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Bill C-86 (Budget) - Second Reading

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-86. Specifically, I’d like to speak to the proposed changes to the Canada Labour Code found in Division 15 of Bill C-86, which intends to modernize labour standards in federally regulated private sector workplaces.

First, a brief overview of federal labour standards: These standards establish minimum working conditions in the federally regulated private sector. These conditions include, among other things, hours of work, minimum wages, statutory holidays and annual vacations, as well as various types of leave.

Federal labour standards are set out in Part 3 of the Canada Labour Code, commonly known as “the code.” They apply to over 900,000 employees working for over 18,000 employers in the federally regulated private sector, as well as most federal Crown corporations and certain activities on First Nations reserves.

Although this represents only about 6 per cent of the Canadian workforce, this 6 per cent is important because it is in the private sector. The federal government has the ability to extend some basic protections to these workers and industry which crosses provincial and territorial borders. It does not impact on the federal public service, who have already similar protections granted to them as part of their collective agreements.

For background, the federally regulated private sector includes, and these are just a few examples: banks; marine shipping; ferry and port services; air transportation including airports, aerodromes and airlines; railway and road transportation that involves crossing provincial or international borders; canals, pipelines, tunnels and bridges that cross provincial or international borders; telecommunications, including telephone, telegraph and cable systems; and radio and television broadcasting.

Federal labour standards are called “standards” for a reason. They ensure employers in these industries abide by minimum standards and provide employees with certain protections and basic entitlements.

Federal labour standards, as Senator Pratte reminded us, were established in the 1960s when most people were working 9 to 5, when most jobs provided decent wages and benefits, and were typically full time and permanent. As we know, this has changed significantly. Many employers no longer provide comprehensive pension plans — we heard about that from the finance minister earlier — benefits or even sufficient vacation and leave policies in some circumstances.

The main objective of these amendments it to make sure employees in the federally regulated private sector have a robust and modern set of labour standards that reflects today’s realities and sets the stage for good quality jobs.

It’s not only workers who stand to benefit from these changes. Labour standards that reflect current workplace realities can also benefit employers as well, by reducing absenteeism, improving recruitment and retention, and improving employee well-being, all of which can lead to an increase in productivity and the quality of work.

Overall, the proposed amendments intend to accomplish four goals. They would improve employees’ eligibility for labour standards; improve work-life balance; ensure fair treatment and compensation for employees in precarious work; and ensure employees receive sufficient notice and compensation when their jobs are terminated to help protect their financial security.

First, to improve employees’ eligibility for labour standards, the government is proposing to take two specific actions.

The first is to eliminate minimum length-of-service requirements for general holiday pay, sick leave, maternity leave, paternal leave, leave related to critical illness and leave related to the death or disappearance of a child.

The second is to reduce the length of service required to be eligible for three weeks of vacation with pay down from six years to five years.

These amendments are important because current length-of-service requirements can make it difficult for employees who change jobs frequently to access these leaves and entitlements. By improving eligibility, we are ultimately ensuring more workers are granted access to fair leave.

Second, the government is also proposing to modify the Canada Labour Code to improve work-life balance. These amendments would see employers: introduce new breaks, including an unpaid break of 30 minutes for every five hours of work, a minimum eight-hour rest period between shifts, and unpaid breaks for nursing or medical reasons; introduce more notice of work schedules, more specifically, requiring employers to give an employee a minimum of 96 hours advance notice of their work schedule; add four weeks of vacation with pay after 10 or more years of service; introduce a new five-day personal leave of which three days are paid; introduce five days of paid leave for victims of family violence, out of a total of 10 days; improve access to medical leave by clarifying this leave can be used for medical appointments, organ or tissue donation, and specifying that employers are only allowed to request a medical certificate when employees take three or more consecutive days of leave. It would also introduce a new unpaid leave for court or jury duty.

Now, many workplaces, as you will understand, already provide standards that exceed what I’ve just described, but not all workplaces do. As a result, many workers struggle to balance the demands of work with the demands of their personal lives.

Third, proposed amendments would also ensure fair treatment and compensation for employees in precarious work, involving those who work in part-time, temporary or low-wage jobs.

A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently found that more than one fifth of Canada’s professionals, 22 per cent, are in precarious work of some sort, including part-time, contract or freelance work. Women are disproportionately affected, accounting for 60 per cent of all precarious workers.

