The Surrey Board of Trade is calling on the provincial government to implement a temporary paid sick-leave program. (Unsplash.com photo by Kelly Sikkema)

Vernon businesses weigh in on paid sick leave options

Employees and employers can have their say on the options until Oct. 25

Options for paid sick leave being considered by the provincial government have prompted local businesses to share their concerns.

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce provided input on permanent, paid sick during a virtual roundtable Oct. 14 with Labour Minister Harry Bains and Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu.

“We appreciate Minister Bains and MLA Sandhu meeting with us so we can understand more about the government’s proposed permanent, paid sick leave and they can hear first-hand concerns coming from local businesses and non-profits,” said Robin Cardew, Greater Vernon Chamber president.

“Businesses and non-profits, as employers, want to ensure their workforce is healthy and treated equitably and compassionately. In fact, many employers are already providing their staff with paid sick leave. It’s important for government to understand, though, that businesses and non-profits operate within limited financial structures and additional regulations can impact an organization’s ability to hire new staff, provide raises or remain viable.”

In August, the chamber wrote the provincial government and pointed out that employers already provide a financial investment in their employees, including Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, Employer Health Tax, WorkSafeBC and vacation pay.

On top of those costs, many employers provide their employees and families with extended health benefits while many already voluntarily have paid sick leave. When everything is combined, the total cost can equate to 30 per cent above wages.

“Businesses and non-profits are committed to a healthy workforce as it’s essential for our community and economy. However, the cumulative impact of government taxation, employee benefits and the rising cost of living, such as utilities and rent, creates challenges for businesses and non-profits in B.C.,” said Cardew.

Presently, the Government of B.C. will reimburse employers up to $200 a day through the Employer Reimbursement Program for Covid-19 related paid sick leave wages paid to an employee. Employers can be reimbursed for up to three days of paid leave for each employee. Now the government is considering permanent paid sick leave options, which include three, five or 10 employer-paid sick days per year.

If permanent, paid sick leave proceeds, the chamber requests that the same terms as the COVID Employer Reimbursement Program apply to this new, permanent initiative, even for a fixed period of time so businesses and non-profits can adjust their financial plans to accommodate such costs and that businesses and non-profits with unionized staff be able to negotiate the number of paid sick days as part of collective bargaining.

“Government and employers can cooperatively ensure that workers can recover when ill without losing compensation, while also taking concrete steps that permit businesses and non-profits to flourish and serve our community,” said Cardew.

Employees and employers can have their say on the options, one of which will come into effect Jan. 1, 2022, at engage.gov.bc.ca/paidsickleave, until Oct. 25.

“Approximately one-half of employees in British Columbia do not have employer-paid sick days, and those employees are more likely to be in lower-paid jobs,” the options paper reads. “Employees without access to paid sick leave reported regularly going to work sick or returning to work before fully recovering.”

READ MORE: COLUMN: Pandemic gives cause to considers paid sick leave

READ MORE: B.C.’s minimum working age going from 12 to 16


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