moved that Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
I am proud to rise in the House today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people as Canada's new Minister of Labour to present a bill that is focused on workers and their safety.
The reality is that the safety of many workers across Canada was undermined during the pandemic. I am sure everyone agrees. However, Canadians deserve to feel safe in their workplaces.
No one should have to choose between staying at home when they are sick and being able to afford rent and groceries. It is clear the pandemic has exposed the gaps in our social safety net, and the time has come to close the gap on paid sick leave.
What exactly is this gap? The Canada Labour Code currently provides employees in federally regulated industries with several unpaid leaves related to personal illness or injury, as well as three days of paid personal leave that could be used to treat an illness or injury. However, if we look at the year 2019, Canadian workers took an average of 8.5 days of leave for illness and issues related to a disability. It has become very clear that three days is just not enough.
With Bill C-3, we are taking measures to ensure that Canadians who work in federally regulated industries have access to the paid sick leave they are entitled to.
The Government of Canada is introducing legislation that would amend the Canada Labour Code to provide 10 days of paid sick leave per year to workers in the federally regulated private sector. The impact of this could be huge.
There are approximately 18,500 employers in federally regulated industries. That includes federal Crown corporations and certain activities on first nations reserves. Together, they employ nearly a million Canadians. The vast majority of them, some 87%, are working in medium-sized to large firms, that is, companies with 100 employees or more.
The federally regulated sector comprises workplaces in a broad range of industries, including interprovincial, air, rail, land and marine transportation, pipelines, banking services, and postal and courier services. These are industries that people rely on every day.
Life during the pandemic has been stressful for so many people right across Canada. I think of my fellow Newfoundlanders who were worried about food and other goods because of the fear that the island supply chain could be cut off. Sometimes it was due to weather, but other times it was due to the terminals in Port aux Basques and North Sydney being closed after already being on limited capacity because of COVID.
These industries must survive and grow. They depend on workers, so we have to support those workers.
The bill before us today not only allows workers in these vital industries to stay home to rest when they are sick, but also prevents the spread of illnesses in their workplaces. More specifically, Bill C-3 would amend part III of the Canada Labour Code to make two changes.
First, in each calendar year, employees would earn one day of paid leave per month of continuous employment, up to a maximum of 10 days in a calendar year.
The second change is to avoid duplicating paid leave provisions relating to illness or injury under the Canada Labour Code. These two changes would impact more than 580,000 employees in the federally regulated private sector who do not currently have access to at least 10 days of paid sick leave. Sixty-three per cent of federally regulated workers do not have access to 10 paid sick days.
Increased paid sick leave would support employees by protecting them in three ways.
First, paid sick leave would protect workers' income. Workers would not have to choose between staying home to get well and earning a paycheque.
Second, it would protect their jobs.
Third, it would protect their health. Additional sick leave would enable them to recover at home, which would in turn protect others in the workplace.
To sum up, we are taking action to give workers and employers the concrete support they need to keep their workplaces safe. Paid sick leave will help us curb the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses in workplaces right across the country, and it is an important step toward finishing the fight against that virus and ending the global pandemic.
In addition to enabling workers to focus on their health and limit the spread of disease, paid sick leave would also protect our economy.
However, the benefits do not end there. Research indicates that not having access to paid sick leave is associated with high employee turnover. That is on top of increasing an employee's need for health care resources over the long term. These outcomes impose economic costs on individuals, employers, families and the government.
Studies have shown that paid sick leave is financially beneficial to employers and the public health system.
For these reasons, it is clear that the bill before us today should move forward. Paid sick days for federally regulated workers was part of the Liberal platform in the last election. We committed to introducing this piece of legislation within our first 100 days as a government. Today we have made good on that promise.
Introducing 10 days of paid sick leave is just step one of our plan.
We want to see paid sick leave implemented across the country in all sectors. To do that, we need to work with the provinces and territories to take an approach that benefits Canadian workers from coast to coast to coast, because 58% of workers across the country currently do not have access to any paid sick leave.
This brings me to the other aspect of the Government of Canada's commitment. In addition to the measures I mentioned earlier, the Government of Canada will meet with the provinces and territories to discuss a plan to legislate sick leave across the country. Of course, this would be done while respecting jurisdiction and keeping the unique needs of small business owners top of mind.
Today, not every province and territory has paid sick leave provisions. In fact, only Prince Edward Island and Quebec currently have permanent requirements for employers to provide paid sick leave. That being said, British Columbia has recently finished consultations on creating regulations to define a minimum entitlement to five paid sick leave days for personal illness or injury.
It varies from one place to another. For example, back home in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are seven unpaid days of leave for sickness or family responsibilities, and that is after 30 continuous days of employment with the same employer. However, right across the Cabot Strait, in Nova Scotia, workers are entitled to three unpaid days of leave because of the sickness of a child, parent or family member, or for medical, dental or other similar appointments during working hours.
The number of days and the terms are very different depending on where one lives, but it should not be that way. Provisions governing paid sick days directly related to COVID‑19 also differ significantly depending on where one lives.
During the pandemic, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Yukon introduced temporary paid leave provisions for reasons related to COVID-19 and employer rebate programs to offset the cost of the leave. The number of days eligible for reimbursement and the maximum amount available for reimbursement varies in each of the jurisdictions. These programs require employers to pay regular wages to their employees during the leave period but also to apply for reimbursement to the provincial or territorial government afterward. As the economy continues to recover from the impact of the pandemic, some of the provincial programs have already expired, while others are set to expire at the end of this year.
Again, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of paid sick leave to light. As we move through these challenging times, we have a responsibility to make sure that all Canadians have access to paid sick leave. This is essential to Canada's economic recovery and will help reduce the spread of the virus.
The government is well aware that the changes proposed today would have an impact on the provinces and territories and on employers, especially smaller businesses. Consultation with the provinces and territories is essential, especially when it comes to the unique needs of small business owners and to local realities.
As we move forward with these changes, federally regulated employers and employees as well as other relevant organizations will continue to be valuable partners. They will have the opportunity to share their views on how we should move forward together to implement the proposed changes and what considerations need to be taken into account. With important legislation such as Bill C-3 before us today, the Government of Canada collaborates closely with partners because they know the realities on the ground better than we do.
The Government of Canada is working hard to build back better and bring us out of the COVID-19 crisis. Ensuring that Canadians have access to paid sick leave is an important step in Canada's economic recovery and reducing the spread of the virus.
Paid sick leave can help to stop the spread of illness in workplaces across the country. We are taking action to give workers the support they need to help keep themselves and their workplaces safe and healthy. Bill C-3 can help us do that.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this bill is about workers and their safety. As has been the case with workers' issues throughout Canada's history, no one has been as effective or shone a clearer light on the importance of this topic than organized labour and Canada's unions. I want to specifically thank these groups, whether they be provincial labour federations, individual members of a local, or national leaders themselves, for the work they have done to make this idea a reality.
Hard-working Canadians across the country are counting on us to make these necessary and important changes. Let us do this for them.