Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to a national sick-pay program should be a shorter version of the federal COVID-19 emergency benefit, not a long-term disruption of employer-employee relations, B.C. business groups say.
After weeks of pressure from B.C. Premier John Horgan, supported by the Manitoba and Yukon premiers, Trudeau said May 25 he is working with the provinces on a program to provide 10 days of paid sick leave across the country for people staying home due to symptoms that could be the coronavirus.
Greg D’Avignon, president of the Business Council of B.C., said he supports Horgan’s concern about a potential second wave of virus and further setbacks for a business community trying to weather a world-wide pandemic. But placing more public health costs onto business is neither fair nor viable.
“There was some conversation in B.C. about the potential to use WorkSafeBC, without any presumption of where the sickness was taken on,” D’Avignon said in an interview May 28. “This is a global health pandemic and a provincial and national health emergency, and it seems odd that business would shoulder the burden of those costs when somebody could be transmitting in the community and it has nothing to do with work.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says small business especially can’t take any cost increases at this time, and benefits such as sick pay should continue to be worked out between employers and employees.
“Small firms are already bracing for a significant increase in Employment Insurance premiums to cover the cost of higher levels of unemployment we expect to continue as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are removed from the system,” CFIB president Dan Kelly said.
D’Avignon and 20 other provincial and national business leaders sent a letter to Trudeau May 28, calling on the federal government to create “a temporary sick pay program under the CERB and/or EI that “sunsets’ once public health and emergency orders related to COVID-19 are lifted.”
The letter is also signed by Retail Council of Canada presidnet Diane Brisebois, Restaurants Canada president Shanna Munro, Canadian Franchise Association president Sherry McNeil, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association president Chris Bloomer, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McClellan, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade president Bridgette Anderson, B.C. Chamber of Commerce president Val Litwin, Surrey Board of Trade president Anita Huberman and Independent Contractors, B.C. Council of Forest Industries president Susan Yurkovich, Mining Association of B.C. president Michael Goehring and Businesses Association president Chris Gardner, among others. (See letter below.)
D’Avignon said talk in Ottawa about making paid sick leave a permanent national program doesn’t work, and any program should be tied to temporary emergency orders.
“The federal NDP were suggesting somehow this should be a permanent measure, and frankly that assertion just doesn’t respect or understand how employee benefits and negotiations take place in the workplace,” D’Avignon said. “They’re better left to collective bargaining agreements and/or workers and companies in the private sector that aren’t under collective agreements to figure out the scope of benefits.”
Horgan, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister issued a statement after Trudeau’s announcement, noting the Yukon government has already moved ahead with a sick leave program. They praised the national proposal, still in the works like other Ottawa pandemic programs that have been announced, but didn’t comment on how long it should last.