The timing and toll of a new provincial program requiring employers to provide at least five sick days of sick pay for all workers covered by the Employment Standards Act will particularly hurt small and medium businesses, according to Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce CEO Katerina Anastasiadis.
The policy was announced by the provincial government on Nov. 24, and takes effect in January.
It replaces a temporary program paid through WorkSafeBC earlier this year. B.C. is the first province in Canada to move ahead with permanent sick pay legislation.
Government research indicated that 98 per cent of employers found no abuse of the temporary program.
But Anastasiadis said imposing this initiative, when so many businesses are trying to battle out of a challenging pandemic economy, just doesn’t make sense. She said it could also be the final straw for many businesses struggling to remain open.
“It is irresponsible for economic recovery and very poorly timed.
“It has been rushed without meaningful consultation with the business community especially at local levels. This will backfire, and inevitably there will be less jobs than otherwise possible, and it may be that it’s the last straw for some businesses who are forced to close.”
She said the program is forced upon an economy that is already dealing with issues such as shortage of labour, employer health tax and increases in the minimum wage, carbon tax and property taxes. Unlike the temporary program, employers are solely responsible under the new legislation.
“While I understand that the provincial government is looking for ways to manage risk and protect health because of the ongoing pandemic, and it is important that workplace policies are in place to ensure employees are safe and healthy, I do not believe that such a mandatory and imposed program on the backs of small and medium-sized businesses is necessary or a good solution.”
She questioned the lack of data that backs the decision and noted that many of the local businesses she talks to are concerned about the new program and how quickly it will be put in place. She fears that these costs will then be passed on to consumers, leading to another possible hit to the economy.
The B.C. Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk said his organization will continue to press for up to 10 days of paid sick leave.
“Despite some business lobbyists’ dire claims about costs to employers, study after study – and practical experience around the world – show the opposite: paid sick leave is good for the economy,” Cronk said in a statement. He added that science supports the 10-day standard and most British Columbians agree.
Anastasiadis says a 10-day step would be disastrous for small businesses.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business called the five days as “tone-deaf to the realities small businesses are facing,” in a news release. Recent survey feedback showed that businesses are in no position to offer the new program on 38 days’ notice.
BC Chamber of Commerce president Fiona Famulak said that businesses know it is important to make sure employees feel safe and healthy, calling the announcement a “gut punch in the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of B.C. businesses.”
Business owners will also soon be facing an increase to the Canadian Pension Plan premiums, which are set to rise Jan. 1.