VICTORIA — Workers in British Columbia will be eligible for “fair and balanced” sick leave pay that provides a minimum of five days a year starting Jan. 1, Labour Minister Harry Bains said Wednesday.
The new sick leave policy affects all workers covered by the province’s Employment Standards Act, including part-time workers, he said.
“I firmly believe that no worker should have to choose to go to work sick or stay home and lose wages,” said Bains. “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.”
The government says 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,” said Bains. “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.”
He 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, said the B.C. government’s data indicates that while workers may take an average of 4.8 sick days annually, countries like New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Germany 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,” Cronk said in an interview.
Unifor president Jerry Dias said in a statement 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.
In May, the province gave all workers up to three days of paid sick leave because of COVID-19 until Dec. 31.
Bains said the pandemic showed that when workers do not have paid sick leave, many end up going to work, which hurts co-workers and employers.
He said during a two-month period when pandemic cases surged, workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 led to the shutdowns of almost 200 businesses in the region covered by Fraser Health.
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,” she said. “That’s what the Surrey Board of Trade believes. Too many Canadians are going to work sick. Why, because they have no other choice.”
Fiona Famulak, president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said the concern with permanent paid sick leave is that it will create additional financial challenges for small businesses at a time when they are trying to recover from the pandemic.
“Unlike the temporary paid sick days program, the cost for permanent paid sick leave will be born solely by employers,” she said in a statement. “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 the Green party said the government should match countries with leave provisions of 10 days or more.