B.C. Premier John Horgan says he’s crafting a new sick pay program for provincial workers, after failing to convince Ottawa to improve its existing system.
Horgan said civil servants are working behind-the-scenes to figure out a method to get provincial money to B.C. workers if they are sick. But he stopped short of providing details about the amount of pay, number of days and ways workers might access the funds.
“There’s no mechanism to do this, this is not something that’s regularly done,” said Horgan.
“We do not want to hamper the industry at this moment, at a critical time in the pandemic, with additional costs. So we’re going to find the resources. The resources are not the issue, it’s the delivery of the programs.”
The Opposition Liberals questioned why it’s taken Horgan 14 months since the pandemic started to follow through on his promise to help the 50 per cent of provincial workers who don’t have paid sick days and are forced to choose between taking a financial loss or going to work sick and potentially infecting colleagues and customers.
“It’s one year later, and there’s no plan from the premier to fund sick pay,” said Opposition Liberal critic Todd Stone. “He couldn’t even be bothered to put it in his budget.”
Horgan said he tried to convince Ottawa to boost a program it created, which only provides $500 per week to sick workers and requires an application and waiting process.
“The federal government committed to a program, they delivered, it wasn’t sufficient, we asked them to fix that, they haven’t, ” he said. “And now we’re stepping up. It’s not about speed, it’s about making sure we get it right.”
Ontario has proposed sending provincial funds to Ottawa to top-up the existing sick pay program to $1,000 a week, with the appeal that Ottawa continue to administer the distribution. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said it’s up to provinces to handle sick pay for provincially-regulated businesses. Horgan was unimpressed.
“The federal government’s and they’ve done a lot of great things over the past 14 months but this is not one of them,” he said. “We’re going to have to do our best to fill those gaps.
“If the real way, as the Government of Ontario has tried to do, to just supplement that by giving money to the federal government, we would do that. But I don’t believe that’s effective or would work.”
He added: “That’s why we’re going to have to take a few more days to figure this out.”
The B.C. Federation of Labour has suggested businesses pay the cost of sick days up front, because it will allow workers to continue to get paid their wages without interruption, and then the province can reimburse those businesses later.
Horgan said he won’t force businesses to pay sick days right now when many are just struggling to survive financially.
“We’re looking at how we can implement that in a seamless way without putting more burden on business at a time when business can least afford it,” he said.
The Federation of Labour said it hopes the sick pay program will continue after the pandemic. Horgan was noncommittal on that idea, but said COVID-19 has taught people that there’s nothing heroic about going into work sick.
“I’m sure that there’s not a person watching right now that has not dragged themselves out of their sick bed and gone to work to claim themselves a hero because they’re going to take one for the team,” said Horgan.
“But what we’ve learned from COVID-19 is that’s not what we want. We don’t want heroes, we want people who take care of themselves and don’t put their colleagues, their customers and their businesses at risk. And people shouldn’t have to make that choice. I believe it’s the responsibility of all of us to fill that gap and we’re going to find a way to do that.”