Con­fu­sion trips up labour re­forms

The Prince George Citizen - - News | Weather -

Chris Rauen­busch says he doesn’t know if his em­ployer can sum­mon him to work on a day off af­ter a se­ries of sweep­ing fed­eral labour re­forms went into ef­fect Sunday.

“I don’t know if I am en­ti­tled to take a break dur­ing a 14-hour shift,” said the 39-year-old flight at­ten­dant, who heads WestJet’s union lo­cal in Calgary.

His quandary fol­lows a re­quest by em­ploy­ers that Ottawa make some last-minute ex­emp­tions or de­lays to its new rules.

The re­quest has left hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers and their bosses in sec­tors from air­lines to truck­ing to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions un­clear about whether they are fully cov­ered by the Canada Labour Code over­haul.

As con­fu­sion mounted in the lead-up to the changes, Em­ploy­ment Minister Patty Ha­jdu said cer­tain in­terim ex­emp­tions would ap­ply – at least un­til fur­ther tweaks can be made af­ter the Oc­to­ber elec­tion – but ac­knowl­edged the gov­ern­ment was still ham­mer­ing out who they will ul­ti­mately in­clude.

“I can’t ac­tu­ally speak to which em­ploy­ers and which em­ployee classes will be sub­ject to these lim­ited ex­emp­tions be­cause that is still being worked out with the depart­ment right now, and I’m look­ing for­ward to their ad­vice,” Ha­jdu said days be­fore the reg­u­la­tions started to kick in.

“I’m not cer­tain ex­actly when I’ll have those rec­om­men­da­tions.”

The new rules, which ap­ply to the 904,000 work­ers in fed­er­ally reg­u­lated sec­tors from bank­ing to the civil ser­vice, usher in a suite of changes that man­date new per­sonal leaves and longer be­reave­ment and va­ca­tion pe­ri­ods, among other things.

In­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives say some of the amend­ments would de­lay ship­ments, can­cel flights and hurt the coun­try’s econ­omy, while labour groups ar­gue they are sim­ply ask­ing for rea­son­able work­ing con­di­tions.

“If you’re a truck­ing op­er­a­tion and your ship­ment gets can­celled, you can’t just send the truck any­way. If some­body is sick, you may need some­body else to go,” said Dan Kelly, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Business (CFIB).

Rules that fail to take that into ac­count mean “the en­tire Cana­dian ship­ping net­work and sup­ply chain is put at risk,” ac­cord­ing to a May 13 let­ter to the em­ploy­ment minister from an in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion, Fed­er­ally Reg­u­lated Em­ploy­ers –0 Trans­porta­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (FETCO), and ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press.

An in­terim ex­emp­tion will ap­ply to sev­eral rules the trans­port sec­tor says would kneecap its op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing re­quire­ments that em­ploy­ers give staff a 24-hour heads-up on shift changes and four days’ no­tice for sched­ules, Em­ploy­ment and So­cial De­vel­op­ment Canada con­firmed. A man­dated 30-minute break every five hours and an eight-hour rest pe­riod be­tween shifts will also ex­clude some work­ers.

But which com­pa­nies and em­ploy­ees will re­main un­shielded by the new reg­u­la­tions re­mains un­cer­tain.

“It would be very, very spe­cific classes of em­ploy­ees that, if we were to de­ter­mine, could be ex­empt. Be­cause ul­ti­mately these changes are about in­creas­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­creas­ing safety stan­dards and work-life bal­ance,” Ha­jdu said in a phone in­ter­view.

Rauen­busch said the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees (CUPE) rec­og­nizes that air­line work­ers oc­cupy a round-the-clock in­dus­try and that 24-hours’ no­tice be­fore a shift change may not al­ways be fea­si­ble.

“But just be­cause we hap­pen to be em­ployed in a unique in­dus­try doesn’t ne­ces­si­tate sim­ply strip­ping us of the ben­e­fits that the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to af­ford to work­ers across the coun­try,” he said.

Kelly coun­tered that wages and longer time-off stretches can com­pen­sate for de­mand­ing sched­ul­ing pro­to­cols at air­lines, truck­ing com­pa­nies and tele­coms - where re­pair and main­te­nance needs can pop up un­pre­dictably.

“It’s not like em­ploy­ees in these in­dus­tries are pris­on­ers. They’re of­ten among the most sought-af­ter jobs around be­cause they have other com­men­su­rate ben­e­fits,” said the CFIB head.

Truck­ing, how­ever, al­ready faces a se­ri­ous labour short­age, despite a low bar­rier to en­try. Bet­ter ben­e­fits could lead to “en­hanced re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion,” the Em­ploy­ment Depart­ment said.

Em­ploy­ers ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the con­sul­ta­tion process af­ter the gov­ern­ment agreed to push back im­ple­men­ta­tion by three months from its ini­tial date in June.

“Given that the coun­try is mere days away from Sept. 1, im­ple­men­ta­tion of some of these labour code changes are at great risk of fail­ure. This could have eas­ily been avoided with a proper tri­par­tite process many months ago, or a short de­lay,” reads an Aug. 28 email from FETCO ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Der­rick Hynes to the Em­ploy­ment Depart­ment.

“What we’re wait­ing for is to hear back from the gov­ern­ment around what they feel would be ap­pro­pri­ate in terms of grant­ing some tem­po­rary re­lief from some of these changes,” Hynes told The Cana­dian Press.

The em­ploy­ment minister, “hav­ing at­tended at least one fu­neral this sum­mer of peo­ple that died as a re­sult of a ve­hi­cle col­li­sion with a trans­port truck,” stressed health and safety – and re­it­er­ated that they go hand in hand with profit and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

CP PHOTO

Flight at­ten­dant Chris Rauen­busch is con­cerned about new labour laws that may af­fect the in­dus­try.

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