BC government considers new paid sick leave program for all workers

Senior economist Alex Hemingway discusses the importance of paid sick leave

people wearing masks
PHOTO: Brian Asare / Unsplash

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

On August 5, 2021, the government of BC opened an employer and worker survey to gather public opinion on a new sick leave program in BC. The survey was to determine whether the program would include 3, 5, or 10 days of paid sick leave. 

Phase two of public opinion surveys opened on September 22, 2021 and closed October 24, 2021. Updates on the outcome are expected in November this year.

Senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ (CCPA) BC office, Dr. Alex Hemingway, discussed this initiative with The Peak. He noted most wealthy countries have a 10 or more day paid sick leave program whereas most Canadian provinces “simply [don’t] have any paid sick days.” At the time of writing, BC’s sick day policy states employees can take up to three days a year for personal illness or injury without pay.

The CCPA and 84 health experts and economists recently called on the BC government to set the standard for Canadians “for our collective health, safety, and prosperity.” Their letter notes New Zealand and Australia both have 10 day programs whereas countries such as Germany have 30 days. 

“A right to paid sick days has always been sound public policy, and the pandemic has made this clearer than ever,” said the CCPA letter. 10 paid sick days is at the lower end of the spectrum compared to other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Hemingway said that is why the CCPA is calling for 10 days as a minimum.

He added when “we look at the research, we can see that having people going to work sick comes at a significant economic cost. It means co-workers are infected and the illness spreads into the community — that comes at a cost to productivity in the economy.”

Pointing to a report released during the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained it indicated the relationship between paid sick days and COVID-19 outbreaks. In long-term care homes where workers were offered less paid-sick leave days, their staff had a much larger COVID-19 outbreaks. 

He noted if a paid sick leave program had “been implemented 18 months ago, it could have made a difference in this pandemic, it could have prevented illness, and saved lives.”

In an email statement to The Peak, SFU professor of health sciences Dr. Tim Takaro said, “Everyone deserves to be protected at work. Paid sick leave has demonstrated effectiveness in preventing disease. In the United States, the introduction of a temporary paid sick leave [ . . . ] was associated with an estimated 50% reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases per state per day.”

Hemingway said, “It’s striking that you have a policy that is common sense. It’s backed by public opinion polling, supported by expert opinion, and it’s still been such a fight to get sick days implemented.”

Having paid sick days is also related to equity. Hemingway exwplained, “89% of British Columbians with incomes below $40,000 have no paid sick days. And we know that low wage workers are disproportionately young people, women, and racialized folks.”

They should not be forced to decide between feeding their families and protecting their co-workers by staying home,” said Takaro.

“The good news is, the BC government has already committed to bringing in a permanent paid sick days program,” reported Hemingway. The BC government notes the new paid sick days program will be implemented by January 1, 2022. 

More information on BC’s paid sick day found on their website