B.C. Premier John Horgan says there’s a need for permanent measures so workers do not report for their jobs when sick, but that his government has not yet come up with a solution.
The Premier told a news conference on Wednesday the government is engaged in the issue, but has no deadline for taking action.
“We need a permanent solution and we’re working on it in earnest. But we’re day-by-day on a whole range of issues,” Mr. Horgan said.
“... There was no book in my drawer saying in case of pandemic, break glass. We’ve been working on a thousand things all at the same time. This is but one of them. It’s critically important, but there’s a whole host of other critically important issues as well.”
Mr. Horgan said the situation is larger than the pandemic, noting there are programs in place for workers such as the provincial emergency benefit and the federal relief program known as CERB. “I believe that if you are not well, you should not go to work and there are programs that you can access today,” he said.
“Those programs won’t last forever. And that is why what we are doing across government is trying to find ways to ensure that we allow workers to make those choices for their health and their colleagues’ health and for the broader economy, without having an economic penalty. And that is going to take some time.”
Any solution, he said, would involve co-operation between government, industry and WorkSafeBC, the provincial workers’ compensation board, but he did not provide any other details.
Last week, the Premier asked B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains to look at a range of options to make sure workers are safe at work or don’t feel as though they have to go to work when sick, especially if they’re worried they have COVID-19.
Mr. Bains has met with WorkSafeBC to discuss ensuring workplaces can function safely once business restrictions are lifted by the provincial public health officer.
Although the legislature approved changes to B.C. employment standards last month, the new standards say employers can’t fire someone for staying home because of COVID-19 issues, but it’s not necessary to pay those workers.
Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said Wednesday that the best solution is paid sick leave enacted in the Employment Standards Act.
He said such measures are necessary as soon as possible, and certainly by the end of the pandemic when federal and provincial programs will conclude.
In an interview, Dee Hoyano, Medical Health Officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, said there is a concern about people in jobs with limited sick benefits. They are afraid they will lose pay so are coming to work sick.
“They’re feeling very vulnerable in terms of their employment," Dr. Hoyano said. "We have to be looking more at how we can actually support people to make the right choices and stay home, and seek health care, without fear of some of those economic impacts on their families.”
During his news conference, Mr. Horgan spoke of his own experience working sick, recalling he was not well during some debates in the Legislature last year.
“I could barely speak,” he said. “I should not have been at work, and there were smiles and way-to-gos. And that is just the wrong answer. I understand that fully now. At the time, I was obliged to come to the Legislature and work because that was part of the schedule. I’m not going to do that again, and I don’t expect other workers to do that either.”
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.