By: Ivana Saula
Research Director, Canada
Just as unions prepared to celebrate Labour Day, the federal government announced the implementation of several changes to the Canada Labour Code. The Liberal federal government has shown its ideological leanings by failing to truly modernize the Code. Despite consultations with unions, and regardless of objections raised by several of them, the Liberals were deaf to persuasions for fairness and justice. Months’ long consultations were a show and a façade, giving the impression the Liberals are on side with labour issues. Unfortunately, it’s a missed opportunity.
So, what does a “modernized” Code look like?
For starters, a provision on mandatory 30 minute breaks for every 5 hours worked will not constitute a change for majority of workers. A number of employers asked for exemptions, and got them with little opposition from the federal government, thereby excluding workers from a number of provisions. Not to mention, the new split shift system that has been proposed is not even addressed. Split shifts are types of schedules where a shift is split into two or more shifts.
There is also a requirement that mandates 8 hour rest periods between scheduled shifts, but due to employer initiated exemptions, many workers will not be covered by this provision. This means that in industries where employers were granted an exemption, shifts can be scheduled in less than 8 hour intervals. In most cases this would be required when there aren’t enough people to staff shifts and rather than staffing adequately, the federal government allows employers to overwork staff. The “modernized” Code takes away a basic right, a global standard, which is 8 hours of rest. The 8 hour day movement began in 1817, and in 2019, some Canadian workers will still not be entitled.
Family responsibility leave applies across the board, however, not without limitations and burdens placed on workers. In particular, single parents, those moving to new cities without family supports, and newcomers will bear the heaviest of burdens. The Feds argue that in order to prevent abuse of this provision, without indicating evidence of said abuses, workers will be required to arrange alternative arrangements to meet their family obligations before asking for leave. Who does this exactly help?
Perhaps the biggest disservice by the federal government is to workers fleeing family violence. Workers asking for a leave are asked to provide documentation, and the federal government believes that is possible without being intrusive. Family violence is by nature both private and personal, and disclosing information in a documented form invariably reveals private details of a person’s life.
In fact, employers are entitled to documentation for a request for any type of leave, constituting an unwarranted intrusion into worker’s lives.
If the provisions weren’t diluted enough, add to the list, the broad definition of “unforeseeable event” in Division 1 in Part III of the Code. The concept is not only broadly defined, it’s also left to an employer’s discretion to determine an event as “unforeseeable”. The definition leaves ample room for employers to circumvent new rights proposed under the modernization initiative.
Modern? Not really. An insult to workers? An insult to labour? Absolutely. Time will tell if the hastily organized consultations are enough to save Liberals in the next election.
An adage poignantly summarizes the modernization initiative, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”