British Columbia

Advocates continue to call for universal paid sick leave policy in B.C.

As B.C. undergoes a third wave of the pandemic, workers in the province are urging the government for a universal paid sick leave policy.

The province did not include paid sick leave in Tuesday's budget

Advocates with the Worker Solidarity Network held a demonstration in front of the B.C. legislature building in Victoria Tuesday afternoon, holding a giant invoice representing the income B.C. workers sacrificed for unpaid sick days. (Worker Solidarity Network/Facebook)

Advocates are renewing their call for the provincial government to include a paid sick leave policy after Tuesday's budget announcement stopped short of doing so. 

While the budget earmarked $800 million for ongoing and new programs to help struggling businesses, there was no mention of a paid sick leave policy.

Stephanie Smith, president of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union, said these policies need to be in place for the province to get out of the pandemic. 

"Frankly, what's missing [here] are critical supports for the front-line workers that have gotten our province this far — like paid sick leave and mental health supports," said Smith.

Pamela Charron, with the Worker Solidarity Network, was part of a group of advocates who went to the B.C. legislature Tuesday to demand changes to the policy. 

"We were really hoping to see some positive news for workers regarding legislated paid sick days today [and] we didn't," Charron said, adding that low-wage workers had been carrying this burden for too long. 

"Low-wage occupations commonly include heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of the public nature of the position. They're concerned that they can't pay their bills at the end of the month and there's currently no support that could help them with that."

The B.C. government has proposed an amendment that, if passed, would give workers paid leave to get each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Charron said the easiest way to implement the change would be for the provincial government to change the Employment Standards Act. 

"I think that is easiest way for this to be seamless and accessible to all workers," she said. 

The province has already proposed an amendment to the Employment Standards Act that, if passed, would provide workers with up to three hours of paid leave to get each dose of their COVID-19 vaccine.

Speaking on CBC's The Early Edition, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa has done all it can regarding sick leave.

"The challenge for the federal government is there are only certain things we can do when it comes to sick leave. We've done a lot," Freeland said. 

"I personally am supportive of provinces and territories doing as much as they can using their labour codes on paid sick days."

Listen to the segment on CBC's On the Coast:

Gloria speaks to an advocacy group about why they decided to host a demonstration for paid sick leave on the doorstep of the B.C. legislature building. 6:37

With files from On The Coast, The Early Edition, The Canadian Press

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