Almost all of us will during our career at UBC experience a life event which requires us to take time away from work. Some of these events are joyous, as when we welcome a new child; some are catastrophic, as when we face the serious illness or death of a loved one. Leaves are essential to balancing work and life in periods of these extreme demands. It is essential that these leaves be a right accessible to all. To this end the Faculty Association has made a number of proposals in this round of bargaining that would either improve the leave provisions available to our members or simply make sure that our members are aware of the leaves available to them.
The BC Employment Standards Act (Part 6, Section 52.5) provides for leave for all employees in the province if they or their child under the age of 19 experiences domestic or sexual violence. Employees are entitled to up to 5 days of paid leave, up to 5 days of unpaid leave, and up to 15 weeks of additional unpaid leave, in order to deal with medical, psychological, and legal issues stemming from these kinds of violence. While our members are currently entitled to this leave, we want to make sure that individuals are aware of this right should they need it. Our members look to the Collective Agreement in order to understand the rights available to them in the course of their employment, and so the Faculty Association has asked that this leave entitlement be included in our Collective Agreement just as it is for other unions at UBC (BCGEU Child Care, BCGEU Okanagan, CUPE 116, CUPE 2278, and CUPE 2950).
Also absent in our Collective Agreement are provisions for Bereavement and Compassionate Leaves. The Faculty Association has tabled a proposal to include such leaves in the Collective Agreement in order to ensure that all members have access to the same supports in times of emotional duress. Without guaranteed leave provisions in these moments of acute stress, we are caught either having to ask for favours, beg our friends to cover for us, or somehow struggle along without help. Those among us who are most marginalized may not feel safe or comfortable asking our Head for special favours and may therefore go without support in times of profound emotional distress. Given that workload, after salary, is collectively our top concern, it seems untenable for the employer to expect that we should either beg or somehow struggle along with our work in the midst of a life-crisis. If UBC is actually prepared to support leave on these grounds, it should say so. Bereavement and Compassionate Leave should be explicitly available to all employees and structurally guaranteed.
In addition, we have also proposed that the language around such leaves be inclusive, reflecting the the diverse family structures of our membership. Currently the language restricts benefits of any sort to structural family relationships, recognizing blood ties and relationships defined as familial by law (marriage, guardianships of minor children, etc.), but we know that many of our members have familial relationships that do not fit within these definitions. At times of serious illness or loss, it is essential not only that our members have the right to leave, but that all of our immediate family relationships, however our family might be constructed, are recognized for the essential role that they play in our lives. The recently settled BC Hospital Employees’ Union agreement includes this kind of language, allowing for Bereavement Leave for relationships which fall outside typical definitions of family, specifying the inclusion of foster parents, any person who lives with an employee as a member of the employees family, and making specific allowances for Indigenous cultural practices when they provide an expanded understanding of what constitutes immediate family. We hope that UBC will follow suit, providing leadership in showing what inclusive support can look like.
While most of our proposals relating to leaves in this round of bargaining are seeking to fill gaps in the current Collective Agreement, we have also tabled a proposal that would improve the provisions for Maternity, Parental, and Adoptive Leave. UBC’s current provisions for our members are behind almost all other Canadian universities. Our members are faced with the costs of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and their budgets are stretched even when they are receiving their full salaries. As a direct result of this financial reality, and the comparatively meagre benefits that UBC provides for these leaves, members regularly report that they are simply unable to afford taking the entirety of the leave that they are entitled to when they become new parents. The financial necessity of returning to work before one is physically or emotionally ready is not simply a failure of support by the employer but also an equity issue as it has an outsized impact on new parents. In an effort to address these issues, the Faculty Association has tabled a proposal to increase the period during which UBC tops up EI parental leave payments to cover the duration of the federal support.
These proposals seek to ensure that our members are supported at significant moments of upheaval and transition in their lives and that all members have equal access to these supports.