When it comes to paid sick days, Justin Trudeau has made Premier John Horgan’s job very easy.
The Liberal Party committed to increase paid sick days from three to ten, alongside a promise to develop a national sick day action plan with provinces, within 100 days of taking office.
With Jagmeet Singh’s NDP pushing for the same standard, it’s clear to see that changes are coming–and fast. In B.C., John Horgan simply has to follow suit.
Despite this quick federal action, the British Columbia government is just midway through its own drawn-out process of public consultation moving sluggishly towards a new provincial paid sick leave standard.
The Horgan government opted to introduce three paid sick days in April as a temporary measure giving itself until January 2022 to lock in a new permanent policy. Now, the government has added a new layer to its haphazard consultation process that will allow anyone on the planet with internet access to choose from one of three possible options.
The options are: three, five, and ten paid sick days. A cynic might say the government is steering the outcome towards five paid days as the middle ground choice between the low standard favoured by business lobbyists and the ten days demanded by most British Columbians, including Unifor members.
There is nothing special or unique about provincially regulated workers in British Columbia. They are subject to the same environment as federally regulated workers and deserve the same paid sick leave to prevent them from infecting their coworkers.
Experts continue to make a strong case for the Horgan government to make the right choice. A recent CCPA study shows how dire the situation is with nearly nine in every ten B.C. workers with an income less than $30,000 has no access to paid sick leave. The B.C. seniors’ advocate also joined the growing chorus of public health officials in favour of more paid sick days.
Falling behind the federal standard is simply not an option. While the B.C. NDP government has delivered on key issues such as childcare and raising the minimum wage, there are many basic workplace policy issues that workers in B.C. are waiting to see resolved.
For example, workers in B.C. are still waiting for card-based union certification to ease the process of forming a union at work—a process already available to federally regulated workers.
With precarious part-time and temporary work on the rise, workers in B.C. and everywhere increasingly find themselves with fewer benefits and worse working conditions.
Sixteen years of the anti-labour B.C. Liberals only made matters worse for workers, effectively stalling the province’s unionization rates. B.C. employers took full advantage of the situation for nearly two decades, enjoying unprecedented success in blocking workers from forming unions. As a result, the share of B.C. workers in unions has fallen from the highest level in the country in 1983 to one of the lowest today.
The Horgan government seems content to ignore the obstacles workers face to unionization. Much like the province’s approach to paid sick leave, the Horgan government has failed to take the need for card check certification seriously, preferring to hold largely meaningless consultations to appease a business lobby that can never be satisfied.
British Columbians are looking for bold leadership in this ongoing public health and deep economic crisis that helps people earn a fair wage with fair benefits.
The fact that Canada’s billionaires added $37 billion more to their coffers in the last year alone shows just how rigged our economic system is against workers and how necessary it is for our elected leaders to intervene.
A decent paid sick days program and fewer obstacles to forming a union are two levers directly within Horgan’s reach. There is no time to waste making life better for working British Columbians.
A version of this editorial ran on October 21, 2021 in the Vancouver Sun