THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Wednesday, December 8, 2021
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met with video conference this day at 6:30 p.m. [ET] to study the subject matter of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code.
Senator Ratna Omidvar (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: My name is Ratna Omidvar, a senator from Ontario and chair of this committee.
The committee is beginning its examination of the subject matter of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code, which was introduced in the House of Commons on November 26, 2021. While the bill is still before the House of Commons, this committee is conducting a pre-study of the legislation.
We have two panels of witnesses today. I would like to introduce our first witnesses and thank them all for agreeing to appear on this committee on such short notice.
I welcome, from the Canadian Nurses Association, Michael Villeneuve, Chief Executive Officer; and Aden Hamza, Policy Lead.
From the Decent Work and Health Network, Dr. Monika Dutt, who is a member of the network.
From the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition, Kaitlin Doucette, Co-Founder; and Rebecca Gordon, Organizer.
I invite you to make your presentations. I must request you to kindly keep your presentations to five minutes so that the senators can have plenty of time to ask you questions. We will begin with Mr. Villeneuve, followed by Dr. Dutt, then Ms. Gordon.
Mr. Villeneuve, the floor is yours.
Michael Villeneuve, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nurses Association: Thank you, Madam Chair and senators. It is great to have the privilege to speak to the committee again. Good evening and greetings to my fellow witnesses presenting today.
I would first like to acknowledge the Algonquin Nation and the Anishinaabe peoples whose traditional lands I am speaking to you from today in the beautiful farmland of eastern Ontario where I live.
Thank you for inviting the Canadian Nurses Association to speak on Bill C-3. CNA is the national and global professional voice of Canadian nursing. We represent nurses across all 13 provinces and territories, and nurses living in hundreds of Indigenous communities.
CNA applauds the federal government for introducing Bill C-3, and we strongly support the legislation, as it will help protect health care workers from threats and harassment as well as provide 10 days of paid sick leave to workers in the federally regulated private sector.
A strong economy can only exist with a healthy workforce. The pandemic has clearly highlighted the urgent need for adequate paid sick leave, as workers should not be forced to choose between their health and their paycheque. That is why CNA fully supports the amendments to the Labour Code.
Passing this federal legislation is an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the country. People who need to take time off the most are often the ones who are least able to do so because of financial or other reasons. Whether it is nurses or factory workers, anyone working during the pandemic knows that it is safer to stay at home, but many are not able to afford to do so. Our hope is that, once it is passed, the legislation serves as a catalyst for further change at provincial and territorial levels.
I will turn now, Madam Chair, to the Criminal Code changes proposed by Bill C-3.
CNA has long advocated for violence-free workplaces in health care settings, where nurses have the right to respectful work environments, safe from threats and intimidation. It is quite simple: Nurses — mostly women, as you know — need to feel safe in order to keep their patients safe.
Canada’s 448,000 nurses have been at the forefront of the pandemic, and they are exhausted, burnt out and demoralized. During the beginning of the pandemic, they were called heroes. Now many have been shouted at and even spat on. Yet, against all odds, they continue to show up and care for their patients.
The pandemic has exacerbated problems in the health system that existed long before COVID-19. Health care workers are dealing with increased staffing shortages, excessive workloads and significant human suffering while facing concerns for their own safety. They can get sick too. We have seen attacks, violent language and threats directed at health care workers in person and online just for speaking about public health messages, despite their continued dedication to patient care.
The health of Canada’s health workforce is hanging on by a thread. This legislation sends out a clear message: The safety of health care workers is a priority for Canada. It will assist in retaining nurses in the workforce and avoid further escalation of already critical nursing shortages in Canada. We are seeing unprecedented vacancies in nursing, and this bill is a step in the right direction to keep our nurses.
Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak to this committee. My colleague, Aden Hamza, and I will be happy to try to answer any questions from the members.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Villeneuve. We will go now to Dr. Dutt.
Dr. Monika Dutt, Member, Decent Work and Health Network: Thank you for having me speak on behalf of the Decent Work and Health Network on Bill C-3. We are a group of doctors, nurses, health workers and experts who have been at the forefront of the movement for paid sick days. We have repeatedly presented evidence-based recommendations for effective paid sick leave policy.
My background is as a family physician in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and a public health physician in Newfoundland and Labrador. Daily, I see the preventable impacts of the lack of paid sick days.
I support the introduction of 10 paid sick days for federally regulated employees. As the COVID pandemic has demonstrated, paid sick days are essential for the health of individuals, families, communities and the economy.
To ensure these paid sick days are effective, we recommend two key amendments to Bill C-3. Firstly, paid sick leave must provide an adequate number of days for our patients to stay home when they’re sick. A U.S. study found that workers with six to nine paid sick days accessed more preventive services than those with zero to two days. At least 10 permanent paid sick days have become widely recognized as the minimum standard for adequacy across Canada.
While Bill C-3 provides for 10 paid sick days, those sick days are not immediately available. This means workers do not have protection at the beginning of the year or when starting a new job. Rather, employees accrue eligibility for sick days at the beginning of each month after completing one month of continuous employment.
The system of earning paid sick days contradicts medical evidence and public health recommendations to stay home when sick at the first sign of symptoms and until the individual has recovered. We’re concerned that workers who get the flu, COVID-19 or another illness during the first few months of the calendar year would only be able to take one or two days instead of the true number of days needed to recover. Or worse, they will have no paid sick days available when they need them most.
As a physician, I know that typically people with influenza‑like illness need to stay home for a median of four days. For COVID-19, individuals can be required to isolate or quarantine for 10 to 14 days.
The Yukon is the only jurisdiction that uses an accrual model for access to sick days. All other provinces and territories provide access to the full number of sick days, paid or unpaid, immediately following the prescribed period of continuous employment.
None of the other leaves provided for in the Canada Labour Code requires entitlements to be accrued monthly. Paid sick leave in Bill C-3 should follow this well-established best practice.
Accessing paid sick days on a monthly accrual basis will negatively affect those in their first year of employment and for those in temporary and insecure employment or disproportionately racialized and immigrant workers who are less likely to be continuously employed. The accrual model will also disproportionately impact women who access more paid sick days than men. We recommend that Bill C-3 be amended to remove the monthly accrual model and provide full access to 10 paid sick days after two weeks of continuous employment.
Our second recommended amendment is the removal of section 239(1.6), which allows employers to require a medical certificate from a health provider. This change is essential, because sick notes not only put the public at risk but also deter workers from accessing sick days. A worker would need to leave their home while sick, travel through their community, expose a clinic or hospital waiting room to an infection and sometimes pay for the sick note.
According to a national poll, 82% of Canadians would rather go to work sick than get a sick note. There’s widespread agreement in the medical community that sick notes are a barrier to access for patients and an avoidable burden on health care resources. The Ontario Medical Association concluded that requiring patients with isolated illnesses to visit their health care provider may, in fact, delay their recovery by impeding their rest and potentially expose them to additional contagious viruses.
The Canadian Medical Association warns that “. . . writing a sick note is added administrative work — time that should be spent providing direct care to patients.”
We recommend that the ability for employers to require sick notes be removed from Bill C-3.
We hope that you will carefully consider the above recommendations and introduce amendments to Bill C-3. In doing so, you will set a standard for provinces and territories to follow. Bill C-3 could be a model for effective paid sick leave policy across the country.
As health providers leading the fight for paid sick days, we are encouraged that our patients working in federally regulated sectors will have the opportunity to access permanent and adequate workplace protections, and we look forward to working with you to make these crucial amendments. Thank you.
The Chair: Dr. Dutt, you were bang on time. We now go to Ms. Gordon.
Rebecca Gordon, Organizer, Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition: Thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening. I would like to recognize that I’m joining you today from the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. It’s an honour to speak to you about Bill C-3 and the need for 10 paid days of medical leave.
Today I’m speaking on behalf of the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition. We are an alliance of restaurant workers, hospitality non-profits and academics advocating for restaurant workers’ rights.
One year ago, we launched a petition calling on the government to come to the aid of Canadian hospitality workers.
One of our petitions asked to legislate 10 days of paid medical leave. Our petition has amassed over 21,500 signatures, which shows that this is something that many people across Canada value.
I’ve worked in restaurants for over 10 years and was a restaurant manager until May 2020. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree which focuses on studying labour conditions in the restaurant industry.
In my 10 years of working in restaurants, I’ve witnessed countless times when my co-workers and I would go into work sick. I have seen strep throat go through an entire workforce. I have seen workers coughing, sneezing and vomiting at work. My co-workers and I also suspect that COVID-19 spread through a few staff members in early March 2020. In all of these situations, we should have been staying home recovering. However, many restaurant workers are unable to stay home sick because it means they would have to forego a day’s pay.
