Workers organizing with the BC Federation of Labour gathered outside Metrotown Skytrain Station last month to collect signatures in support of 10 paid days of sick leave for BC workers. BC Federation of Labour / Twitter

Labour groups say BC’s 5-day sick leave program is inadequate—but business groups say it’s too much

Workers in BC will be eligible for 5 paid sick days in a calendar year starting Jan 1, the provincial government announced Wednesday.

By Srushti Gangdev | November 25, 2021 |5:00 am

Workers in BC will be eligible for 5 days of paid sick leave in a calendar year starting Jan 1, the provincial government announced Wednesday.

Labour Minister Harry Bains unveiled details of BC’s permanent paid sick leave program at a press conference alongside provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry.

The issue of staff coming to work sick has come to the forefront during the COVID pandemic, elevating workplace exposures and causing many outbreaks in the long term care sector.

“Many of the people who lack paid sick leave are the same workers we depended on most during the pandemic,” Bains said in a release.

“Lower-wage workers who help us get our groceries, prepare our food at restaurants and make sure we have the services we need deserve a basic protection like paid sick leave.”

BC had planned to implement either three, five, or ten days of paid sick leave after several months of public consultation.

But while the five-day option represents the middle ground, community groups on either side of the spectrum were unhappy with the decision.

Labour organizations say five days aren’t enough

BC Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk told the Beacon that five days was inadequate based on the data from other jurisdictions like New Zealand and Germany.

“Workers, when they don’t have the economic means to stay home, often say to themselves with this untenable decision, I’m behind my credit cards already, I can’t afford not to pay the rent or pay for groceries, maybe I’ll just consider this to be a sore throat based on allergies,” Cronk said.

“That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to avoid.”

That’s a decision that faces Metrotown janitor and member of the organizing committee for SEIU Local 2, Agnes Estimo, when she’s ill.

“We need to earn money for our rent, for our incidental expenses, and daily needs,” she told the Beacon last month.

“You might be transmitting [illnesses] to coworkers, or to the public you’re coming into contact with—especially for me, because I commute by bus and train—and then to the public in the mall … And then coming back home, I don’t know if I’m infected and then transmitting to my family.”

Cronk said the issue of paid sick leave still affects low-wage workers more than others—who face a “perfect storm” of financial concerns, along with working in public-facing service positions in busy workplaces.

“And predominantly, disproportionately they are women and workers of color. So I think there are equity provisions here as well that we need to respect,” he said.

The BC Federation of Labour is also concerned that the paid sick leave will not apply to contract workers, or employees who have been at their workplace for less than 90 days.

Nevertheless, Cronk acknowledged the program as an improvement over the current situation—where 50% of all workers in BC have no access to paid sick leave at all.

Business groups unhappy

The Burnaby Board of Trade (BBOT), meanwhile, said the province had gone in the wrong direction and was providing “too much” paid sick leave.

The BBOT had been advocating for the government to pick the lesser of the three proposed options, in order to mitigate impacts on businesses. It also wanted the province to exclude part-time and casual workers and offset other costs.

“The biggest question in our minds is ‘Why now?’,” said BBOT president & CEO Paul Holden in a release.

“We already have 3 days of paid leave provided as part of the COVID-19 response, so it is unclear why there needed to be a rush to implement a permanent requirement like this, especially given the challenges businesses have faced over the pandemic.”

The BBOT said that with businesses already experiencing turbulence from the pandemic, it’s not the right time to add more costs for them.

“While we are happy the government stopped short of mandating 10 days, the length of this leave, extending it fully to part-time and casual workers, and offering no help with mitigating the inevitable costs on businesses left us disappointed,” Holden said.

Cronk said he recognized the concerns of business owners but said they were based on fears of the unknown.

“It’s something that they haven’t seen before. And that is exactly why we went to experts, and economists, but we also went to other jurisdictions and said, ‘how did it work in your area?’,” he said.

“And what we’ve seen is [that] ten makes sense. It helps keep workplaces safe, but it also has a negligible impact on business.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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