The B.C. government is reluctantly seeking its own way of offering sick pay to more people who experience symptoms of COVID-19 but lose pay if they stay home.
B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said he was expecting the much-delayed April 19 federal budget to include provisions that B.C. and other provinces were looking for. Beyond a previously announced program to pay up to $500 a week for people who are directed to self-isolate, the measure wasn’t there, and B.C. tabled its own budget the next day.
“The federal government’s inaction is disappointing, so we are preparing for next steps by talking to our stakeholders to ensure that workers don’t have to choose a paycheque and going to work sick,” Bains told reporters at the B.C. legislature. “We have learned very dearly that’s the one way of stopping transmission of this pandemic at workplaces.”
The B.C. Federation of Labour estimates that more than half of B.C. workers, mostly in low-wage jobs, don’t qualify for sick pay today. Workplace outbreaks in B.C. have happened in poultry plants, nursery greenhouses
“In this time of deadly variants and rising cases, ensuring worker safety with paid sick leave is imperative,” federation president Laird Cronk said. “We will continue to advocate for the over half of B.C. workers, and nearly 90 per cent of low-wage workers, who don’t have paid leave and are at higher risk of exposure.”
As of April 12, B.C.’s public health orders include authority to close down businesses for 10 days if three or more employees contract COVID-19. As of Monday, Fraser Health listed more than 40 business closures, from retail stores to fast food outlets, fitness facilities and manufacturing. Locations for business closures include Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Surrey, Maple Ridge and Delta.
Bains said B.C. has moved to prevent people from losing their jobs if they have to take time off due to suspected COVID-19, and amending the Employment Standards Act to require paid time off for people who have to get vaccinated during working hours.
Bains credited Premier John Horgan with starting the sick pay discussion at first ministers’ meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year, resulting in the recent Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit that pays up to $500 per week for two weeks for people required to quarantine due to possible exposure
“There are gaps and we identified those gaps,” Bains said of the federal program.