A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that low-income workers are the least likely to have access to paid sick leave, and as a result they are more likely to go to work sick. This is the case for many hospitality workers who are working paycheque to paycheque.
Everyone deserves the right to be able to stay home when they are sick without having to worry about how they’re going to be able to afford to put food on the table or pay rent. It’s for that reason that we support 10 days of paid medical leave.
Over the last year, we’ve seen many issues with sick leave programs implemented by the provinces and territories. Some of those issues we would like to share with you so that you can ensure that Bill C-3 does not make these same mistakes.
First of all, paid medical leave must be available to workers with no strings attached. Workers have told us that their employer did not believe that they were sick, and the only way they could get a day off was by providing doctors’ notes to prove their sickness.
The requirement of a doctor’s note is a barrier for some workers. For many, it’s a hassle travelling to the doctor, especially on public transit. It takes up time that could be spent getting better and also provides a risk to the public. Sometimes workers also have to pay for these doctors’ notes.
We’d also like to point out that some Alberta restaurant workers have even said that they don’t have a doctor that they could go to due to the severe shortage.
Workers have told us they’d rather go into work sick than get a doctor’s note.
We believe that all 10 paid days of medical leave should be accessible without the need for doctors’ notes.
In addition, we want to ensure that medical leave does not require the worker to fill out any paperwork. We’ve seen workers get left behind because they’re unable to fill out a form if English or French was not their first language.
Secondly, paid medical leave must provide an adequate number of days off. Bill C-3 proposes that workers be able to earn one paid medical leave day per month. This is unfair to workers who have started new employment.
In the hospitality industry, we see workers jumping from restaurant to restaurant on average every six months. These restaurant workers would never be eligible for the full 10 days of paid medical leave, even if they had been working in the industry for years.
We recommend that all 10 days be available after one month of work.
My third and last point is that the government needs to provide awareness campaigns and oversight so that both workers and employers are aware that 10 days of paid medical leave are available.
We spoke to a Quebec server who was eligible for two paid sick days per year after three months of work. Although she had been working as a server for several years, she had no idea that paid sick leave existed, and she had never received pay for the days that she called in sick. It’s common for employers not to share this information with their workers, and it’s also impossible for workers to be able to hold their employer accountable if they’re unaware of new legislation. Creating legislation is not enough. Education is also needed.
These three points are essential to ensure that workers have access to paid medical leave. Sickness is bound to happen to all workers. When it does happen, it shouldn’t mean that workers have to unfairly give up their pay when they’re trying to do the right thing by staying home to prevent others from getting sick.
We hope that the federal government will not only lead the way with Bill C-3, but will also make a commitment to convene with provinces and territories to ensure that all workers have access to this right.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak and to allow us to bring the voice of restaurant workers to the policy-making table.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Our witnesses have set a really high bar. They have all come in under five minutes. I certainly hope that our senators will be able to keep the timelines that are proposed to them.
We’ll now proceed to questions from senators.
As is our previous practice, I would like to remind each senator that you have five minutes for your question, and that includes the answer.
If you wish to ask a question, please signal the clerk or use the raised hand function in Zoom for those attending by video conference. Those attending here can signal the clerk.
The first set of questions will come first from Senator Bovey, the deputy chair of the committee, and the senator from Manitoba, followed by Senator Patterson from Nunavut, and then Senator Verner from Quebec.
Senator Bovey: I would like to thank all the witnesses for your presentations and for your insights into the situation that we’re dealing with.
My question revolves around if you were consulted, and did you raise these points of the accrual of sick days rather than a bank of sick days that you can draw from, when and if you were consulted?
I do note, Dr. Dutt, in the report, before it’s too late, that you said that sick notes are a barrier to paid sick days, and that’s certainly being reflected today in what you’ve said. The bill refers to these as medical certificates.
I’m wondering if you can elaborate on what kind of barrier? Because I know from COVID in my family there was a person who thought they had a cold, stayed home for a day, went back to work and then realized it was more. What is that interruption of sick time off?
If you can take that and give us a little bit more depth, I’d be very happy to hear, please, from each of you, about consultation and what did you raise in that consultation with regard to sick days?
The Chair: The question is to you, Dr. Dutt. If other witnesses would like to answer within the time frame of five minutes, I’ll give one minute more because of this intervention. Please do raise your hand.
Dr. Dutt: Sure, I will start. In terms of the consultation, we have written a letter on behalf of the Decent Work and Health Network which we have sent to the Minister of Labour as well as all other opposition parties and other parties in Parliament. We have shared our concerns and we have had a number of meetings with different parties, including the Minister of Labour’s office. We have tried to share our thoughts. So they’re aware of the fact that we appreciate the legislation and that we suggest these amendments.
In terms of barriers, it’s both from personal experience as a family doctor as well as what we’ve seen in terms of evidence. We know that — I guess the burden of having to leave your home when you’re sick, when we know that the vast majority of people do not need to seek health care, that is an additional burden. Not having childcare often is also an additional burden, and the burden on the health care system is significant when we know that most people do not need to come in, do not need to access emergency services, do not need to spend the time coming to see us.
I think the fact that 82% of Canadians have said that the effort needed to go get a sick note undermines the fact that they will stay home at all is a really stark statistic, to know that people would rather go to work rather than to spend the time and effort to go and get a sick note which really is not a medical need.
The Chair: There is time left for other witnesses to weigh in on that question.
Ms. Gordon: I can jump in. I think that was explained very well. The Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition has met with MPs but it has been a few months. So we have not actually consulted on this bill to be able to raise our concerns.
So this is the first time bringing it to anyone.
As far as the barriers, again, it’s the time, obviously it’s really important to go see a doctor if you’re sick, but if it is an illness like the flu and you have a feeling that you’ll be fine in a couple of days, it’s a lot to have to go and see a doctor. It takes time. You’re not able to just kind of sleep and recover. Restaurant workers tend to have a very hard time being able to make it to their doctors because they’re far away. Many don’t have cars. So it’s just really the time barrier and the need to stay home and recover is important.
The Chair: Senator Bovey, do you have a follow-up?
Senator Bovey: Dr. Dutt, could you let us know briefly, what was the response that you got from raising the question of having the banked days as opposed to the accrual?
Dr. Dutt: We did have a receptive adviser within the minister’s office who did hear our concerns. They spoke to the fact that employers often put forward that people should not have sick days right away because of the ongoing myth that workers abuse their sick days when, in fact, what we’ve seen is that, for example, in San Francisco where they have mandated nine sick days, most people use far fewer than that, and a quarter of people didn’t use them at all. Places like San Francisco, New York City and other jurisdictions have clearly shown that when people have paid sick days, they use them appropriately. They’ve done evaluations. That’s the biggest concern.
The other piece is that businesses worry about the cost to them, when often they may not consider the cost of not having paid sick days — for example, the cost of workers being sick at work, not working as well as they should be and employee turnover. Those were some of the responses we had regarding that amendment suggestion.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Dutt.
Senator Patterson: Thank you to the witnesses.
Dr. Dutt, you had recommended that workers be entitled to access all 10 days after two weeks of employment if I heard you right. The Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition’s recommendation was after a month if I heard that right. I’m wondering if you could tell us whether there’s research behind those recommended time frames. I’m asking because usually — and I’m not saying this is the best way — benefits kick in after a probation period that can vary anywhere between three and six months.
Could you elaborate on that question of timing? Thank you.
Dr. Dutt: Sure. As I mentioned, the Yukon is the only place that uses this type of accrual method before people can access paid or unpaid sick days. In terms of best practices, we’ve seen, for example, Ontario introduce Bill 148 for two days of personal emergency leave, which people could have within two weeks. I believe federal personal leave is similarly granted after two weeks. Therefore, it would be consistent with other federal leave policies.
Again, we need to consider paid sick days not as a perk and not as something that people earn over long periods of time, but as the foundation workers need to have. We’ve seen that people use them appropriately. They use them when they’re sick, and they often don’t even use the number that they’re allowed to have. All of which points to the fact that this is something people should have from the beginning, because you may get sick in your third week of work, in your sixth week of work or in your sixth month of work. You want to be able to access those paid sick days, and people do use them appropriately, and I think that argues for being able to have them available as soon as possible. A month might be reasonable, but two weeks is often what is used in current practice in Canada.
Senator Patterson: Thank you. Mr. Villeneuve, I don’t think we’ve gotten an answer from you yet on the consultation that might have been undertaken by your association in advance of the introduction of this bill, and whether you were satisfied with how you were consulted, if you were.
