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West Shore businesses concerned about potential cost of paid sick days

Chamber boss Julie Lawlor says 10 paid sick days could bankrupt some businesses
B.C. Premier John Horgan’s government is developing new paid sick leave legislation, but employers and workers disagree over whether businesses should be responsible for providing paid sick days. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Businesses throughout the West Shore are concerned about how new provincial minimums on paid sick days could impact their operations.

The B.C. government is currently developing paid sick leave legislation set to be implemented on Jan. 1, 2022. After consultation with businesses and an online survey, the province is currently choosing between three options, mandating a minimum of three, five, or 10 sick days for B.C. businesses.

“If the businesses are expected to pay for all of this, which right now, that’s what it’s looking like, 10 days will bankrupt some businesses,” said Julie Lawlor, the executive director of the West Shore Chamber of Commerce.

Currently, half of working individuals do not have employer-paid sick days and six out of 10 employers don’t offer it, according to the B.C. government.

A recent B.C. Federation of Labour report stated that 89 per cent of those surveyed believed that providing paid sick leave was an employer’s responsibility.

But a recent Canadian Federation of Independent Business members’ survey found that 64 per cent of small businesses do not support any permanent employer-paid sick leave program, with money as the primary concern.

“Our business is linked to inputs, one of the biggest of those is labour,” said Nick Moss, owner of Tractor Time in Metchosin. “So if those inputs aren’t happening because someone is sick, then business isn’t happening. I don’t need more overhead.”

READ MORE: Should B.C. have paid sick leave laws? Can employers afford it? Not everyone agrees

Lawlor said that, like with many of the impacts of the pandemic, the restaurant industry is likely to be hit hardest by the new mandate.

Ankit Tripathi, owner of Turmeric Indian Cuisine in Langford, said paid sick days are the latest in a series of events pushing up costs for businesses. He added increases to minimum wage and extra costs due to COVID-19 are driving up costs not just for staffing, but for produce as well.

“It’s affecting my ability to give customers a creative menu that is actually affordable for them,” he said. “There’s not much room to make money left.”

Tripathi said the province should remove tax from the minimum wage if they want to help lower income workers. “They’re just gouging money from us and killing small businesses.”

Lawlor said the government should implement some financial supports for businesses in January, which can slowly be phased out, so businesses aren’t suddenly hit with the cost of covering paid sick days.