A bill that would mandate 10 paid sick days in New Brunswick has been booted to a legislative committee where lawmakers will hear from witnesses and stakeholders about the proposal.
Green Leader David Coon introduced the bill last month and is pleased to see the proposal receiving traction in the legislative assembly.
“It’s important to get this right and important to get it in place,” he said.
“My goal is to ensure … that New Brunswickers have access to paid sick leave if they don’t.”
Right now The Employment Standards Act mandates five unpaid sick days for workers in the province. That’s not good enough when many workers who don’t have access to sick leave can’t afford to take time off when they’re ill, Coon said. The new bill would ensure workers have access to 10 paid sick days, with transitional funding for smaller businesses to help them adjust.
According to Statistics Canada, about 60 per cent of workers countrywide had paid sick leave in 2021. That’s up from just over half prior to the pandemic.
Coon, who has been pushing for the introduction of mandatory paid sick leave for as long as he’s been an MLA, says he thinks COVID-19 and this year’s particularly virulent flu season have helped to bring more people around to the idea.
“This is a kind of public health measure … that needs to be put in place to ensure that people can afford to stay at home when they are at risk of transmitting communicable diseases to other people,” he said.
However, the proposal is being met with opposition in the business community. Louis-Philippe Gauthier, the Atlantic vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, says his New Brunswick members are overwhelmingly against offering paid sick days.
Along with concerns about increased costs, Gauthier says many businesses see paid sick days as a hiring incentive, particularly in the current tight labour market.
“Paid sick days is a differentiator when it comes to a tight labour market,” he said.
“So that’s why you have a lot of businesses in New Brunswick that already offer paid sick days, either one, three, five, 10 or more. But there are some businesses that don’t and that can’t.”
Just five per cent of New Brunswick CFIB members favoured the introduction of 10 paid sick days, according to a survey conducted in May. However, 28 per cent of respondents supported three employer-paid sick days and another 20 per cent supported five. Forty-two per cent said they wouldn’t support any employer-paid sick leave.
Asked about Coon’s proposal to ensure that small businesses had some government funding to support the transition, Gauthier said that would need to be permanent in order to get broad support from the CFIB’s members.
“If government wants to develop it as a social program, that’s one thing,” he said.
The proposal comes as other jurisdictions across the country are moving to add some form of paid sick leave. British Columbia recently instituted five days of paid leave, while all federally regulated industries were forced to ensure 10 paid sick days as of December 2022.
Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Trevor Holder was not made available for an interview, but when speaking about the bill on the floor of the legislature he said the conversation around paid sick days is “timely.”
“We do have to modernize the way that we do business as a society and the way that we protect workers’ rights,” he said, but he also preached the need to find a balance that the business community can live with.
The communications director of the department echoed that sentiment in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
“COVID has taught us that the need to be away from work for health-related reasons is occurring more regularly and we need to have a robust conversation about how we can support those who need the time off,” said Paul Bradley.
“While supporting workers is important, the government remains committed to balancing the needs of our workers with those of our employers as it does not want to burden small businesses or create a situation where it puts them out of business.”
The law amendments committee will hear from experts and stakeholders sometime in the next few months.