No provincial paid sick leave any time soon

By Shannon Waters April 22, 2021

Labour Minister Harry Bains is “disappointed” that Ottawa has not yet “come to the table and dealt with” the issue of adequate paid sick leave as the pandemic drags on.

But Bains does not have any details on if or when British Columbians can expect the province to step up and fill in the gaps in the pandemic sick pay option offered by the federal government.

“Our premier was very clear and [he] said that we will look at all avenues available so that the poor workers who are sick … don’t have to choose between a paycheque and going to work sick,” Bains told reporters yesterday. “We are preparing for next steps to see how we deal with this issue and find solutions.”

Despite increasing available leave from two weeks to four weeks last month, the feds’ program remains underutilized, in part because workers have to wait weeks to be reimbursed. As of April 11, only about $418 million of the $2.6-billion federal program had transferred to self-isolating workers.

Bains said B.C. has continued to work with Ottawa to improve the program, but so far the feds have not acted “on the gaps that [B.C.] identified.”

“So now we are preparing to look at this issue ourselves and look at all avenues to find solutions,” he added.

Before the federal program was announced last spring, Premier John Horgan pledged that the province would “go it alone” in rolling out some form of paid sick leave.

In December, the premier said the NDP had its own program ready to go but there was no data proving a need for paid sick leave, especially given the burden it would place on struggling businesses.

The labour ministry later told BC Today that work on a provincial program stopped when Ottawa’s solution went live.

Pressed on what kind of timeline British Columbians can expect for a provincial sick pay program, Bains said B.C. has been responsive on issues affecting workers over the course of the pandemic, such as the NDP’s new bill allotting three hours of paid time off for workers eligible to receive the Covid vaccine.

Meanwhile, the BC Federation of Labour is calling for the province to legislate permanent employer-paid sick days.