Alberta: Business-Friendly Labor Law Changes Proposed

 

By Stephen Shore and Shir Fulga May 10, 2019
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​On April 16, the United Conservative Party (UCP) won the provincial election in Alberta, Canada, a victory that is likely to result in pro-business labor law reform.

The UCP had ruled for 44 straight years up until 2015, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) took over. The leader of the UCP and premier-designate, Jason Kenney, has promised that an overhaul of the Alberta Employment Standards Code and Labor Relations Code will be among his first actions. If enacted, his reform bill will reverse many employee-friendly changes made during the NDP government.

What to Expect for the Employment Standards Code

Below is a summary of the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Code, announced as part of the UCP election campaign.

  • Holiday pay: The NDP government eliminated the distinction between regular and nonregular workdays for the purpose of calculating holiday pay. Before this, a holiday had to occur on a "regular workday" for an employee to be eligible for holiday pay. If the employee worked that day of the week at least five of the previous nine weeks, it was considered a regular workday, according to Rise, an online HR support system. The UCP government intends to reverse this change. The UCP also promises to bring back the qualifying period for holiday pay eligibility, which would require an employee to have worked for 30 days in the 12 months before the holiday to be eligible for holiday pay.
  • Overtime pay: The UCP plans to once again let employers give employees time off with pay—at a rate of 1.5 hours for each overtime hour worked—instead of paying overtime. The NDP had required that time and a half be paid after an employee works either more than eight hours in a day or more than 44 hours in a week, according to Next Alberta.

The UCP has promised it will retain the new leaves created by the former NDP government. These include personal and family responsibility leave, long-term illness and injury leave, bereavement leave, domestic violence leave, and citizenship ceremony leave.

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Proposed Labor Relations Code Reforms

The UCP also plans to change the Alberta Labor Relations Code by:

  • Eliminating card-based union certification that was introduced by the NDP government in 2017 and returning to mandatory secret-ballot votes for unions. With card-based certification, a union can be created in Alberta without a vote by employees if 65 percent or more of workers in the proposed bargaining unit sign a union membership card.
  • Doing away with the NDP rule that bans the hiring of replacement workers while public-sector employees are on strike.
  • Prohibiting unions from allocating dues to fund political parties without employee opt-in approval.

The UCP also promises to review and streamline employment standards, including occupational health and safety and human rights legislation, to ensure consistency and remove duplication. At present, for example, a harassment claim in Alberta can be brought under both human rights legislation and occupational health and safety legislation.

A more concrete plan for the amendments will come once the bill is introduced in the Alberta legislature. With a large majority government, it's expected that the UCP will implement the proposed amendments.

Stephen Shore and Shir Fulga are attorneys with Ogletree Deakins in Toronto.

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