This spring, PSAC participated in the Labour Programs’ consultations on two issues: the right to disconnect and gig work. These consultations may result in changes to the Canada Labour Code which governs labour standards for all federally regulated workers who work for non-Treasury Board employers.
At PSAC, this will include many members who work for Crown corporations, in airline, port, canal and marine workplaces, postal and courier services, First Nations band councils and several other sectors.
The right to disconnect
Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, PSAC was fighting for workers’ right not to be tethered to their work by having to check their emails and work phones after hours. During the 2019 Expert Panel on Modern Federal Labour Standards, we argued that smartphones and other technology couldn’t be used by employers to force employees to work longer hours.
We argued that time spent working after regular hours — in an office, at home, or anywhere else — was overtime and needed to be counted and compensated as such. Employers who failed to respect this would be subject to fines and remedial orders. We also argued that the right to disconnect needed to be codified in legislation, as it has been in France since 2017. Unfortunately, the expert panel did not make recommendations on statutory provisions for the right to disconnect.
For this new consultation, a year into the pandemic during which tens of thousands of PSAC members have been providing services to Canada from their homes, we emphasized the same recommendations, but have also emphasized the importance of privacy for our members.
Along with the right to disconnect, workers must be protected from unacceptable use of surveillance methods by their employers. Keystroke counters, requirements for open web cameras, GPS surveillance and other electronic methods of surveillance have serious privacy implications for workers, and members of their households. It is imperative that restrictions on what methods of work oversight can be used by employers be put in place along with right to disconnect provisions.
Precarious workers are more likely to be people who are already marginalized in society — women, immigrants, BIPOC employees and workers with disabilities. These groups are more likely to work long hours in low-paid jobs without benefits. They have also been on the front lines of the pandemic, working in retail jobs, on-demand delivery services, in warehouses and in health care jobs such as personal support workers in long-term care homes.
Current labour standards and social programs do not provide the protections that these workers need, nor do they ensure that they have supports to bridge the gaps between what their work pays and what is needed to live a decent life.
We recommended the following changes to the legislation:
- The Employment Equity Act must apply to all workers in the federal public service, regardless of employment status and disaggregated equity data should be collected on these workers.
- Facilitate the unionization of workers in non-typical workplaces by several methods, including:
- making changes to ensure that employers provide complete employee lists and contact information to the organizing union;
- exploring provisions for sector-based and/or broader-based bargaining; and
- introducing measures permitting unions to rely upon evidence of union membership generated in electronic form.
- Ensure that employers don’t skirt their responsibilities by misclassifying workers as contractors.
- Reduce the incentives for employers to make work precarious.
- Make universal social and employment programs like pharmacare, childcare, EI, CPP available to all Canadians.
PSAC also continues to push the government to implement the recommendations of the 2019 Report on Precarious Work from the Human Rights Committee of the House of Commons. It is unconscionable that the Government of Canada is the largest user of temporary help agency workers in the country. Public service work needs to be provided by public service workers and not contracted out to poorly paid temporary workers with few benefits or protections.
PSAC will closely follow the progress of this consultation process and will continue to pressure the government to make the Canada Labour Code reflective of new workplaces and new work realities. Our ongoing communications with the Labour Program will focus on these issues and on those contained in the original Expert Panel discussion. Members can expect regular updates as the process proceeds.