Mr. Villeneuve: Yes, the Canadian Nurses Association, or CNA, did have the opportunity to discuss with the government before. We were not involved in a formal consultation, but certainly were advised. We signalled our strong support for the protection of health care workers, particularly the piece about harassment, and that it was absolutely the right direction. We did not see the bill before, but we felt we had an opportunity to signal our strong support.
Senator Patterson: Thank you. Ms. Gordon, a quick question. I understand that restaurant workers do not fall within the ambit of this bill. What do you recommend we do about the issue of protecting restaurant workers?
Ms. Gordon: Our hope is that by passing this bill, it will set a precedent and a standard for the other provinces and territories. It will increase their need to bring in 10 paid sick days.
B.C. has the highest so far, bringing in five in the new year. The big thing is that at least we have a federal government that is setting a standard. It’s the education piece as well — trying to figure out how to spread the word that it’s okay for workers to be able to stay home sick and that their employer should be providing these to them.
Senator Patterson: Thank you. Pass the bill; that’s what you’re recommending.
Senator Verner: I’m assuming the interpretation is working well for our witnesses. As a senator from Quebec, I would like to address them in French, if possible. Is the interpretation available?
The Chair: It’s working, senator. We can hear you loud and clear.
Senator Verner: I will not repeat the same questions as my colleagues. I just wanted to make a comment about the medical certificate that would be more difficult to obtain for some employees who are sick. I hear what you are saying when you say that they may be facing a barrier in obtaining the certificate.
Dr. Dutt, and perhaps Ms. Gordon as well, have you considered the possibility that this pesky medical certificate could be available in telehealth clinics in an effort to prevent a sick employee from taking public transportation and sitting in the emergency room of medical clinics or hospitals to obtain a certificate?
With COVID, telehealth clinics have become very popular. In Quebec, some clinics have what are called specialized nurse practitioners who could issue the certificates. Did you consider this option in your request in order to avoid going for a medical certificate?
Dr. Dutt: I didn’t have the interpretation, but I will try to answer, because I think I understood your question correctly.
In my opinion, there is no need to obtain a certificate. I think it is important for people to see a doctor or a nurse if they need health care. In my view, a certificate is simply something I write down. If I give patients a certificate, I am not giving them care. I don’t think the virtual option makes sense. If I don’t examine a person, I don’t prescribe medication. I am only seeing them to issue a certificate.
In a case like that, if employees are given 10 sick days, they can use them as needed and it makes the medical certificate unnecessary.
I was very nervous speaking in French. I hope you understood me.
Senator Verner: I understood you very well. I am just disappointed that the interpretation did not work for you. I think my question is very relevant at a time when virtual consultations are becoming more and more popular in clinics. I know that, in Ontario, things are moving faster in this direction because nurses can perform more extensive medical procedures than in some parts of Quebec.
I was wondering whether, in order to avoid the need for a sick worker to travel, they could simply have a virtual appointment with a nurse practitioner or simply, if necessary, with their family doctor.
I just want to say that I support what Ms. Gordon said, that when the legislation is in place, an awareness campaign is needed so that employers and workers are aware of the tools available to them when they are sick. I think that’s critical. Ms. Gordon has raised a good point.
Senator Petitclerc: I will speak in French. I have two questions. My first question is for Mr. Villeneuve and, if I have time left, I will have another one for Dr. Dutt.
Mr. Villeneuve, as you mentioned, our nurses have been working hard under very difficult conditions since the beginning of the pandemic. With this bill, we are trying to protect them from any possible form of intimidation, while respecting Canadians’ right to speak.
I have two questions along those lines. You may be aware that British Columbia is trying to pass a bill that would establish a sort of 20-metre free zone around facilities, which would provide additional protection.
What are your thoughts on that? Do you think it would be helpful and would provide a little more security for our nurses? Is it actually necessary or is the bill as it stands sufficient?
Mr. Villeneuve: Thank you. We have not formed a position on the number of feet or metres of clearance. However, I think we would strongly support anything in the bill that helps nurses, doctors and others to get safely in and out of hospitals and work settings.
That has been the problem; we have gone from hero to people being literally shoved and yelled at. We would align ourselves strongly with our labour colleagues and say that people have a right to free assembly, such as unions to picket and so on. But let’s use the example of union protest. That is not the same as yelling at people, shoving and hitting them, and stopping them from getting to their job because they are speaking public health messages. It’s important to understand that even within the code of ethics for nurses, physicians and others, it is an obligation of our work to speak this language and enact care.
So any reasonable protections that can be put around people, whether online or in their transit in and out of workplaces, we would support. I’m sorry I can’t speak to the particular B.C. proposal. I’m not familiar with the exact distance you are speaking to.
Senator Petitclerc: Thank you. In your opening remarks, you talked about online bullying. I’m a little confused as to how this bill will protect nurses from online bullying.
Do you have any comments or thoughts on that?
Mr. Villeneuve: It certainly seems clear to us that the intention of the bill is to protect people from being threatened, harassed and intimidated, whether that’s through an online portal like Facebook and even into email. Some of us have had quite disturbing things said and sent to us, to the point where some nurses are feeling the need for protection getting from the institution to their car, for example, because of what is said online. It is quite intimidating.
We understand the intention of the bill to be to protect people from the verbal harassment and physical “hands on” in person as well as the threats online, which might be “We will get you” or “We will find you if you speak positively about vaccines,” or whatever the issue is.
It’s our hope that it would cover that range of threats that nurses are telling us they are experiencing. We have experienced that at CNA as well.
The Chair: Senator Petitclerc, you have 40 seconds left.
Senator Petitclerc: Very briefly, Dr. Dutt, you mentioned that the need to have a medical certificate could pose some challenges.
Do you think some groups might face more barriers than others? Could the request for a medical certificate to obtain a day of paid leave disproportionately cause barriers for some groups more than others? I am thinking in particular of people with disabilities.
The Chair: Dr. Dutt, please answer that question quickly because we are running out of time.
Dr. Dutt: The brief answer is “yes.” Rebecca Gordon also spoke to the idea that people might lack transportation or childcare, who are in precarious work situations, and who might have trouble getting to a physician or who might not have a physician or nurse practitioner. There are many groups, such as people with disabilities, who might also have challenges obtaining medical care.
Many groups would find it challenging to get a medical note, so yes, that would definitely disproportionately impact certain groups.
Senator Kutcher: Thanks to all the witnesses.
I’m going to continue with Senator Petitclerc’s question and drill down a little more on these medical certificates. Is there equality of access across Canada for medical certificates, and if not, which groups specifically do you think are most disproportionately affected?
Dr. Dutt: I would first take it back to this: What is the purpose of the sick note? It’s essentially someone saying, “Yes, this person is sick” when for the most part people are going to be recovering on their own, and the certificate is really not adding anything to the process.
But in terms of people who would be disproportionately impacted, it is similar to what I said — anyone who lacks access to a health care practitioner or cannot get to them. I have had people come in to see me with their children, taking an additional day because they needed to come to get the appointment to get the sick note when, really, they could have just stayed home for three or four days and never needed a note and then gone back to work. Anyone who faces those types of challenges would find it difficult to get the sick note.
To me, it comes back to this: It doesn’t add to their medical care and it doesn’t add to the fact that they should just have those sick days, be able to use them, be able to recover and go back to work.
Senator Kutcher: As a physician myself, you are preaching to the choir on this particular issue. I was just wondering if there were more specifics.
What is the general opinion among physicians about both the value and their willingness to write these notes?
Dr. Dutt: We know, for example, that women tend to access paid sick days more than men, so that would disproportionately affect them. In terms of physician opinions, a 2019 survey found that 76% of physicians write at least one sick note a day, so they took time to do that. Thirteen per cent of emergency providers end up charging people for sick notes because they are not providing any patient care and so they end up needing payment in some manner. Ninety per cent believe that their patients did not require any medical care when they came in just to get a sick note. Doctors are writing sick notes on a daily basis. They don’t believe they are needed. They believe that people can make their own decisions about when they’re ready to go back to work and that most don’t require additional care.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you for that.
Mr. Villeneuve, it’s nice to see you again, sir. I’m going to switch to the criminal side of things. The measures in the act to protect health care workers, do you think they go far enough? Do you have any other suggestions that could be considered to ensure the safety of health care providers and people seeking health care?
Mr. Villeneuve: We did not have any recommendations for significant amendments to the bill. We think [Technical difficulties] a plan to protect health care workers and we would not have any amendments to suggest.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you very much.
Ms. Gordon, do you think there is prejudice or bias against workers and the issue of sick days; that some people don’t trust them? They want a piece of paper in their hand because that, of course, will be trustworthy, but the worker is not trustworthy? Do you think that underlies a lot of this medical certificate discussion?
