BC business organizations pressure Labour Minister Bains to extend temporary lay-off time limits

BUSINESS organizations representing almost all of British Columbia’s 500,000 businesses said on Monday that they are frustrated by Labour Minister Harry Bains refusal to appreciate the severity of current business challenges. At issue specifically is the potential for bankruptcy and insolvency for thousands of small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profits as they are forced to payout severance costs due to the unforeseen circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The minister has it within his power to provide a Ministerial Order to extend the temporary lay-off time limits under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to provide employers with the “breathing room” needed to survive, recover, and facilitate return-to-work for laid-off employees as possible, they said.

All Canadian provinces face unprecedented challenges due to the economic fallout from COVID-19. Few business owners could plan for or have the cash-on-hand to terminate all or a significant portion of their workforce at once during the best of times. BC employers will be faced with “regulated chaos” as the clock ticks down to deadlines beginning in early July forcing many businesses – by law – to terminate laid-off employees and payout severance. This will occur as many of the province’s 500,000 business and not-for-profits are partially open under the provincial government’s health and emergency orders. Many of these employers are losing money, while others are still not permitted to open. These one-time severance payments to temporarily laid-off employees due to COVID-19 will mean businesses caught in this legal jeopardy will use all or most of their operating cash or lines-of-credit forcing them into bankruptcy, insolvency and/or permanent closure. If the minister acts now, this can all be avoided, they said.

In a letter to BC’s leading business organizations dated June 18, Bains refused to extend the temporary lay-off time limits. The letter was issued the day after Premier John Horgan’s pledge to listen to and get input from British Columbians on rebuilding the province together. The minister’s lack of appreciation for the dire situation facing thousands of small businesses and not-for-profits calls into question the sincerity of the government’s overture to listen to British Columbians, said the business organizations,

They added: “The business community is extremely disappointed and calls upon Minister Bains to immediately revisit his decision and to extend the temporary layoff time limits to August 31, 2020. This would bring BC into line with the federal government’s recent Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) extension and temporary layoff time limit amendments made recently in other provinces to facilitate recovery from COVID-19. Business leaders have also called upon Minister Bains to provide an additional six weeks once emergency orders are lifted to help facilitate a smooth restart for businesses partially operating or closed due to COVID-19.”

Val Litwin, President and CEO, BC Chamber of Commerce, said: “Our pulse surveys have shown that businesses want to reopen and bring back their teams – but they just need more time. By not extending the temporary layoff period we’re knowingly hampering the business community’s earnest attempts at restart. A simple solution that works for everyone, if enacted today, could change BC’s recovery trajectory for the long term. We urge the minister to embrace a decision that gets BC’s economy moving, one that supports workers and businesses.”