British Columbia

5 days paid sick leave coming for British Columbians Jan. 1

The B.C. government announced Wednesday that all workers covered by the province's Employment Standards Act will be have access to permanent paid sick leave.

Unions say policy doesn't go far enough, while business groups say policy will hurt bottom line

The provincial government has said about half of B.C. employees do not have access to paid sick leave. (fizkes/Shutterstock)

British Columbians will be eligible for five paid sick days a year as of January.

Labour Minister Harry Bains made the announcement Wednesday, saying the new, permanent policy will come into effect Jan. 1, 2022 and will apply to all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act, including part-time workers.

The province said the decision was made after consulting with more than 60,000 employers and employees across B.C. who were asked if three, five or 10 days was preferred.

Bains said feedback from workplaces was that 87 per cent of workers who were too sick to be on the job used five days or less.

"We believe five days is the right approach in British Columbia," said the minister.

The government has said about half of B.C. employees do not have access to paid sick leave, mostly those in low-wage jobs, who are more often women or racialized workers.

Sheila Lewis, provincial women's manager for Métis Nation British Columbia, praised the new policy.

"Sick leave will help women — especially Indigenous women — reattach to the labour market, providing them more stability and security, while benefiting employers through improved productivity, loyalty and recruitment," said Lewis in a statement.

'Failure in Leadership'

The president of Unifor, the union representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy, said the new legislation is a failure in leadership.

"According to the Horgan government, 10 paid sick days is good enough for the federal sector but not good enough for the majority of B.C.'s most vulnerable workers," Unifor National President Jerry Dias wrote in a statement Wednesday.

The new legislation does not cover federally regulated sectors, self-employed workers and employees in professions and occupations explicitly excluded from the Employment Standards Act. 

This includes employees of banks, telecoms, and airlines, as well as those in certain licensed professions like doctors, engineers, and dentists.

For all other sectors, employers must pay wages for five days of sick leave. Employers who refuse, said Bains, will be held accountable under the act in the same way they would for refusing to pay any other wages.

"This is not optional, This is the law," said Bains.

Laird Cronk, the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said five days was "definitely" an improvement for some of the province's workers.

However, he also said the government should have instituted 10 paid sick days as a minimum. According to Cronk, racialized workers in public-facing roles would find five paid sick days over an entire calendar year unsustainable, leading to them making "untenable" decisions and coming into work sick.

Meanwhile, business groups cried foul over the legislation, saying it would negatively impact the bottom line of small businesses.

"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," said Paul Holden, CEO of the Burnaby Board of Trade.

Bridgitte Anderson, president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, said the policy would cost businesses in Metro Vancouver somewhere between half a million dollars and a billion dollars annually.

"Many small businesses in sectors hit hard by the pandemic will likely feel the impact most," she said in a statement.

In Ottawa, after months of lobbying by the opposition NDP, unions and other groups, the federal Liberal government is expected to soon table legislation to require that all federally regulated workers have access to at least 10 days of paid sick leave. 

In May, the province gave all workers up to three days of paid sick leave until Dec. 31 to support those affected by COVID-19.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the decision to move to five days will help control the spread of illness in workplaces and bring British Columbians one step closer to putting the pandemic behind them.

With files from John Paul Tasker, Akshay Kulkarni, and Meera Bains


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