Kenney’s UCP government is claiming that their Bill 32, the so-called Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, is standing up for individual workers, but when you look at what the bill actually does for workers and the changes it makes to the Employment Standards Code, that is clearly not true.
The Employment Standard Code is the minimum standards that an employer has to provide to all workers. It is basically the collective bargaining agreement for non-unionized workers, that the government sets out to ensure that all workers have basic rights and protections no matter where they work.
Here are some of the most important changes that will impact all workers in Alberta:
Further Overtime Rollbacks
One of the most important changes to the Employment Standards Code within Bill 32 is the introduction of “averaging arrangements.” These changes allow employers to force workers to accept their hours being averaged out over a year - which could result in no overtime pay.
This means that seasonal workers, part-timers, or those workers whose schedules fluctuate could end up working 12 hours days, but have those hours averaged out over a whole year and perhaps months where they would not be working, which lets their employer avoid paying overtime.
Before these changes workers and employers could agree to averaging agreements but the maximum period that hours could be averaged over was 12 weeks, and most important - workers had a choice. Agreements have now become arrangements, leaving workers with no choice but to accept what their employers choose.
This is not about workers. This is not a change that helps good employers. It is purely a change to help some employers avoid paying workers overtime. This is on top of changes the government made last year in Bill 2 which rolled back overtime pay for workers.
Removing Notice for Shift Changes
These averaging arrangements don’t just stop at cutting overtime pay for workers, they also allow employers to dictate shorter notice for shift changes. Under these arrangements an employer can specify the period of time they have to give to workers about a change in their scheduled shifts. Previous to this change workers were given a minimum 24 hours notice for a shift change.
Providing proper notice allows workers to plan their lives outside of work, whether that is taking care of children, or elderly parents, or their own schooling, or just being social - these new averaging arrangements allow employers to change shift schedules as they want - however, whenever.
These averaging arrangements are really just open season for employers to take advantage of workers and pay them less money for the same hours of work.
Fewer Breaks During Work
Another really important change for workers in Bill 32 are changes to breaks during a work shift.
Currently, workers receive a 30 minute break (paid or unpaid) in their first 5 hours of consecutive work, and another 30 minute break within their work period after that.
Under this bill, workers are only entitled to one 30 minute break (paid or unpaid) if they work just under 10 hours a day.
So a worker could start work at 6:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. and only receive one half hour break. ONLY once your shift goes over 10 hours would you be allowed to have a second break under this new law.
This change means fewer breaks for workers, but it also means more unsafe work as taking adequate breaks is vital for a safe workplace.
Removing Layoff Notice
Bill 32 also allows workers to be laid off without the usual 2 weeks notice.
Being laid off from work is a stressful event in the best of economic times - it has become substantially worse because of the global health pandemic. Instead of making sure that both workers and employers can survive and thrive during these uncertain times the UCP is pulling the rug out from workers and letting them fall in the cracks.
Before, if you were laid off you would get 2 weeks notice, during which time you could start you search for a new job and start to get everything in order. With Bill 32 that notice is gone.
The situation is even worse for group terminations. Normally, if a company is going to do a mass layoff, the more people affected the more notice and time they have to give to the workers, as well as, to the government.
The idea behind this is that when large groups of people with similar skills and education are looking for work at the same time, it might be harder for them to all find other jobs quickly - so employers have normally had to give more notice so that workers can get their affairs in order. Notifying governments also lets governments put in place training and education programs to help get those workers back to work.
If an employer was planning on firing over 300 workers they would normally have to give 16 weeks notice. Under Bill 32 employers will only have to give 4 weeks notice to the government no matter the number of workers they are firing.
Again, the company no longer has to give any notice to the workers being fired. This change means more uncertainty for workers as the UCP is allowing workers to be fired without any notice.
Easier Exemptions: Undercutting Workers
One final change worth noting is that Bill 32 would allow employers to individually or as a group apply to be exempt from parts of the Employment Standards Code meaning they are no longer bound by these minimum workplace rules.
Before Bill 32 this was allowed but employers had to meet criteria and justify why certain parts of the Employment Standards Code should not apply to their business.
With Bill 32, employers just need to ask the government for an exemption without the need to give any justification at all. Worse, these exemptions will no longer have an expiry date, as was previously the case, so now an employer could have the exemption forever.
Exemptions like this could mean that entire industries would not have to pay minimum wage. It could mean that employers do not have to give 30 minute breaks every 10 hours. It could mean that overtime would never have to be paid. And so on.
No “Balance” Here
Bill 32 doesn’t bring ‘balance’ back to the workplace, rather it pulls the rug out from the majority of workers in Alberta.
It is designed to reward bad employers and encourages bad practices that take advantage of workers. This omnibus bill undercuts workers, their families, our communities, and will make things tougher for the good employers who now have to compete with bad businesses that take advantage of workers.
With Bill 32 it is clear that Jason Kenney and his UCP government are not on the side of working Albertans.