BC workers need 14 days paid sick leave!

Statement by the Communist Party of BC Provincial Committee, Nov. 6, 2021

The global covid pandemic has had a devastating impact on health and safety. In British Columbia, over 200,000 cases have been reported since March 2020, and  nearly 2200 have died. But other workplace health and safety problems remain serious in this province. In 2020 alone, over 128,000 workplace injuries were  reported in B.C., along with 151 death claims, 25, 261 short-term disability claims, and 5,420 occupational disease claims. A staggering 3.5 million lost days of work were recorded.

The burden of pain, suffering and economic loss falls disproportionately on those who lack the minimal protections of collective agreements bargained by trade unions. A recent CCPA–SFU Labour Studies survey found that over one million workers in BC have no access to paid sick leave benefits. That includes more than  half of those aged 25 to 65, and 89 per cent of workers earning under $30,000 per year. Overwhelmingly, these low-wage workers are women and racialized people.

As in other jurisdictions, the covid crisis finally compelled the Horgan government to take action, after nearly two years of the pandemic. During this time workers have been repeatedly directed to self-isolate or work from home. While these measures were crucial for the sake of public health, workers who are least able to survive without incomes have faced huge losses. Meanwhile, big corporations have racked up major gains in profits and assets.

This crisis was another opportunity to measure the NDP argument during last year’s snap election that a strong majority in the Legislature would give the Premier and his cabinet the power to implement a far more progressive economic and social agenda. The first test of that claim was the 2021-22 budget, which  continued the trajectory of Horgan’s initial three years in office – some positive changes which people’s movements had struggled to achieve for nearly two decades, but no real  challenge to the neoliberal tax and fiscal framework imposed by the Liberals since 2001.

The government’s response to the sick leave issue has also been totally inadequate. Last May, a temporary program was launched, offering up to three days of COVID-related paid sick leave, with employers reimbursed by the province up to $200 per day per worker. That program ends on Dec. 31, and new regulations are being prepared for a permanent program, to take effect on Jan. 1. The Ministry of Labour’s public consultation on regulations presents three options: three, five or 10 days of sick leave. The business sector has pushed back against the entire concept, and especially against the ten day option.

As the BC Federation of Labour has argued, “paid sick leave … is more than just a workplace issue; it’s essential to public health, and key to a resilient province and workforce that is ready to weather the ongoing pandemic and confront future crises. But most of all, it’s a simple matter of equity and fairness, and never forcing workers to choose between their health and their financial well-being.”

We support the Federation’s demands that the new permanent program must protect workers’ jobs, fully pay lost wages, be paid for and provided by employers with no barriers to access, and apply to full time, part time, casual, term specific and temporary workers, regardless of immigration status.

Further, we call for the program to provide at least 14 days of employer-paid sick leave, which would reflect the real needs of workers and their families. The Horgan  NDP campaigned on the promise of a truly progressive legislative agenda – the labour and people’s movements need to step up the fight for real change, not timid reforms designed to appease corporate interests.

For more information, contact Communist Party of BC leader Kimball Cariou, 604-255-2041, or the Vancouver Island organizer for the Communist Party, Tyson Strandlund, 250-883-7321.