Ms. Gordon: Yes. You took the words out of my mouth. While you were talking, I was thinking that, from a worker’s perspective, it feels like my employer doesn’t trust me when they require a certificate, and it’s all this running around to ensure that you are safe in your employment. It all comes down to trust. From what I have seen as a manager of workers, we had paid sick days at my place of work and I didn’t see my employees abusing it. It actually made them feel trusted. They were more loyal to our company because they knew we respected them.
We have heard similar stories. We work with different restaurants in the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition that provide 10 paid sick days, and they are finding that their employees are not using them all. They are very careful with them because they don’t know when they are going to get sick. They are quite careful and it is not being abused.
Senator Kutcher: From your perspective, would you think there is any validity to the argument that having sick days — not medically certified, but real sick days — substantively decreases productivity and creates more problems in the workplace?
Ms. Gordon: No, it doesn’t. I would say it’s the opposite. If you go to work sick, you are not bringing 100% effort. In restaurants we have seen people who are sick and they end up cutting themselves and have to go to the hospital; people are working much slower and not doing their proper job, and customer service is worse. People going to work sick actually make things a lot worse for productivity. Allowing people to stay home while they’re sick and get paid for it is actually probably helping businesses.
Senator Bernard: I feel guilty taking time from my Nova Scotia colleague, but I’m going to take it.
I want to follow up on a couple of questions that some of my colleagues have asked, and I want to go a little deeper.
First, Dr. Dutt, I wonder if you could elaborate on the information you provided earlier about how the accrual model disadvantages racialized people and women more, and if you could explain how removing that model would benefit them. If you could give us a bit more information on that, please.
Dr. Dutt: In one example, there was information from Statistics Canada in 2019 that women tend to take more days. The average number of days taken off for illness and disability was 8.4 for men, whereas it tended to be 10.4 for women. Women do tend to use paid sick days more often. If they lacked those sick days, they wouldn’t be able to use the days they need when they are ill.
We know that people in shorter-term and contract positions and more precarious work situations tend to be racialized people, newcomers, immigrants, Black and Indigenous. These precarious work situations tend to lack paid sick days.
In the accrual method, if they are not in a position for a long period of time, which often happens, they would not be able to access those paid sick days. That is why this would have a disproportionate impact, because these people tend to be in positions for shorter periods of time or start new employment more often, so they would not be able to access those paid sick days.
Senator Bernard: Thank you.
I wonder if I could ask any of our witnesses if they could speak more to the comment that was made earlier regarding the need for awareness and oversight. In the best case scenario, if this bill were to pass, what are some of the ways that you think would reach those most negatively impacted by the lack of paid sick days? What would be the best strategies to reach those folks in terms of awareness? And in terms of accountability, who should be responsible for that accountability?
Ms. Gordon: I’m not sure if I have the answers to that. One of the things I know with restaurant workers is that we don’t have time to read bills, or if something passes and you don’t really understand it, this can seem daunting and overwhelming. I think having it put into easy-to-understand language would help.
There have been lots of different PSAs with COVID-19, and social media has helped reach younger workers. Perhaps that could be a way. Perhaps more research would need to be done on the best ways to reach these people, but the first thing is to ensure it is communicated in language that is easy to understand.
Senator Bernard: Would anyone else like to comment?
Dr. Dutt: I can make a quick comment around the importance of seamless accessibility to paid sick days. We know, for example, that some of the programs that have been in place — such as the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and Ontario’s program — had lower-than-expected uptake. Part of that was because it was a challenge to access it. As has been said, people might not know about the program, there are steps needed to access those days, and employers may need to take additional steps. All of those pieces make it harder for people to access. The more seamless we can make it, the easier it is to access, if it is just part of your employment — not having to take extra steps makes this much more effective.
Senator Bernard: Thank you.
Senator Griffin: I have what I hope will be a couple of quick questions so that Senator Kutcher can get more time. This, by the way, is meant for each group appearing as witnesses. Will this legislation cover many of the folks that you represent?
Mr. Villeneuve: We are talking, of course, about a different group with CNA, because CNA speaks as a professional voice for those 450,000 nurses. Across the country, they have told us — since the fall, when we saw protests in front of hospitals where nurses were harassed and threatened — that they want some sort of protection. Our sense from nurses we have talked to is that they understand that health is regulated by the provinces and territories, but they have a strong belief in the power of the federal government to make a strong statement of support around respectful workplace environments. We think this covers very well support workers and all different health care workers, but certainly nurses will be pleased with this.
Senator Griffin: It sounds like it might not represent a lot of other groups very well. You are all stakeholders in this, in some way, shape or form. Were you consulted when the Government of Canada committed to engaging with the federally regulated employees and workers towards the implementation of this legislation, and also in developing the national plan? Were you consulted? The silence is deafening. Do I take that as my answer?
Ms. Gordon: No. The Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition was not consulted on this specific bill. We did a lot of work talking to MPs throughout the pandemic, but we have not consulted on this in six months.
Mr. Villeneuve: As I said earlier, we certainly had discussions with the government that this was coming, but typically the work around sick days falls to our labour colleagues, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. That would have been the appropriate place for that conversation to be held. We certainly talked about the intent of the larger bill and around the Criminal Code changes. Thank you.
Dr. Dutt: I would say this is an issue that has been ongoing for many years, so we have provided input over many years. For this specific bill, we are providing input after the introduction of the bill. We have been able to give that input. But with the speed with which it was all put together, we didn’t give input in the actual details, but we have contributed our thoughts on what we think should be in it.
Senator Griffin: Thank you.
Senator Moodie: Thank you to the witnesses here today. Mr. Villeneuve, I’m going to send my question in your direction. It’s good to see you again. Welcome back to the Senate.
You have described reports of assault, verbal abuse and disrupting safe access to hospitals as some of what you have heard from your 450,000 nurses. Are you hearing that specific groups are being affected? By that, I’m asking whether this intimidating behaviour is in any way being disproportionately directed at racialized individuals, disabled health care workers who may be trying to enter their workplace and who are at increased risk. I’m wondering, is it extending inside the hospital to bedside interaction? How pervasive is this problem?
Mr. Villeneuve: The problem is pervasive, chair. I’m going to turn this question to my colleague, Aden Hamza, who is our expert around workplace violence.
Aden Hamza, Policy Lead, Canadian Nurses Association: Thank you for the question. Although we don’t have data specifically on racialized or marginalized communities within health care who are being impacted, we know that violence within the workplace is a serious issue for nurses. A report from our colleagues, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, last summer recorded that eight out of ten nurses reported physical violence at work. In terms of verbal harassment, one in five nurses experienced it on a daily basis. This not only has, of course, a physical impact on nurses related to work-related injuries — and around 40% report a work-related injury once a month — but you can also imagine the psychological impact, with nurses now showing some of the highest rates of anxiety and depression amongst health workers.
Senator Moodie: Thank you, Ms. Hamza. I’m wondering, with that information, if you can help us as legislators to understand how we can define better. Have we captured the types of activities and incidents that need to be targeted by this legislation? Have we adequately captured it in this legislation? Do you have any recommendations?
Ms. Hamza: At this time we don’t have any.
Senator Moodie: Have we gone far enough?
Ms. Hamza: In terms of collecting data, we need to have more information, but we are certainly pleased with the bill and the legislation that has been put forward.
Senator Moodie: Thank you.
Senator Dasko: Thank you for being here today. I just want to briefly pursue the topic of the 10 days and your thoughts on how the government came up with the 10 days and whether you might have had a role in consulting. Where did the 10 days come from? The government has gone from three to ten days. I would like your thoughts on where the government came from and how they came to a decision to go to 10 days.
Also, in the provinces right now, are there any provinces who have 10 days of sick leave? Is that possibly where this came from or, in fact, is the federal government, by legislating 10 days, going to be ahead of the curve when it comes to setting the standard? I want to throw it open to all of you to answer that if you can. Thank you.
Mr. Villeneuve: Thank you very much. I’m not sure that I have the right answer, but my understanding was that this aligned with the crisis across the country with the pandemic where people are sometimes asked to isolate for 10 days. If the public health rule is that you can diagnose yourself at home with your own test, here is the list of symptoms, and if you have them, stay home for 10 days, then the public is already doing what public health officials are telling them to do. Not being an expert in this area — we were not consulted on the days. My sense is that it lined up with the 10 days around the isolation for COVID-19.
Senator Dasko: Interesting. Does anyone else wish to comment on that?
