The B.C. government’s commitment to come up with a paid sick leave program for people who don’t have employer illness coverage should not use WorkSafeBC’s fund, B.C. Liberal labour critic Greg Kyllo says.
Kyllo and other opposition critics have called on the NDP government to deliver on Premier John Horgan’s promise last year to give people paid time off if they have symptoms that may be from COVID-19, to avoid workplace transmission of the virus.
Kyllo said the premier’s commitment, restated by Labour Minister Harry Bains in the legislature Thursday, should come from its pandemic contingency fund, and not from WorkSafeBC as Horgan suggested after last week’s B.C. budget. WorkSafeBC’s funds come entirely from employer premiums, and the government has been clear that employers can’t absorb more costs, he said.
“I think it’s a gross misuse of funds to pull dollars away from the workers’ accident fund, rather than utilize in excess of $3 billion they have in their pandemic slush fund,” Kyllo said in an interview April 29.
Questioned about the issue Thursday, Bains would provide no details.
“More needs to be done, and I can assure this house that we will have a made-in-B.C. sick pay plan,” Bains said.
In the legislature earlier this week, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone quoted Horgan’s commitment from last year, when he was lobbying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to bring in a sick pay program as part of federal pandemic relief efforts. “We’re prepared to go it alone if need be. We do have alternative plans in place.” Stone quoted Horgan as saying.
When the federal budget came out April 19 with no sick pay plan, the provincial budget was ready for delivery the following day and couldn’t be altered. Ontario was in the same situation, and has since moved to use its workplace insurance fund to cover up to three days of sick pay for people concerned they might be infected.
WorkSafeBC’s surplus was an issue before the 2017 election, when then-jobs minister Shirley Bond said a re-elected B.C. Liberal government would put a cap on WorkSafeBC’s surplus premiums and return excess funds to employers who pay into the agency’s injury fund.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business tracked the issue and B.C.’s declining worker accident rate, estimating that by 2015, WorkSafeBC’s assets exceeded liabilities by $4.5 billion.