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Open letter to the BC government on paid sick leave

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office invites economists and health experts from across Canada to sign on to the following open letter calling on the BC government to show national leadership by implementing a robust paid sick leave program.

The BC government has committed to enacting employer-paid sick leave via the BC Employment Standards Act effective January 2022, and is currently consulting on the program’s design including the number of days leave to be provided. The BC government’s actions will set the bar for other provinces. CCPA-BC and a wide range of labour and community organizations are calling for 10 days employer-paid leave available to the broadest possible group of workers whether full time, part time, or casual, and regardless of immigration status, and regardless of the size of the workplace/employer.

The full text of the open letter follows, along with a brief form you can complete if you wish to add your name as a signatory. We are collecting signatures until Sunday October 17. The open letter will be publicly released on October 20 or 21, with an accompanying news release. Please feel free to circulate this open letter confidentially to other economists and health experts who you think may be interested in signing on—but please do not share this document/link widely or publicly at this time.

Open letter to the BC Government from economists and health experts across Canada

As economists and health experts from across Canada, we urge the BC government to implement a robust employer-paid sick leave program that includes at least 10 paid sick days for workers.

Employer-paid sick days are already a right of workers in most developed countries around the world, including a majority of OECD countries, because they strengthen the economy, public health and dignity for working people.

We are looking to the BC government to show national leadership because its actions will set the bar for all provinces at a time when, due to the pandemic, proper paid sick leave is more important than ever. The incoming federal government has committed to enacting the right to 10 employer-paid sick days for workers in federally-regulated industries within its first 100 days. Ten days should be the minimum standard for all workers in Canada.

This approach would also be in line with countries such as New Zealand and Australia, where workers have a right to 10 employer-paid sick days. It would still fall short of the stronger protections in countries like Sweden (14 days) and Germany (30 days).

We are all better off when people don’t go to work sick.1 At a societal level, this means less illness and death, lower health care costs, and higher economic productivity. A right to paid sick days has always been sound public policy, and the pandemic has made this clearer than ever. As the BC seniors’ advocate recently reported, long-term care and assisted living facilities that “provided fewer days of paid sick leave were more likely to experience larger outbreaks.”2

Paid sick days are also a matter of equity. A majority of British Columbians don’t currently have access to paid sick days, and low-wage workers—disproportionately women and racialized—are the worst off: 89% of those with incomes below $30,000 have no paid sick days.3

This lack of access to paid sick leave for low-wage and precarious workers underscores the need for BC’s program to apply to the broadest possible group of workers whether full time, part time, or casual, and regardless of immigration status. The program should also apply across all sizes of employers. Infectious diseases don’t discriminate based on firm size or status of workers, and neither should the right to stay home when sick.

Not surprisingly, studies have shown the individual and public health benefits of paid sick days. As a recent report from the BC Federation of Labour notes, in the United States, cities with legislated paid sick days saw a 40% reduction in influenza rates during flu waves compared to cities without paid sick day legislation. Paid sick days for food service workers was associated with a 22% decline in food-borne illness rates. Workers without paid sick days were three times more likely to delay or forego medical care, and paid sick days increased the use of preventative care including boosting the administration of vaccine doses.4

A lack of paid sick days imposes major economic costs in the form of “presenteeism,” which is the problem of attending work when sick, leading to lower productivity, spread of illness, and cascading absences among co-workers. As a recent report summarized it, “Evidence consistently demonstrates that the cost of presenteeism in lost productivity is higher than absenteeism.”5

While this is a provincial policy decision, policy makers are watching from across the country. For our collective health, safety and prosperity, we call on BC to set the standard and lead the provinces by guaranteeing the right to a minimum of 10 employer-paid sick days for all workers.

 

Notes

1. For recent reviews of the evidence, see: 

2. Office of the Seniors’ Advocate of British Columbia. Review of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Care Homes in British Columbia. October 2021.

3. Ivanova, I. and Srauss, K. Paid sick leave finally on the agenda: Here’s why it matters. Policy Note. May 27, 2020.

4.  BC Federation of Labour. An Equitable Recovery – The Case for Paid Sick Leave as a Right of Employment in BC. September 2021.

5. Decent Work and Health Network. Before it’s too late: How to close the paid sick days gap during COVID-19 and beyond. August 2020.

 

 

Signings of the open letter are now closed.