germany, New Zealand and Sweden have 10 days or more.
“That’s really what it takes to make sure, throughout the entire year, workers have the economic ability to stay home when they are sick,” says Cronk.
In a statement, Unifor president Jerry Dias said the B.C. government’s five-day policy is a “failure in leadership,” citing the federal government’s pledge to deliver 10 paid sick days for workers regulated by Ottawa.
The B.C. government’s announcement comes as Ontario’s Conservative government blocked a bill on Thursday tabled by the Ontario NDP that would have given workers in the province 10 permanent paid sick days, as well as an additional 14 days during public health outbreaks.
In April, the provincial government, under pressure from health experts and advocates, provided Ontario workers with three paid sick days. The program is administered through the Workplace Insurance and Safety Board and reimburses employers for up to $200 a day for what they pay out to employees who must take emergency leave because of reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021.
In May, the B.C. government also gave all workers up to three days of paid sick leave because of the coronavirus until Dec. 31. Bains said the pandemic showed that when workers don’t have paid sick leave, many end up going to work, which hurts co-workers and employers. During a two-month period when pandemic cases surged, workplace outbreaks of the coronavirus led to the shutdowns of almost 200 businesses in the region covered by Fraser Health, he added.
Surrey Board of Trade President Anita Huberman said her organization supports the five-day program because it protects employees and their employers. “Your workforce is your most important asset. That’s what the Surrey Board of Trade believes. Too many Canadians are going to work sick. Why? Because they have no other choice.”
The concern with permanent paid sick leave is that it will create additional financial challenges for small businesses at a time when they’re trying to recover from the pandemic, said Fiona Famulak, president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. “Unlike the temporary paid sick days program, the cost for permanent paid sick leave will be born solely by employers. We have called, and continue to call, on the B.C. government to find ways to reduce costs for B.C. businesses.”
The opposition B.C. Liberals said the New Democrats are downloading the costs of sick leave onto employers, while B.C.’s Green Party said the government should match countries with leave provisions of 10 days or more.