British Columbia

Petition demanding paid sick leave in B.C. launched by employment advocacy groups

The B.C. Employment Standards Coalition and the Retail Action Network are calling on the provincial government to legislate paid sick leave under the Employment Standards Act.

Call for up to 7 paid days a year, 21 during pandemic; premier has said he wants Ottawa to take the lead

Employee advocacy groups want all B.C. workers to be guaranteed 21 days of paid sick leave during the COVID-19 pandemic and to have a permanent system in place whereby workers accrue sick days after the pandemic passes. (German Gonzalez Stock/Shutterstock)

A new petition circulating this week is calling on the provincial government to pony up and guarantee British Columbians who are ill can take a day off work without taking a financial hit.

The petition, created by the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition and the Retail Action Network, demands the province amend the B.C. Employment Standards Act to immediately provide up to 21 days of paid sick leave during the pandemic.

It also asks for accrued sick leave to be put in place for all workers after the health crisis subsides.

"You should know whether or not you are going to receive pay and today you don't know that," said David Fairey, co-chair of the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition, in an interview on CBC's The Early Edition Thursday.

Fairey said 145 countries already have paid sick leave, as does California, Oregon and Washington state.

He would like to see a permanent plan in place, similar to the West Coast states, whereby workers accrue a number of paid sick leave hours over the course of their employment. 

There is currently no guaranteed paid sick leave for workers in B.C. unless they are covered by a collective agreement that includes such a provision, or unless their employer voluntarily offers it. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The petition specifically calls for a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 25 hours worked up to a maximum of 52 hours. This system would mean a full time, 35-hour-per-week employee would accrue seven paid sick days per year.

But the petition is demanding three times that amount of sick leave be put in place for the duration of the pandemic.

According to Fairey, the only British Columbians with guaranteed sick leave now are those with union jobs that have collective agreements, or whose employers have provided it voluntarily.

He said the B.C. economy in the past decade has shifted toward more precarious and temporary types of employment as opposed to permanent, steady jobs, and the current conditions are not up to snuff.

"Employing people in the future is going to change," said Fairey, adding the burden of cost will be on the employer but would not be "significant."

"If somebody took 10 days of paid sick leave a year it would cost only about three per cent of [their] payroll costs," he estimated.

Horgan in talks with Trudeau

Premier John Horgan said B.C. could develop its own paid sick leave program, but he insists the federal government should take the lead on such an effort.

Horgan said he expects to speak with other premiers and then with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland about the issue today. 

"I believe this is not just a local B.C. problem, it is a national problem," Horgan said May 12 on The Early Edition.

B.C. union leaders have called on Horgan to mandate paid sick leave in the province and the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union has signed the petition, but the premier's preference is for Ottawa to spearhead a national sick pay program.

However, Horgan has said he is prepared to "go it alone if need be." 

The petition, launched Wednesday, had over 250 signatures as of Thursday morning. It coincides with a Day of Action on May 21 promoted by the petition creators, in which workers are asked to post social media content promoting the immediate ask for 21 paid sick days.

With files from The Early Edition