Less than a year after eligible workers in B.C. became entitled to five days of employer-paid sick leave per year, the B.C. Federation of Labour is urging the provincial government to triple the standard.
The call for 15 days comes after the organization representing more than 50 unions held a recent convention in Vancouver with more than 1,000 delegates in attendance.
“The reality is we know five days isn’t enough,” Susanne Skidmore, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, told Global News.
“As we’re seeing with the uptick in health issues right now, five days — that’s just one sickness and that’s just once in a year.”
The provincial government’s policy of five employer-paid sick days per year took effect on Jan. 1. It applies to all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act, including part-time employees, as long as the worker has been with their employer for at least 90 days.
The B.C. Federation of Labour initially advocated for 10 sick days, but Skidmore said members have come to the conclusion that 15 is more “realistic.”
“The five days was good, we celebrated that,” she said. “But now the federal government has rolled out, they’ve got their 10 days for federally-regulated employees. We don’t even have that in B.C. so we need to keep pushing for more.”
The resolution adopted at the convention also aims to eliminate stigma around taking sick leave, she added, and the 90-day restriction, which impacts workers unevenly across various industries.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which has long advocated for paid sick leave to be funded by the provincial government, rather than employers, said the call for 15 days couldn’t come at a “worse time.” It estimates that an employer with 10 workers who make a little under $30 per hour loses more than $17,000 a year with five sick days.
“We heard loud and clear form our members it has definitely been costly for them to take this on, especially during very challenging times,” said Annie Dormuth, B.C. provincial affairs director.
“Only half of our members are actually making what they consider normal sales right now, so even the possibility of increasing those days above the current five to a whopping 15 days, would definitely be, I would have to say, very devastating to business owners.”
With soaring inflation in 2022 and more increases forecast for 2023, Dormuth said the CFIB has been pushing the provincial government to adopt cost-saving measures for businesses.
In a written statement, B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of paid sick leave. He did not reveal whether the province would consider a change in policy.
“We are proud that B.C. was the first province in Canada to legislate five days of paid sick leave and remains the only one to do so,” he wrote. “After broad consultation with workers, employers, health experts and other stakeholders, we heard that five days was a fair and balanced way forward for our province.”
Skidmore said the federation is not demanding an immediate change, but will work toward progress in the months to come. In the long-term having healthy employees who stay home when they’re sick is a benefit in the workplace, she added.