On Labour Day, we celebrate the rights of working people and the accomplishments of the labour movement that helped secure these rights.
For a second year, we mark Labour Day in a world shaped by COVID-19. These are challenging times, but we’ve seen time and again that British Columbians are more than equal to the task.
It is important that we continue to stand up for fairness, equality, safety and security at work, and to make sure our economy is working for everyone. This belief drives our government’s work to make life better for people in B.C. every day.
COVID-19 has challenged us to renew our commitment to keeping our workplaces safe. During this extraordinary global pandemic, my ministry has proudly introduced new legislation and programs that significantly improve the lives of workers and support employers throughout British Columbia. We have helped to protect the jobs of workers who have had to take unpaid leave due to COVID-19 or other personal illness or injury. We also helped employers and laid-off workers stay connected to each other to protect jobs with a simplified process to extend temporary layoffs.
Beyond the pandemic, we have acted on priorities that support workplace health and safety, fair workers’ compensation and economic recovery. In June, we increased the general minimum wage to $15.20 an hour and brought an end to the lower discriminatory minimum wage for liquor servers in B.C., 80 per cent of whom are women. We passed legislation to give workers, whose employers do not already provide it, up to three days of paid sick leave for circumstances related to COVID-19, with the Province reimbursing employers up to $200 a day per employee to help keep workplaces safe and businesses operating.
For the first time in B.C., we’re creating a permanent, province-wide paid sick leave for employees who cannot work due to any illness or personal injury, starting Jan. 1, 2022. We are encouraging employers and workers to share their perspectives through our surveys and public consultation website. The surveys are open until Sept. 14.
As of Sept. 1, workplaces in B.C. are becoming more inclusive for people who wear religious head coverings, such as turbans, while enhancing workers’ safety, thanks to changes in B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. Employers must now conduct a risk assessment for their workplace when considering the need for safety headgear.
We brought in new changes to employment standards that will better protect young people at work while ensuring they get the opportunity to develop important skills by raising the general working age in British Columbia from 12 to 16 and defining the types of jobs appropriate for those under 16.
We will continue to support vulnerable workers and worker health and safety, so we can build safer workplaces and a better future for British Columbians. We have accomplished so much, and there’s still more to be done. I look forward to continuing this progress in the coming year.
I want to wish all workers and employers in B.C. a happy and safe Labour Day.
Harry Bains is B.C.’s Minister of Labour and also the MLA for the riding of Surrey-Newton.