Dr. Dutt: I think it does go along with COVID-19. At the same time, I think 10 days is starting to be seen as a standard. For example, New Zealand, Germany, Australia and Switzerland all provide at least 10 paid sick days. Sweden offers 14. Germany offers many weeks more. In fact, Canada would be catching up at this point. We would not be setting the standard, we would be catching up to it. It also matches with what we know about how long people tend to be ill when they have a cold or a GI illness that causes diarrhea or vomiting; it could be anywhere between two and seven days. In addition, it also accounts for some preventive services. There have been studies around that. If people have nine days, they also use at least some of those days to access health care in a way that helps prevent them from getting ill, which is also extremely helpful.
Senator Dasko: Do any provinces have 10 days?
Dr. Dutt: No. B.C. has five. Ten is what is being seen as the standard, but no one has ten days.
Senator Poirier: Thank you to all the witnesses for being here. I’m going to start my question with Dr. Dutt. Am I saying that right?
Dr. Dutt: Yes, thank you.
Senator Poirier: Just following some of the comments you made earlier and repeated, you listed a bunch of countries where 10 sick days exist already. Can you let us know if you have any data showing that in those countries where those 10 days already exist, do they get 10 days immediately at the beginning of the year or within two, three or four weeks, as you were asking for in amendment? Or is the 10 days accrued over the whole year? And if it is starting right at the beginning of the year in the countries you were talking about, is there any data that exists of how often those 10 days are used at the very beginning of the year, which leaves them with no more sick days at the end of the year, and how they resolve that problem when the sickness recurs, when the days have all been taken at the beginning of the year?
Dr. Dutt: We don’t have each country broken down, but the typical model is that you have a much shorter period of time, after which you can access the days, which is what we have seen in Canada, even within current federal Labour Code leave policy. It is a fact that most people access that much earlier in their employment than after month one. In terms of when people use them within the year, I don’t have that information. I have the information that says that, over the entire year, people tend to use far less than the days that they are allocated. Even if they use them at the beginning, we know that they don’t tend to use more than what they have throughout the entire year.
Senator Poirier: Are you aware whether, if the 10 days are not taken during the year, they are saved or banked? Can they use 20 the following year or use the balance of what was not used in one year towards the next?
Dr. Dutt: In most programs it tends to be that you have a certain amount for the year and then you finish that year.
They don’t tend to carry over. Then you have 10 days again — or whatever number of days it is — for the next year, because it’s for illness. That’s the average amount that people tend to use in a year. Then they can have that amount again for the following year.
Senator Poirier: Rebecca, did you have any data or anything on the questions that I just asked? Did you have any information on that on your end in the hospitality industry?
Ms. Gordon: Unfortunately no, I don’t have any exact data on the 10 days and how those are rolled out. I’ve only seen data coming from the United States and their different states, but they don’t have up to 10 days. However, it shows that not everyone uses all their days in the one year.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Senator Lankin: Thank you to all the witnesses for appearing and for your presentations. Dr. Dutt, I wanted to come back to the comment you made about the numbers that research shows, which is that women proportionately take a higher number of sick days. This goes back a lot of years. I’m asking you now if this information is new or perhaps more relevant. I might be out of date.
When I was an economic researcher and negotiator, we were attempting to increase access to leave for family care — particularly you think of children. Again, at that time it was clear that the primary responsibility for family care fell upon women, and women disproportionately ended up using their own sick days to take care of family.
We’ve made some progress in accessing family care. I’m wondering whether the numbers show that progress at all and whether that imbalance is still there.
Dr. Dutt: It sounds like you could probably teach me about that. What we do know now from this 2019 Statistics Canada information is that the average number of days lost per worker per year per personal or family responsibilities was 2.2 for women and 1.6 for men. This is 2019. That disparity is still there. We know that people can often use sick days for that caregiving piece if they don’t have other leave they can use. It’s often the women who are caring for a sick child or even pieces like vaccination. We know that people with paid sick leave are more likely to go get vaccinated, and that’s the same with women who may be taking their children. Others might, but it does often disproportionately fall to women and mothers to do that.
Senator Lankin: Thank you. Sorry if that’s a little bit off the mark in terms of your general area of expertise. However, I wanted to push it because when statements are made — in this case the pure numbers show higher utilization by women — people who may not know some of the background, such as cultural influences, that contribute to that may simply think according to that mindset of not trusting workers, that women are sick more often. I always want to put some context around it so that the next time someone says that, you can think that there may be a reason for it outside of just a different behavioural consideration on behalf of gender.
My second question is for Mr. Villeneuve. Please, if this is outside the wheelhouse of the association, just tell me that. I am interested in exploring the Charter Statement the government has provided around the provisions in terms of securing patient-safe access to legal health care services and protecting health care providers.
Within that, we know there are Charter protections for freedom of association and freedom of expression, and we also know that there have been particular injunctions that have been brought around at times that seek to balance people’s rights under these provisions. It’s never clearly one way or the other.
Do you have any concerns at all that the legislation, the way it is currently written, may be subject to court challenges — may be vulnerable to court challenges — that allege that these provisions inflict a right that is a charter violation for those people who are protesting or being controlled or regulated through this legislation? Any concerns? Have you looked at that? Is that something the association can express an opinion on?
Mr. Villeneuve: Thank you very much. We have actually had some discussions over the last week. As you know, a lot of this has unfolded quite quickly. Our concern is, for example, patients’ rights groups who may want to gather and say something in front of a hospital. Racialized people who have had a bad experience in a hospital may want to gather. That right should be protected. We’re certainly aware of the issue. However, when we look at the legislation, our belief is that it seems pretty specific that this is about, specifically, taking on health care workers coming and going or patients seeking care in an institution.
In our experience, whether it’s unions doing completely legitimate protests or saying the wrong word outside of a hospital, or patient groups and so on, that’s a very different dynamic than we’re seeing. Nurses never tell us that that really is an issue. Maybe they get into work one minute late. But we haven’t heard that through the years. This is something very new. Our view is that the legislation really tackles that quite well.
Senator Lankin: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you all. Thank you, colleagues, for keeping your questions short. Once again, thank you so much to our witnesses for your participation at such short notice. Your assistance with our study is much appreciated.
You each have five minutes to make a presentation after which we will ask you questions that are necessary for our study. Thank you.
Bea Bruske, President, Canadian Labour Congress: Good evening, senators. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to appear before you today.
I’m joining you from Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My name is Bea Bruske, and I am the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. The CLC is Canada’s largest central labour body. We advocate on issues of national importance for 3 million workers across Canada as well as all workers across Canada.
There are approximately 18,500 employers in the federally regulated industries, including federal Crown corporations. Together, these employers employ about 955,000 people — about 6% of all employees in Canada. Roughly one third of these workers are covered by a collective agreement. The vast majority — 87% of these workers — work in companies with 100 or more employees.
Many unionized employees working in the federally regulated private sector have negotiated paid sick leave with their employer. However, for non-union federal private sector employees, the federal government passed Bill C-86 back in 2018, which provided for three days of personal paid sick time.
That was very important because in 2015, according to the federal jurisdiction workplace survey, just under 14% of federally regulated private sector companies at that time offered paid sick leave for permanent employees who had at least one year of continuous service and who worked more than 30 hours per week.
It is critically important to improve paid sick leave to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Across Canada it is estimated that more than half of workers, in fact, 58% of workers do not have access to paid sick leave, and that increases to 70% of workers when you think about low-income workers making $25,000 or less.
In recognition of the need to fight COVID-19, the federal government introduced the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit for workers who lost at least half of their scheduled workweek due to illness or self-isolation due to COVID, and, of course, that provided for a $500 weekly benefit. As of November 28 of this year, as many as 780,000 Canadians had taken advantage of that program.
This temporary sickness benefit had been important because it was important for slowing the spread of COVID, but it still doesn’t take the place of a workplace paid sick leave provision that all workers can access regardless of their source of illness. While it’s an important stopgap measure, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is not available to every sick worker who needs it. It’s restricted to workers who earned at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12-month period prior to applying for benefits. That leaves out thousands of workers across Canada currently.
It’s only a last resort. If the employer offers any other type of paid leave, such as short-term disability or any other kind of benefit, they are not eligible; likewise, if the employee has applied for or received the Canada Recovery Benefit, the caregiving benefit, Workers’ Compensation, EI or the Québec Parental Insurance Plan, that worker is not eligible. It’s also not available for workers who are sick for less than half of their work week and, again, it’s temporary and not a permanent benefit. It is also restricted simply to just COVID. Once those benefits are exhausted, after a maximum of eight weeks, that’s it. There are no more benefits.
It’s also very cumbersome for that employee to apply. You must apply each week if you need it for more than one week. In a study focused on paid sick leave policy in British Columbia, the Centre for Future Work estimated that implementing a 10-day paid sick leave in the province would lead to a very minimal increase in total business expense, anywhere between .15% and .3%. The centre found no evidence that 10 paid days of sick leave would cause widespread bankruptcies or job losses, and the report also catalogued the benefits of paid sick leave policies for businesses, including reducing the transmission risk among sick colleagues and customers, better staff retention and stronger customer confidence in that place of employment.
