'We need to fill this gap': Rally pushes for 10 paid sick days on B.C.'s final day gathering feedback

With the window for public feedback closing on B.C.’s incoming paid sick leave policy, supporters gathered at the legislature in Victoria on Monday to send a message to government.

The rally, organized by the B.C. Federation of Labour, was held in support of the 10-day minimum option that’s currently being considered. A three-day option and a five-day option are also on the table.

Federation president Laird Cronk said in the pandemic, going to work sick can have tragic consequences.

“Clearly, you’ve got experts in the field that are telling us we need to fill this gap,” he said. “We need to make sure workers have the tools to stay home when they’re feeling sick.”

An increase in paid sick leave for workers in long-term care is also something B.C.’s seniors advocate has called for following a review of COVID-19 outbreaks in the system.

The advocate’s review found while 96 per cent of long-term care sites provided some paid sick days for regular staff, the amount varied widely, and few provided similar support for casual workers.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said 40 per cent of staff reported coming to work while not feeling well during the pandemic. The review found 20 per cent of those workers cited not getting paid as a reason.

“I think we found it’s fairly important that there be sufficient sick leave days allowed across the system. We saw quite a variation, from 2.5 days a year to 18 days a year,” she said. “We saw a very clear pattern that those sites that experienced larger outbreaks were those sites that provided fewer days of paid sick leave for their staff.”

BC Care Providers Association CEO Terry Lake questioned the review’s finding relating to the number of sick days and outbreak size.

“Correlation is not causation,” he said. “That may be just correlated with the number of the types of providers in Fraser Health where the biggest amounts of community spread was.”

Lake said the association supported a call from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade for government to delay the process surrounding the sick leave policy.

He added while it is important for workers to have time off when they’re sick, there are still questions about how the policy will be funded and who will be eligible.

“Ninety per cent of long-term care is paid for or publicly supported. Contracted providers of long-term care and assisted living, our members, depend on that government funding. Really, it comes down to how much government is willing to fund,” he said. “If you’re going to give paid sick days to casual employees, which is not the current practice, that becomes more complex.”

Mackenzie said for most of the outbreaks, the virus was introduced into a care home by a staff member.

“I think it’s going to be difficult to argue against the fact that we know that a reason people go to work sick is they don’t get paid,” she said. “Whether you’re casual or regular, I think you should have the paid sick leave if you are providing direct care to the client.”

Concerns about cost have also been raised by small business advocates, who have said owners are still struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Cronk said it’s understandable employers are concerned about cost.

“We get that, but we need to make sure that the folks that actually make the profit for those employers, that are on the front lines, are healthy and safe,” he said. “The cost of not doing it is your business could be shut down if you have a COVID outbreak.”

B.C.’s labour ministry has said an announcement on the final model for the permanent paid sick leave policy is expected in December.

The policy will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.