The Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia are taking important steps to guarantee paid sick leave for workers.
A significant lesson from the pandemic has been the inequity that exists in access to paid leave when individuals are sick or need to care for dependents. Individuals facing precarious employment often lack the ability to take time off when they are sick. As defined by the Ontario Government in 2017, precarious work broadly refers to “work for remuneration characterized by uncertainty, low income, and limited social benefits and statutory entitlements.”
Instead, they are forced into the impossible situation of missing work, and pay that they need, or going to work ill – prolonging their sickness, reducing their productivity, and spreading illness.
This impossible choice is faced most often by those experiencing poverty, racialized Canadians, women and those with precarious immigrations status.
Fortunately, over the past year, the Government of Ontario and British Columbia have been working to make important changes to support these workers to access paid sick leave.
Sick leave in British Columbia
In May 2021, the Government of British Columbia made amendments to the Employment Standards Act to lay the ground work to establish standards for paid sick leave.
The government than engaged more than 60,000 workers and employers to identify what currently existed in the provinces and reviewed lesson from other governments around the world. The result of this work is that on January 1, 2022, BC will become the first jurisdiction in Canada to guarantee a minimum of five paid sick days each year.
Canada-wide sick leave
At the national level, the government has put forward legislation to implement 10 days paid sick leave for federally regulated employers through Bill C-3.
Additionally, the Government of Canada has committed to bring provinces, territories and other stakeholders together to develop a national action plan on paid sick leave in Canada. This important step sets a high standard for worker protection throughout Canada. At present only Quebec (2 days) and PEI (1 day) have any guaranteed paid sick leave for workers, though most other provinces and territories offer varying numbers of unpaid sick days.
Bill C-3 is currently going through committees and could see amendments before it is passed. The Decent Work and Health Network has put forward recommendations to improve the bill these include removing the ability of employers to force workers to provide a doctor’s note and moving up the timeline for when a new employee access their 10 paid days of sick leave.
Similar amendments were discussed during the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development with Minister Seamus O’Regan demonstrating a strong willingness to amend the bill. These changes, which are supported by labour groups and medical professionals would go a long way to support employees.
An important step forward
These legislative changes are important for workers and especially those individuals experiencing working poverty. With Minister O’Regan working to convene their provincial and territorial counterparts in the new year, there is hope that this level of protection for precarious workers can be expanded throughout Canada.