British Columbia

'We need to fix this': Horgan pushes feds to foot the bill for paid sick leave

In order to reopen businesses, B.C. employers must have clear policies to make sure that anyone who has symptoms of a cold, the flu or COVID-19 does not go into work.

‘I believe this is not just a local B.C. problem, it is a national problem,' says premier

Premier John Horgan says he will investigate whatever federal options are available to help cover the cost of paid sick leave for all British Columbians before turning to the province's toolkit. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Premier John Horgan does not want British Columbians going to work sick when the economy begins to reopen after the May long weekend and he is asking Ottawa to help make this possible.

Health officials have said in order to reopen, B.C. employers must have clear policies to make sure that anyone who has symptoms of a cold, the flu or COVID-19 does not go in to work, but the provincial government has stopped short of mandating sick leave.

Union representatives are calling for a mandate, but the premier said he will exhaust what possibilities exist at a federal level before looking at what resources B.C. has available.

"I believe this is not just a local B.C. problem, it is a national problem," said Horgan Tuesday on The Early Edition, pointing to a Cargill meat-packing plant in southern Alberta and to two poultry facilities in British Columbia where COVID-19 outbreaks occurred.

Horgan said he is asking employers to ensure their workplaces are free of sick people, but said he does not believe the province should impose an "additional burden" on companies while they are trying to recover from pandemic restrictions.

A worker closes the gate to the Superior Poultry processing plant in Coquitlam, after health officials have announced a COVID-19 outbreak. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Unions want a mandate

Kim Novak, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 1518, said, ultimately, the responsibility should lie with employers to keep workers safe but would not mind the province stepping in.

"I think it would be great to see government implementing a mandate for all employers to provide sick time," said Novak on The Early Edition.

Novak said letting people stay home from work will also save employers money in the long run if it means avoiding another full shutdown in the future.

Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees' Union (HEU), echoed Novak's call for mandated sick leave.

Whiteside said she would like to see government "step up" and incorporate paid sick leave into the B.C. Employment Standards Act.

"Paid sick leave is in fact a public health issue," said Whiteside, on The Early Edition Tuesday. 

A show of support for long-term care aides and staff at a Vancouver retirement community building. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC) (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Care aides need care aid

The HEU represents long-term care aides, many of which Whiteside said have "very substandard sick leave provisions" and many worked at more than one facility before the pandemic which increases risk of transmission.

In March, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued an order that long-term care workers must work at only one facility.

Whiteside said that restriction is well underway, with a few "very rare circumstances." Horgan said the plan is to make that restriction permanent.

"It's been glaringly obvious that we put people at risk because of a lack of support in these facilities," said the premier.

And when it comes to workers in every sector of the B.C. economy, Horgan said he will keep pushing the prime minister about the need for paid sick leave, and if that is not fruitful, will work with WorkSafeBC to see what options are available.

"We need to fix this," said Horgan."The challenge now is how do we pay for it?"

The premier said there is ample time to get a program in place by June. 

With files from The Early Edition

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