The Centre for Future Work study listed many advantages based on paid sick leave policies and they include, of course, the reduced absenteeism of sick workers; the reduced presenteeism of ill workers who are going to work but are unable to really perform their tasks and duties at the highest level, which then also becomes a workplace safety and health issue; it also improves employer recruitment and retention. We know that currently many industries are very much struggling to attract and retain staff.
We also believe that it helps with preventive health benefits in terms of encouraging workers to get vaccinated by having that time to go and get those things done.
According to the CFIB’s most recent survey of members in October 2021, about half of the respondents listed labour shortages and future business lockdowns and restrictions as their top concerns. About another third responded that personal health, including physical and mental health, was a top concern. We believe that introducing paid sick leave benefits will help small businesses address all of these issues.
So in conclusion, senators, the Canadian Labour Congress welcomes Bill C-3 and urges swift passage of this legislation. The 10 paid sick days federally, for a federally regulated private sector, is very much long overdue. It’s even more so overdue for the millions of workers who currently have absolutely no access to these benefits. That’s why we have to get on with the task of ensuring that all workers in Canada, regardless of their employment status or where they work, have access to paid sick leave at work. As we continue to combat COVID-19 and anticipate the health challenges to come, it’s absolutely common sense. I look forward to answering questions you may have.
The Chair: Thank you so much.
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour: My name is Gil McGowan and I have the privilege to serve as the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is the largest worker advocacy group in the Province of Alberta, representing about 175,000 workers in both the public and private sectors. I’m joining you tonight from Treaty 6 territory in Edmonton, which is the home of the Cree, Anishinaabe, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux and Dakota Sioux.
I’m going to begin my remarks this evening with a sort of thought experiment; a question. I don’t expect everyone to answer, but I want you to think about it. The question is simple. How many of the people participating in this call tonight have access to paid sick leave through work? Senators, political staffers, public servants. I think that I can safely say that the vast majority of you don’t have to think twice about whether or not you can take time off when you’re sick. But as you are thinking about that, I want to encourage you to understand that it’s a privileged position that we have. Unfortunately, it’s not a privilege that is shared by every Canadian. In fact, here in my province, about two thirds of workers don’t have access to paid sick leave at all through their workplaces.
What does that mean for these workers? Well, when they get sick it means they have to make a choice between whether they should stay home, do the right thing or go to work sick. It means that they have a harder time following the advice of public health officials because, frankly, they face a financial cost, which none of us — those of us who are lucky enough to have access to paid sick leave — have to contemplate.
So the result is that many go to work when they know they shouldn’t, and the numbers that do that are actually quite shocking. A few months ago, our chief medical officer of health here in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, acknowledged that even among people who had tested positive for COVID, more than 10% were going to work while sick. Obviously, the numbers would be much higher if they were sick with something else which they could transmit to their co-workers. But 10% of COVID-positive patients were going to work while sick. This was in the midst of both the second and third waves in Alberta.
So who are the people who don’t have paid sick leave? We’ve heard from Dr. Dutt and other panellists, but it’s exactly the people who need it most. We’re talking about non-professional service sector workers, people working on the front line. It’s people who haven’t had the luxury of being able to work from home during the pandemic, people like grocery store workers, meat packing workers, people who work in long-term care facilities, construction workers, even in health care where most are unionized and unionized workplaces are much more likely to have access to paid sick leave. But even in health care, in education, in universities and colleges, there is an increasing number of people who are working in precarious temporary gig‑style jobs who, even though they’re working in the public sector, don’t have access to paid sick leave.
Now, many would frame this as a public health issue and it is. We’ll never get past the pandemic and get things under control as long as people can’t stay home when they are sick. But it is also a workplace health and safety issue. We, at the Alberta Federation of Labour, represent workers in every sector of the province, in every corner of the province, and I can tell you that COVID has hit our workplaces very hard.
The lion’s share of public attention is focused on long-term facilities and hospitals. But I can tell you that there have been incredible outbreaks in our schools. Literally every single grocery store that is represented by our affiliates has had at least one outbreak. There have been dozens of outbreaks in warehouses, dozens in factories and manufacturing facilities and also oil sands work camps.
There’s been a lot of talk about this being a problem of community spread. With due respect, that misrepresents the situation. COVID is being spread in workplaces. In fact, in all of the four waves that we have experienced so far, workplace spread has been and will continue to be — if there is a fifth wave — one of the most significant drivers of transmission.
So paid sick leave is a public health issue and a workplace health and safety issue. But probably even more important to that, it’s an issue of power. As many scholars have noted, and certainly as many workers will tell you, the employment relationship is a very unequal one. Employers hold most of the cards. So without intervention from governments —
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. McGowan. Your time is over. I apologize.
We need to go to Mr. Guénette of the CFIB.
Jasmin Guénette, Vice-President, National Affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business: My name is Jasmin Guénette and I am the Vice-President, National Affairs, at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. We represent 95,000 SMEs across the country.
I would like to thank the chair and the members of the committee for this invitation.
Let me begin by presenting some data on the health of SMEs. Seventy-eight per cent of Canadian SMEs are completely open, 45% are fully staffed and only 36% have normal revenues. So as you can see, the situation is far from back to normal for a very large number of SMEs across the country. What’s worse, 71% of them have incurred debt as a result of COVID-19. The debt averages $170,000, and one in six businesses is at risk of closing because of the pandemic.
CFIB is concerned about Bill C-3. The federal government must be extremely cautious not to impose new costs on SMEs when the majority of them have not yet returned to normal sales levels and are heavily in debt. It should be noted that SMEs will already be facing a significant increase in Canada Pension Plan contributions, specifically as of January 1, 2022.
It is important to note that the majority of SMEs already provide sick leave benefits that are equal to or better than the standards of the province in which the business is located. When we ask business people what barriers prevent them from providing more sick leave, 53% say the cost is simply too high. If Bill C-3 is implemented, 48% of business owners say that the government will have to compensate for the added costs by lowering other operating costs.
Eighty per cent of business owners say the best way to support their business is by ensuring the cost of doing business does not increase.
If Bill C-3 is adopted, many businesses could be forced to cut down on staffing and benefits to absorb the new costs, if they can even survive the pandemic.
If Bill C-3 is adopted, government must find ways to cut costs elsewhere for small business owners, such as freezing the increase in CPP. Government could also lower EI contributions paid by employers and ensure COVID support programs are available to more businesses.
Small business owner optimism is at an almost record low. Inflation, supply chain disruption and shortages of labour are hitting small business really hard, not to mention COVID-19 and all the restrictions imposed on businesses as a result.
Government must wait until the current crisis is over, and wait until the economy is fully recovered before introducing a bill like Bill C-3.
There should also be extensive consultation with small businesses before any such bill is adopted. Government must also provide a cost-benefit analysis to small businesses before such a bill is proposed. The government right now is rushing this bill, and it should not work like that.
The government has indicated that they want to recognize the unique needs of small business owners as this policy is developed. We are pleased to see that the government is recognizing the hardships that this could place on small business, so we will be watching and we will be proposing solutions to minimize the negative impacts that this bill could have on small business.
The last thing I will mention is the current shortage-of-labour crisis is extremely difficult for small business. They are struggling to find and keep employees. Any legislation that will make it harder and more costly for business owners to manage their payroll will be extremely damaging.
I would like to thank the chair again and all members of the committee for giving us the opportunity to make that presentation to you today, and we look forward to answering your questions. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Guénette. We will go to questions starting with Senator Bovey. Each senator has five minutes each for questions and answers.
Senator Bovey: Thank you, chair. I want to thank the witnesses and very much appreciate the information you’ve given us.
As I understand it, the provisions of this bill will apply obviously to employees and federally regulated industries, Crown corporations, and this encompasses about 6% of all the employees in Canada.
I appreciate that you’ve been very articulate in saying the number of people this doesn’t cover, and I accept that and hear that.
However, of the 6% of employees in Canada that this bill does cover, can you tell us how many, what percentage of them are union members? How many of these individuals do you think have access to equivalent or better benefits within their unions or within their places of work with respect to medical leave with pay?
Ms. Bruske: I think I can give you part of an answer to that. Of the 6%, that’s about 955,000 Canadian workers, about a third of those workers are unionized and work under a collective agreement.
For the most part, the vast majority of workers who work under a collective agreement would have some access to paid sick leave. Again, it would range in number in terms of what the entitlement would be, but a fair guestimate would be at least half a day per month up to a full day per month of accrual.
