British Columbians will be entitled to five days of paid sick leave each year beginning in January.
Labour Minister Harry Bains announced the plans Wednesday after the province instituted three days of paid sick leave to British Columbians in May, but on a temporary basis.
“Five days is a sustainable solution given the challenges faced by many sectors,” he said, adding businesses will benefit from increased productivity and higher rates of retention.
“I want to make it clear that this is not optional, this is the law.”
The temporary program, which provides employers with a maximum $200 reimbursement, is set to expire December 31, 2021.
But the province reduced its budget for reimbursements significantly during the last fiscal update, with the labour minister indicating it was because fewer people than expected tapped the three-day paid sick leave program.
No reimbursements will be offered to businesses under the permanent program.
“The benefit of paid sick leave far exceeds the cost or modest cost that comes with paid sick leave,” Bains said.
The permanent program covers those employees covered under the Employment Standards Act and is set to go into effect January 1, 2022.
Bains said the province will be examining how gig workers and the self-employed may gain access to such benefits at some point. He added the consultation process found that 98% of workers did not abuse the program.
“We know when someone is forced to go to work when they are ill, the workplace is at risk,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during Wednesday’s announcement.
“The ability to stay home and not lose your jobs or wages is really important.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said her organization fully supports the program.
“Your workforce is your most important asset. That’s what the Surrey Board of Trade believes. Let’s take care of them so that we can focus together on increasing the bottom line,” she said.
The government began stakeholder consultations earlier this year, ultimately developing three options to cover the minimum number of paid sick days for British Columbians: three, five or 10 days.
The federal Liberals previously pledged 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers. This would encompass those working for telecom companies to banks to airlines.
“We’re talking about two different workforces,” Bains said, when questioned about the difference between the provincial program and the Liberals’ pledge.
He cited findings in the consultations, in which 87% of workers said they used five days or less when feeling ill.
An estimated 50% of British Columbians do not have access to paid sick leave, according to the province.