Big business looks to deny workers’ rights under new labour code changes

This Labour Day should have been an opportunity to celebrate important changes to the Canada Labour Code that help many of Canada’s most precarious workers. 

Instead, corporations are fighting to prevent their employees from accessing long-overdue workplace rights. Happy Labour Day, indeed. 

On September 1, progressive changes to the federal labour code will set fairer minimum standards for job scheduling, vacation pay, work breaks and leave for more than 900,000 workers in federally regulated workplaces like banks, airlines and shipping companies  . 

These changes, made through the adoption of two laws by the Parliament of Canada in 2017 and 2018, will make a meaningful difference in the lives of some of the country’s most vulnerable workforce. 

Corporate lawyers are calling the changes a “nasty surprise” for employers despite hours of careful review, consultations, and studies carried out over many years. They say the new standards are sweeping and will impact their profits.

Giving employees an unpaid 30-minute break for every five consecutive hours of work. Making employers give 24 hours’ written notice before making any shift changes for workers. Offering 10 days of unpaid leave if an employee or their child is a victim of family violence. Apparently, such rights are too far-reaching. In fact, they are no-brainer quality of life improvements that reflect the 21st century workplace. 

Legislative changes that protect workers are always difficult for employers to swallow. It changes the status quo, and there’s going to be an adjustment period. But the federal code doesn’t apply to small mom and pop shops living month to month. Those taking offense are behemoth corporations like WestJet, UPS and CN who should be industry leaders.   

They and others are demanding exemptions from the Code. They want a free pass to continue to deny their employees their hard-earned breaks, or the right to refuse overtime to be able to pick up their sick kid from school.

The sheer number of exemptions being demanded by mega-corporations – if granted – would effectively render the new legislation meaningless for a large portion of federally regulated workers that the Parliament of Canada decided need better protections.  

They have not substantiated their claims that the Code changes create insurmountable problems. They certainly haven’t even acknowledged the impacts these exemptions would have on workers, or shown any willingness to mitigate these impacts.

Canadians should applaud the Canada Labour Code changes and push for every provincial and territorial labour code to be similarly improved. All workers need better work-life balance.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada won’t stand by while workers are shoved aside to protect profit margins, and neither should the rest of Canadians. 

August 27, 2019