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Alberta's government is taking the pen to the province's workplace legislation.
As announced on March 13, 2017, the Employment Standards Code (Employment Standards) and the Labour Relations Code (Labour Code) will be the subject of a brief public consultation (closing April 18, 2017) before the government undertakes its own review and rolls out the first major changes to Alberta's workplace laws in decades.
Together, Employment Standards and the Labour Code govern almost everything about the employment relationship in Alberta's workplaces (outside of federally regulated companies and in addition to human rights and privacy legislation). The Labour Code regulates union work and Employment Standards covers the nonunion labour market.
The government has characterized the forthcoming changes to Alberta's workplace laws as "modest" and "not a full scale review." Still, many employers are concerned about the consequences, particularly given the Alberta New Democratic Party's (NDP's) policies for extending workers' benefits, as well as its long-standing union ties. Anxieties over the impact of such policies on business development and growth are amplified by the government's recent decision to increase the minimum wage and introduce a carbon levy, combined with the ongoing economic uncertainty in Alberta.
Employment Standards sets the minimum standards to which employers must adhere, including standards for hours of work and overtime requirements, vacation, maternity and paternity leave, general holidays and termination.
The government has not specified the exact changes it intends to make to Employment Standards. However, based upon a review of the government's online consultation, employers may expect to see the introduction of any of the following:
Labour Relations Code
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the areas of the Labour Code where the government is considering changes are generally geared toward enhanced union powers and increasing union involvement in Alberta. In addition, any changes are likely to lead to a more robust Alberta Labour Relations Board (Board) as well as broader legislative changes that will impact all unionized workplaces.
In particular, the government is considering whether to:
The government has tasked former Alberta Labour Relations Board Chair Andrew Sims, Q.C. to oversee the Labour Code review.
The government is quick to point out that Alberta's workplace laws have remained unchanged for almost 30 years and that provincial governments elsewhere in the country have responded more rapidly to the changing dynamics of a modern workforce. Given that the legislation is due for an update, and the NDP's orientation toward enhanced rights for workers and unions, it seems likely that the changes to the Employment Standards and the Labour Code will occur during this term of the NDP's mandate.
The government says these changes are necessary to provide a "family-friendly workplace." What remains unclear, though, is the extent to which these changes can co-exist with a business-friendly workplace since many of the proposed changes tip heavily in favour of employees and unions while Alberta's economy remains in a fragile state.
Interested stakeholders can complete the government's consultation online or make written submissions on areas of significance.
Birch Miller and Bruce Graham are attorneys with Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP in Calgary, Alberta. © Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.
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