The province’s new paid sick leave policy has been met with mixed reviews from South Cariboo businesses.
The provincial government last week announced that effective Jan. 1, 2022, all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA) will be eligible for at least five days of paid sick leave. That means employers who have not offered any form of paid sick leave will now have to do so.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson said he feels the timing of this new law is inopportune. No one is arguing against the value of having a program or policy that helps people stay away from work when ill, he said, but added this approach is wrong.
“The fact the business community has to foot the bill again is definitely creating some stress for a number of businesses,” Doerkson said. “Many of the smaller businesses are quite frustrated by it.”
He pointed out South Cariboo businesses have not only been dealing with the pandemic but also the impacts of this summer’s wildfire season and widespread staff shortages.
Chartreuse Moose owner Morris Neufeld, who employs up to 17 people a year, agreed the timing is bad. Neufeld said he’s already had to absorb wage increases over the last few years and this is another cost he doesn’t need.
“It’s typical NDP. Small businesses are going through COVID-19 still and this year we’ve gone through a heat dome, gone through wildfires and now we’re going through floods and they want to download this onto us,” Neufeld said. “A small business can’t afford it, bigger businesses maybe, but little guys like us? That’s all we need right now, an extra cost.”
Neufeld said he understands why paid sick leave is needed. However, if the government wants to mandate it they should find a way to pay for it other than saddling it onto “people who are already struggling,” he added.
Doerkson noted the temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave program runs out on Dec. 31. In May 2021, the ESA was amended to allow businesses with no paid sick leave to offer up to three days to employees. To reimburse them the government paid up to $200 a day per worker on leave.
He added he would prefer extending this temporary program for another year.
“Ultimately there were tens of thousands of dollars not given out under the business recovery plan that could be reallocated for a program like this to fund it for a longer period of time,” he said.
100 Mile House Pharmasave’s new front store manager Sally Baitz said she supports the idea, noting she is aware of employees who need the money and will come to work when they’re sick.
“In turn, that affects other employees because sometimes they get sick as a result. I feel it is beneficial in the long run because businesses currently are struggling for employees and if a few are sick then you have no staff,” Baitz said.
Her store had no sick day policy but she hopes this move will keep her 20 employees safer.
B.C.’s Minister of Labour Harry Bains, said the province consulted with 60,000 workers and employers to come up with the mandated five-day sick leave.
“Many of the people who lack paid sick leave are the same workers we depended on most during the pandemic,” he said. “Lower-wage workers who help us get our groceries, prepare our food at restaurants and make sure we have the services we need deserve a basic protection like paid sick leave.”
Parts of the U.S., Australia and Europe have enacted similar legislation.