Written by: Jaymee Salisi, News Writer
The BC provincial government announced a program requiring employers to provide part-time and full-time workers with three days of paid sick leave, if they are unable to work due to COVID-19 or possible exposure. The program begins once the legislation passes and will be implemented until December 31, 2021.
Employers will be required to pay employees their full wage. If a person’s workplace does not have an existing sick-leave program, WorkSafeBC will provide up to $200 per day. Details on the reimbursement program will be available in June 2021.
In an interview with The Peak, director of the labour studies program Kendra Strauss said 53% of workers in BC aged from 25 to 65 do not have access to paid sick days.
Strauss said this number “rises dramatically among the lowest paid workers.” She conducted a survey with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which revealed that paid sick leave is unavailable for 89% of workers earning under $30,000 annually.
The people working within this pay grade include those in the food industry, retail, and the cleaning sector.
If workers need more than three days, a separate federal sick-leave benefit application is available to them. However, employees would receive their first payment 28 days after applying.
“For a lot of people that’s a really big barrier,” Strauss said. “People living paycheque to paycheque might not make rent or be able to buy groceries.
“Especially during COVID, three days is not enough. It does not provide enough time for people to stay home and self isolate if they have to.”
She added, “Seven days is really the minimum we should be looking at for a permanent policy. I personally would like to see a model that ensures the costs are shared with employers so that the government and public are not paying employers who don’t offer these benefits.”
Although there is no precedent for paid sick leave during a global pandemic, Strauss recommended that BC’s provincial government draw on policy models made by various labour organizations in the province. The BC Federation of Labour and the Worker Solidarity Network proposed the implementation of at least seven to 10 paid sick days.
“Canada really lags behind other countries in terms of paid sick leave.”
Strauss expressed concern with providing government-funded options such as the $200 reimbursement for workers without a program for paid sick leave. According to Strauss, multimillion-dollar corporations making money during the pandemic can still choose to let the government pay for their employees paid sick leave.
The government reimbursement option is “another program that we as taxpayers are paying for,” Strauss said.
She said she understands that small- and medium-sized businesses may need government support. However, she is concerned about large corporations using government assistance when they can afford to compensate their employers.
More information about the paid sick-leave legislation can be found on the website for the government of BC.