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Kamloops Chamber of Commerce weighs in on new sick day law in B.C.

The provincial government has decided to grant employees five paid sick days per year
sick day kelly sikkema

Employees in B.C. will soon have access to five days of paid sick leave, following a policy announcement by the provincial government. Some consider the change to not be enough, while others see it as yet another burden placed on businesses.

The change was made following consultations with workers and employers, who were given three options: three, five or 10 days of paid sick leave per year as options moving forward.

The province said the feedback showed workers who have access to sick days tend to use five days or less per year.

The new legislation applies to anyone covered under the Employment Standards Act. It does not apply to federally regulated sectors, those who are self-employed or those working under a professional organization.

B.C. is the first province to enact legislation with five paid days of sick leave.

COVID-19 was the driving factor for the change and the cause of more than 200 outbreaks in the Fraser Health region alone at the height of the pandemic.

"It gives people the means to stay away from work if they're sick and reduces the risk to their co-workers or others they come in contact with through their jobs," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said as she spoke about the new sick day policy.

During the consulting phase, the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce reached out to its members to ask how they deal with sick days and how the change might impact them.

"Many of our members already have paid sick day policies that are equal to, or greater than, this particular one," chamber president Dan Carroll told KTW.

But for those who don't already have such a policy, those businesses will soon have to foot the bill.

"I think the clear consensus in the community was that the concept of having paid sick days was not a bad thing, it's a public good,” Carroll said. "The issue was who should pay for that public good. That's the concern the chamber really has, that the government, again, has chosen to ask business only to fund that public good.”

An amendment in May to the Employment Standards Act saw the provincial government foot the bill as part of COVID-19 relief funding, providing up to $200 per day to businesses whose employees needed to take sick days due to COVID-19 symptoms or required self-isolation. That program offered up to three days of sick pay.

A similar, but broader program, is something Carroll would liked to have seen implemented instead.

He said putting the financial burden on workers is not preferred and suggested an education and incentive-based program that would see businesses convinced or incentivized to implement such a policy on their own.

"It just seems to be an easy target to say, 'Businesses pay.' It's just another cost that's being added to business in, quite frankly, what is an inflationary cycle, where businesses will likely have to pass this though to consumers with prices going up," Carroll said.

Meanwhile, the leader of Canada's largest private-sector union, Unifor, called the changes a "failure of leadership."

"According to the Horgan government, 10 paid sick days is good enough for the federal sector, but not good enough for the majority of B.C.'s most vulnerable workers," Unifor president Jerry Dias said in a statement following the announcement.

The union — which represents some employees of KTW, including non-managerial newsroom workers — cited work by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that shows the lower the income level, the less likely it is for workers to have paid sick leave.

For workers earning $30,000 to $40,000 per year, for example, about 52 per cent had no paid sick leave time. For those earning between $60,000 or more, however, less than 40 per cent had no access to paid sick leave. For workers earning less than $30,000, at least 85 per cent had no access to paid sick leave.