Senator Bovey: Accrual goes beyond a maximum of 10 days per year? Can it be carried over? Can you give us a sense of what those other situations may be?
Ms. Bruske: Each collective agreement is unique, of course. I couldn’t hazard a guess what the percentage would be. Generally speaking, sick days, if you don’t utilize them within one year, you lose them so to speak. So you only ever maintain whatever the maximum amount of accrual is in your collective agreement.
However, one point to note is that even if you are an employee under a collective agreement, oftentimes sick pay is not extended to part-time or very casually employed workers.
Senator Bovey: That was going to be my next question. You’ve answered it.
So there’s time for others to ask questions, I’ll quickly ask each of you if you were consulted during the process of the drafting of this bill or with the situations during COVID that obviously led to it?
Ms. Bruske: We were not consulted on the most recent introduction of this particular bill. However, the CLC has long taken the position that paid sick time is a necessity for all workers and all industries across the country. We have taken the opportunity to speak to all politicians of all backgrounds on this particular point over the last number of years.
Senator Bovey: Mr. McGowan, can you answer that so I know whether you’ve been consulted?
Mr. McGowan: My answer is similar. Our federation of labour, along with other provincial federations, have been lobbying provincial and federal governments for years for the introduction of 10 days of paid sick leave. So there have been conversations ongoing with this government and previous governments. We were not, however, consulted specifically on this particular piece of legislation, though we’re very pleased to see it. It does reflect what we’ve been asking for. I would say on behalf of our federation of labour that while I don’t want to seem ungrateful, we do share the concerns that were raised by two of your other panellists from the previous panel about the deficiencies of this particular piece of legislation. We are deeply concerned that they have chosen to include an accrual model for the paid sick days.
The bottom line for us is that if this is going to be as effective as it needs to be, especially in a crisis such as the pandemic we are living through, those sick days have to be available to people when they need them, whether it’s at two weeks of employment or two months.
Also, the sick notes are something we will not support.
Senator Bovey: We have spoken about accrual.
Mr. Guénette, were you consulted?
Mr. Guénette: We were not consulted specifically on this bill. I would add that consultation with small businesses should not just be when a bill is introduced; it should be before a bill is introduced and drafted. So, no, we were not consulted specifically when this bill was introduced. And we should have been.
Senator Bovey: Thank you.
Senator Patterson: I would like to ask a question of Mr. Guénette, and perhaps the other witnesses may wish to comment. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has released a legislative costing note, December 7, that I hope you know about. Basically, it says that the move to grant more paid sick days will actually generate significant revenues for the federal government because of increased personal income tax revenue. And there won’t be very much cost to the federal government for providing additional sick leave to employees of federal Crown corporations because most of them already have at least some paid sick days. Do you know about this costing, and would you agree that this means the government is actually offloading the cost to businesses while raking in significant tax revenue from personal income tax collection as a result of these additional paid sick days?
Mr. Guénette: Thank you for your question. I was not aware of that report. I did not read it, so I cannot comment on it.
When we surveyed our members on 10 paid sick days and asked them what the impact would be, a majority of them said the reason they cannot implement such a policy is that the cost is simply too high.
We have to remember the current state of affairs small businesses are in right now; 2021 has been one of the most — if not the most — difficult years in a generation or in 100 years in terms of running a small business. We have seen COVID restrictions hitting small businesses hard. We are currently seeing record high inflation rates, which are impacting small businesses. We are seeing supply chain disruption impacting businesses very badly. Shortage of labour is one of the top issues, and it’s hard on small businesses. Right now, the last thing that any small businesses need in Canada is an additional cost on their shoulders, and that is what that policy would bring to the table.
Mr. McGowan: I would like to comment, if that’s all right.
Senator Patterson: Please.
Mr. McGowan: With due respect, when considering the question of cost, I think it’s important that we look at the full cycle of cost on both sides of the ledger. While it’s true there may be some costs associated with offering paid sick days, it is also abundantly clear there are benefits that offset those costs. My colleague Bea from the CLC identified a number of them.
It is clear from all sorts of studies that when workers have access to paid sick leave, absentee rates go down, people are less likely to come to work sick and affect their own productivity and the productivity of others.
I want to pick up on this question of the labour shortage. We represent people in the service sector, and we represent people in hard-hit sectors in the manufacturing sector. I can tell you that people are afraid to go to work in the current context of the pandemic, and that is one of the biggest barriers to employers being able to attract workers in the current environment.
So if you are concerned about labour shortages and about attracting and retaining workers, I think the record speaks for itself. Employers that provide robust paid sick leave are more likely to attract and retain workers in general, but especially during a pandemic. To say we can put this off until sometime later when we can better afford it, my response is it’s a pandemic, and we have to get it under control. That is the best solution to dealing with economic crisis. Part of getting the pandemic under control is through the provision of paid sick leave. It’s an investment in dealing with the pandemic, which in turn will help us get through this economic trough.
Ms. Bruske: I would like to get in on that answer.
The Chair: I’m sorry Ms. Bruske, we have to preserve the time for other senators to ask their questions. I must go to Senator Verner. I apologize.
Senator Verner: I have a relatively short question. Mr. McGowan beat me to it. My question is for you, Mr. Guénette. You talked about the difficulties that this would pose for small businesses, given the problems that they are facing with the pandemic, with the closures and everything else we know about. We also know that there is a severe labour shortage.
Couldn’t that be part of the offer to attract and retain staff — even in small businesses — and be part of the working conditions that could be offered? Someone I know tried everything to hire an employee from another company. At the very last minute, the employee, who was scheduled to start on Monday, called and said: “No, after all, my employer has decided to offer me a certain number of extra sick days.” In the context of COVID, clearly, those days were welcome for that person.
Could some companies strike a balance, even though I know they are very affected by the cutbacks and everything that has happened, so that this could be part of a package of conditions that could be provided to employees when there is a labour shortage?
Mr. Guénette: Thank you very much for your question. A very large number of SMEs already provide a number of benefits. All SMEs are doing everything they can to offer benefits to their employees. Many businesses have put in place different ways of providing sick leave and flexible hours to allow for a better work-life balance. Many, many small businesses are already very flexible and have specific policies with their employees. We know that, often, in a small business with seven, 10 or 12 employees, employers are very close to their employees. In some cases, they may be friends or family members. We see from surveys and feedback from many of our 95,000 members that they are already doing a lot to continually improve the benefits they provide to their employees. This recently includes upward pressure on wages.
However, such a policy has to be paid for, and the last thing SMEs can take on their shoulders right now is an additional cost.
As I said, and I will say it again, 2021 has been an extremely difficult year and we are very concerned about this bill that would put additional financial pressure on the shoulders of so many SMEs. As I said, Senator, so many of them already provide very advantageous conditions to their employees, especially for the reasons that you have already mentioned.
There is competition; employees can choose to go from one company to another. With the labour shortage, it’s never been easier to get a job. So, a lot of small and medium-sized businesses out there provide very competitive benefits, and we do not need a bill like Bill C-3 to ensure that businesses have good conditions for their employees.
Senator Verner: In addition to what you just said, of course, the federally regulated businesses, the infamous 6% that we have been talking about all along, would become fierce competitors for keeping the workforce. It is said that small business offers more than government programs, but if I take the example of Quebec, it is not very hard to beat, since only two paid days are provided through labour standards. Therefore, that 6% of businesses would become really fierce competition for all of your members in general.
The Chair: Senator Verner, your time is over. I apologize profusely.
Senator Dasko: My question is for Mr. Guénette. Thank you for your presentation. I live in Toronto. I certainly can see how many small businesses have been impacted by COVID. I just walk down the street and see restaurants that have been closed. It’s very sad. I’m looking forward to the end of this terrible chapter.
Now, I understand you do surveys of your members, and they say the cost of having 10 sick-leave days would be too high. That I understand very well and that could most certainly be the case.
On the other hand, if you look at this bill, it is only impacting a small percentage of workers. They are in federally regulated industries. They are in transportation, cable companies and so on. Those are large companies. This is VIA Rail, Air Canada and so on. It seems to me that small businesses in Canada are probably not affected by this legislation, hardly at all. That is just the way I look at the numbers.
I don’t know whether there is any research that actually speaks to that piece of it, but it would seem to me that the actual small businesses are really not in the catchment of this bill the way I understand the industry structure of these industries. I want to flesh that out a little if you wouldn’t mind. We really are talking about provincial regulations that would affect most small businesses, and from what we learned from the previous panel and what we know about this, no provinces have this provision. I throw that out to you. Thank you.
Mr. Guénette: Thank you for your question. You are right, most of our members are provincially regulated. We have a couple of thousand members that are federally regulated: businesses that are, for example, in the trucking industry; businesses that are grain elevator businesses; businesses in communications sectors that are small businesses in that sector.
