Monday is British Columbians’ last chance to weigh in on proposals for a paid sick leave for workers in the province.
B.C. has passed legislation that will implement employer-paid sick leave starting Jan. 1, 2022 — but just how many days will be covered has yet to be determined.
The province is now seeking public feedback on whether the requirement should cover three, five or 10 days of leave.
With just a day left for people to comment, the BC Federation of Labour is strongly promoting the 10-day option, arguing that other OECD countries like Australia, New Zealand and Sweden meet that bar or greater.
President Laird Cronk said the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw multiple business closures related to employees heading to work sick in workplaces ranging from meat processing to manufacturing to restaurants, showed the need for robust coverage.
New poll suggest B.C. small businesses can’t afford paid sick leave
“What we know for sure is that people went to work sick in the pandemic … we’ve seen it in multiple locations, because they didn’t have the means to stay home, they were so worried about paying the bills, paying the rent, and they didn’t have paid sick leave, so they made the untenable decision to go to work,” he said.
“What we know is other folks got sick, other folks took that back to their families, their communities, and in the COVID era that can have tragic results.”
While the maximal proposal is attractive to labour, business groups have expressed concern about the affordability of such a program to employers.
A survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found 64 per cent of members did not support the proposal, with more than eight in 10 citing costs.
It said nearly half of businesses have yet to return to pre-COVID revenues, but noted that more than six in 10 members backed the sick leave idea if it was fully funded by government.
B.C.’s sick day program and the financial cost to small business
“They have record numbers of debt, we’re talking of upward of $129,000, and recovery’s not quite there — there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Seth Scott, CFIB senior policy analyst for B.C. and northern Canada.
“Businesses are very concerned about this. they can not afford another cost right now … clearly businesses are not feeling so great about the economic outlook in both the short and the long term.”
The CFIB argues that if the government intends to implement the sick day policy, it should also be responsible for funding it.
Cronk said he understood businesses’ concerns, but argued that offering workers paid sick leave would actually be of net economic benefit from an employer’s perspective.
“What we need to do is make sure workers don’t go to work sick,” he said.
“The cost to businesses of having workers come to work sick in the COVID era is really difficult, it can shut down your business for up to 10 days, that can be the end of your business.”
The province plans to formalize the new paid sick leave model by the end of November, and have it in place by the new year.
The public has until Monday to participate in a survey on the proposed options here.
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