BY HARRY BAINS
Minister of Labour
VICTORIA – As we come to the end of this difficult year, I am reflecting on how the pandemic has highlighted the courage and importance of working people.
COVID-19 has exposed gaps in support for employers and especially for workers I am committed to addressing – from paid sick leave, to safe workplaces and economic recovery.
Keeping people healthy, safe and informed about COVID-19 has been our focus. WorkSafeBC has risen to the challenge, working collaboratively to help keep everyone safe at work. They have conducted more than 20,400 COVID-19 workplace inspections. These are in addition to providing services to injured and ill workers and routine inspections of high-risk workplaces.
My ministry has made improvements, which in addition to playing a crucial role during the pandemic, will better support people long after life has returned to normal.
We know that in times of crisis, domestic violence can increase. Sadly, this has proven true since the pandemic began. This year, we brought in five days of paid leave for employees who are impacted by domestic or sexual violence. We know when people have support and job security, they are much more likely to leave an abusive partner.
This summer, our government made improvements to the Workers Compensation Act to better support injured workers and their families while keeping premiums paid by employers low. Some of these changes, which come into effect Jan. 1, 2021, will improve benefits received by injured workers.
We strengthened protections for temporary foreign workers who play an important part in our economy but are often vulnerable due to language barriers and other factors. We created a new mandatory registry for employers who want to hire these workers where approvals will be granted to employers who comply with B.C. laws and treat workers fairly.
For businesses, our government created an online application, which simplified the process to extend temporary layoffs and gave businesses more time before recalling staff, while enabling businesses to stay connected to their trained, experienced workforce. Through this, we were able to keep laid-off workers connected to their employers and protect jobs for nearly 12,000 workers.
We recognize the challenges businesses face. Our government is providing supports like the Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant. This program will provide financial support for some of the hardest hit businesses in B.C. so they can continue doing what they do best while protecting workers. I am proud to be a member of a government providing a balanced approach to recovery.
Worker health and safety are more than a priority for me. They have been the cornerstone of my professional life for decades. I am grateful to have a new mandate allowing me to continue the work I started in 2017.
COVID-19 is an unexpected, unmistakable reminder that supports for workers and employers need to improve as we begin to put this pandemic behind us and look to a brighter and more prosperous future. I will work on this as mandated by Premier John Horgan.