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Workers call for 10-days paid sick leave as provincial consultation phase wraps up

Organizers with the BC Federation of Labour showed up to the Metrotown SkyTrain station earlier this week to collect signatures on an open letter calling for the province to mandate that employers provide 10 paid days of sick leave for all workers.

The Ministry of Labour is currently examining three options for permanent paid sick leave, one of which will go into effect starting Jan 1. The province will decide to either mandate three, five, or 10 days of leave for all workers—and the BC Federation of Labour is urging the government to choose the last option.

Metrotown cleaning staff were among those who were collecting signatures outside the SkyTrain station Monday afternoon.

Metrotown janitorial staff get no paid sick leave 

Burnaby resident Agnes Estimo, who’s worked as a janitor at the mall since 2008, said 10 days in a calendar year is the most reasonable option—given that workers would be unlikely to use all their allotted time in one go.

Right now, Estimo doesn’t get any paid sick leave at all. That leads her and her coworkers to have to make decisions about coming to work even when they’re ill.

“We need to earn money for our rent, for our incidental expenses, and daily needs. So sometimes it worries us to go to work before we’re fully recovered from illness—we might be transmitting illnesses, especially contagious ones like influenza,” she said.

“We might also be not feeling well … thinking can I perform my duties or responsibilities? You feel really very ill. No concentration, no focus on the work you’re going to execute in the workplace.”

Estimo was one of the leaders in the organizing committee when Metrotown’s janitor staff unionized with SEIU Local 2 earlier this year. When the union formed, it said it would be fighting to raise janitorial compensation above minimum wage and to secure paid sick leave.

“During this pandemic especially, we should have 10 paid sick days. To go to work while having the illness, you might be transmitting the virus 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,” she told the Beacon.

“And then coming back home, I don’t know if I’m infected and then transmitting to my family. That’s the risk of going to work during this pandemic without paid sick days.”

Government survey results

That’s an idea that’s not at dispute in the offices of the Ministry of Labour.

​​“One of the most critical lessons from the pandemic has been the importance of people staying home when they are sick,” Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a press release last month.

“No one should have to choose between going to work sick or losing wages. Paid sick leave is good for businesses, good for workers, and good for our communities. We’re asking for input on the next step toward making paid sick leave a permanent reality for British Columbia.”

The ministry says about 50% of workers in BC don’t have access to any paid sick leave whatsoever, many of them in low-income positions, and notes that women and racialized workers are often disproportionately overrepresented in that group.

A government survey that ran between Aug 5 and Sept 14 found that “many employees without access to paid sick leave reported regularly going to work sick or returning to work before fully recovering”—prompting both employers and employees to feel concern about the transmission of illness in the workplace.

But not all employers are convinced that the province should mandate paid sick leave this January.

Burnaby Board of Trade calls for offset of costs

The Burnaby Board of Trade (BBOT) wrote to Bains earlier this week saying that it “cannot endorse this proposal at this time,” based on the economic challenges of the pandemic; the broad, permanent nature of the sick leave policy; and the “potential undermining of the employer-employee relationship.”

If the government does decide to move ahead with a paid sick leave policy in January, the BBOT recommended that the policy be limited to up to three days to minimize negative impacts on employers and said the inclusion of part-time and casual employees should be limited.

It’s also suggesting that the government offset the costs of a potential paid sick leave policy on employers by lowering other taxes or offering partial sick leave pay only.

“The cost to the business community of full implementation of the proposed paid sick leave policy has been estimated at between $670 million and $1.2 billion dollars,” the BBOT wrote to Bains.

“That is simply too great of an expense to not be offset in other areas.”