I don’t have, off the top of my head, the exact number of members that are federally regulated, but I would say it’s less than 4,000 of all the 95,000 members that we represent.
Having said that, I think that for the small businesses that are federally regulated, the impact of that bill is as burdensome as they would be provincially regulated.
The Chair: Do you have another question?
Senator Dasko: No, I’m fine.
Senator Griffin: I had several really brilliant questions, of course, but other senators have already touched those bases so I’ll pass.
The Chair: That gives a little more time because we are tight.
Senator Lankin: My first question is for Mr. Guénette. If I have time after that, I have a question for the other witnesses.
First of all, let me, with full transparency, tell you that I come from a background of years arguing for benefit provisions like paid sick leave, so I come with that approach and bias.
I don’t want to seem like a contrarian to you, but I do want to understand some of the arguments you have made. For the individual federally regulated employers, you are saying it would be as difficult as it would be if it was a provincially regulated business.
You said, however, to us that the majority of your members already have equal to or better sick-leave benefits. Those two arguments — this is too burdensome and we have already got that going on and we don’t need legislation — those two things don’t stack up well in terms of arguments and counter‑arguments.
You also talked about the shortage of labour. That to me is a really fascinating thing coming out of this pandemic. I honestly did not see that or, in my own thinking, model that for the future. Here we have a situation where people are referring to it as the big quit or big resign and they are not going back to jobs where they worry about their health and their health prevention and the kinds of supports employers are going to provide, like sick benefits.
Again, I see a counterpoint to you being concerned about labour costs and you can’t get labour. Your members’ costs are going to go up. Everyone is predicting the next three to four years will have dramatically rising labour costs because employers will have to lure people back into the workforce and they will have to change a lot of things they do in order to accommodate what employees’ expectations are.
I wonder if you could address that because the arguments seem to be the same arguments I have heard for many years from your organization, and they seem to also be arguments that contradict each other.
Mr. Guénette: Thank you for your question. Which part of it would you like me to answer first?
Senator Lankin: That’s up to you, sir.
Mr. Guénette: My comment on the level of sick days already provided by our members; that data comes from a survey that we have conducted with our members, and the majority of them are saying that they are already providing at least what the province is requiring businesses to provide. So they are providing either that baseline or more.
I want to talk about a situation that is important to consider or bear in mind. I want you to put yourself in the shoes of the owner of a federally regulated small business that has had a particularly difficult year.
I’m talking about a company facing a number of issues, including increased supply chain costs. These federally regulated small businesses are also under pressure to increase wages, especially with the recent legislation that the federal government has put in place. When you add up all these factors and ask employers to add 10 days of paid leave, on top of all the expenses associated with the pandemic, I would ask you to hold on for a moment. First, let’s wait for the businesses to—
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Guénette. Your time is over.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you very much, Senator Griffin, for giving me your time.
My first question is for the representatives of the Canadian Labour Congress, or CLC, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, or AFL. We’re aware of the salubrious benefits of having paid sick days in workplaces, including better productivity — certainly no loss in productivity. I have finished reading a study done by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, which detailed a huge study done in the United States that found that sick pay mandates have casually reduced doctor-certified influenza-like illnesses at the population level — so not just at the workplace. Having paid sick days has decreased illness in the general population. Does that surprise you?
Ms. Bruske: Thank you for that question. No, it does not surprise me. I come from a workplace in Manitoba representing people working in food production environments and in retail who come in very close contact with other workers — particularly in food production environments, and of course, in the retail and service sectors with customers. Of course, when you take people out of the workplace when they are ill, regardless of what their illness is, there is much less chance of spreading that illness.
I want to, again, focus on the fact that 87% of the workers that would be covered by the 10 paid sick days under the legislation work in environments of 100 employees or more. These are not primarily small businesses that will be implementing these paid sick days under this particular legislation. It will have a significant impact on larger workplaces primarily.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you. I hear you.
Mr. Guénette, you told us about the opinion surveys, and as Senator Dasko pointed out, they have a place. I’m interested in the economic data you have. Can you share with us the economic data on the cost differential of having 10 paid sick days versus the primary and secondary costs of having people come to work sick, the decrease in productivity, the increase in injuries, the problems of infecting other workers and the secondary cost of infecting customers? Do you have that data?
Mr. Guénette: Thank you very much for the question. I don’t have the specific data you are asking for. However, once again, I want to add the following. We have to look at the proposal from all possible angles. Ultimately, it is the SMEs that—
Senator Kutcher: Excuse me. I only have five minutes. If you could get that data and share it with us, we’d appreciate it. Opinions are important, but I would like to see the data.
My final question is a bit problematic, and I want to apologize in advance for any problems that may come. In your opinions, if personal care workers working in long-term care facilities had actually had access to paid sick days, do you think that would have made a difference in the rate of transmission of COVID in those long-term care facilities if they didn’t have to come to work sick?
Ms. Bruske: One hundred per cent, it would have made a significant difference. Often, workers in long-term care are newcomers to Canada. They’re often women and racialized people who don’t have access to paid sick time and who are going to work because they have to make ends meet. That’s the reality — it’s “Can I make the rent cheque at the end of this particular month?”
Difficult decisions have to be made by workers when they are under financial pressure. Having privately owned long-term care homes that don’t provide these kinds of benefits is an absolute problem when it comes to spreading COVID and other illnesses.
Mr. McGowan: If I may, this is not just a hypothetical question, and it’s not up to opinion. We have real life experience that helps answer that question. I’m sure it’s the same in other provinces, but here, in Alberta, we have long-term care facilities that are publicly managed and run. Most of those workers are covered by collective agreements. On the other hand, we have private long-term facilities where they don’t have comparable benefits. It is clear: The transmission rates were much higher in the privately run facilities where workers were working for less money and fewer benefits, including lack of paid sick leave. The evidence is right in front of us. Paid sick leave in long-term care saved lives.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you for that.
Senator Petitclerc: I have a fairly brief question for Ms. Bruske. In your opening remarks, you mentioned that you agree with the introduction of these 10 days of paid leave. Could you tell me how those 10 days of leave can be accumulated? The previous witnesses told us that, in some countries, after two weeks or a month, you have a bank of 10 days. This bill proposes a different model, with days that accumulate every month.
What is your position on that?
Ms. Bruske: Thank you for that important question. Ideally, those 10 paid sick days should be available to employees when they need them, right from the beginning of their employment. Again, you don’t choose when you get sick. It could be during your first week of work or your 20th. Having an accrual period does provide hardship for those who then have to potentially wait and decide whether they are sick enough to stay home or whether they are going to risk it and go to work.
Senator Bernard: Thank you to all of the witnesses. I know time is running out. I’ll be brief with one question, which I think would go to Mr. Guénette.
You have highlighted a number of times the cost to small businesses. We know this bill impacts federally regulated businesses, but we have also heard from other witnesses that the hope is this bill will lead to provinces also choosing to introduce similar legislation. You have highlighted the costs. You hinted at some policy directions that could help offset those costs. I would like to ask you to expand on that if you could, please. I’m also wondering within your network of businesses, are you also working specifically with Black and other racialized business owners who may fall within that purview? Thank you.
Mr. Guénette: Thank you for your question.
There are ways to offset the costs as I mentioned in my presentation. One is not to increase current taxes on small businesses. Another is not to go ahead with the planned increase in the Canada Pension Plan contributions planned for January 1, in a couple of weeks. One potential solution is to lower Employment Insurance, or EI, contributions paid by employers.
Right now, employers pay 60% of EI contributions, and employees pay 40%.
It would be fairer if contributions paid by employers were lowered.
There are other compliance fees and costs of doing business that will increase in the next couple of months, so Bill C-3 would add to that at the worst possible time, as I’ve mentioned already a couple of times.
There are certainly worries regarding the trickle-down effect. If the government were to adopt such a policy, it would certainly be an invitation to the provinces to do the same. We have recently seen B.C. adopt a five paid sick-days policy. We recommended to the provincial government not to move ahead with that proposal for the same reasons we are expressing today.
There are ways to offset the costs, and we will be making that case quite regularly in the days and weeks ahead.
In terms of specific partnerships, CFIB represents all businesses from all sectors, from all regions in Canada, and the services that we provide to our members are counselling and representation, and we’re very proud of the work that we are doing.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Guénette. I would like to thank all of our witnesses very much for their participation in this study, especially at such short notice. Your assistance with our deliberations is greatly appreciated. I apologize very much for having to cut you off. I also apologize to my colleague senators, but we are constrained both by our time and the need to be fair.
There being no further business, this meeting is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)