In the federally regulated private sector, 23 per cent of women — compared to 16 per cent of men — are not unionized and earn less than $20 per hour.

Research shows that vulnerable groups, in addition to women, such as Indigenous, visible minorities, recent immigrants and young people are generally over-represented in the world of precarious work.

In order to ensure employees in precarious work are paid and treated fairly and have access to labour standards, Bill C-86 would introduce equal treatment protection which would prohibit an employer from paying an employee less than another employee doing the same work under the same conditions. This protection would not apply if the difference in rates of pay is based on objective factors such as seniority or merit. It would protect temporary help agency employees from unfair practice by, for example, prohibiting an employer from charging a fee to the employee in connection with assigning its employee to perform work for a client. It would require employers to provide employees with information about labour standards requirements and their conditions of employment. It would therefore tell employees about their rights. It would entitle all employees, irrespective of their employment status, to be informed of employment or promotion opportunities. And it would prohibit employers from treating an employee as if they were not their employee in order to avoid their obligations or to deprive the employee of their rights, that is, to try to shift them to independent contractor status. It would treat employees’ length of service as continuous in cases of contract retendering within the federal private sector, or when their employment is transferred from a provincially regulated employer to a federally regulated employer.

To add some context to this, we’re talking about people who work in building cleaning, in food service, in laundry services, whose employment is ended when a contract changes hands. Therefore, they’re unable to ever accumulate enough time to benefit for basic employment standards.

The proposed changes would also raise the minimum age for work in hazardous occupations from 17 years to 18 years of age.

While the proposed amendments would apply to all employees working in the federally regulated private sector, they would be particularly beneficial to the most vulnerable workers.

Finally, the fourth intention of the proposed changes is to ensure employees receive sufficient notice and compensation when their jobs are terminated in order to help protect their financial security.

With regard to group termination of employment, currently, under the code, employers are required to provide 16 weeks of notice when intending to lay off 50 or more employees. Bill C-86 would ensure employers provide pay in lieu of that required 16-week notice, or a combination of notice and pay in lieu.

In situations where fewer than 50 employees are being terminated, employers would be able to put in place a graduated notice of individual termination.

For employees with between three months and less than three years of continuous employment, it would range from two weeks’ notice or pay in lieu of notice, or a combination of the two.

It could extend to a maximum of eight weeks’ notice, pay in lieu or a combination thereof after eight years of continuous employment. This would replace the current requirement for employers to give two weeks’ notice of an individual termination.

In addition, it would be incumbent upon employees to inform terminated employees of their improved termination rights.

Bill C-86 also includes a number of measures that would broaden the scope of health-care practitioners who can issue medical certificates and provide for the designation of a new head of compliance and enforcement as part of a more efficient system for delegating important enforcement powers, duties and functions under the code.

Honourable senators, these changes mirror closely to Ontario’s Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. This act was introduced in 2017, following extensive public consultations referred to as the Changing Workplaces Review. In 2015, the then Minister of Labour provincially for Canada’s most populated province initiated this review by appointing C. Michael Mitchell, a labour side specialist in the bar; and John C. Murray, an employer specialist, as special advisers to lead the largest review of Ontario’s labour laws conducted for decades.

The review was intended to consider issues brought about in part by the growth of precarious employment. Two years of broad consultations resulted in a 419-page report with 173 recommendations to reform labour legislation. The federal government has adopted some of the provisions of Bill 148 such as work schedule notices and leave for victims of family violence.

I also know the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee endorsed the proposed changes to the Canada Labour Code as detailed in its thirteenth report tabled in the Senate chamber last Thursday. The committee recognizes changes proposed in Division 15 is the most significant update to the Canada Labour Code in 50 years and agrees with all witnesses who testified the update to labour standards is needed. Specifically, the report states the proposed amendments are necessary to address work-life balance concerns of both employees and employers.

Honourable senators, many Canadian workers today are facing significant challenges. With major economic and technological changes affecting the world of work in recent years, it has become clear federal labour standards need to be modernized to better reflect the realities of the 21st century workplace and address the challenges faced by workers and employers.

A modern set of federal labour standards is essential as it will better protect Canadian workers and help set the stage for good quality jobs. This is especially important for workers in part-time, temporary or low-wage jobs, many of whom are struggling to balance work and family life.

Honourable senators, I support the measures in Bill C-86 that would modernize labour standards in Canada and bring Canada closer to realizing that goal. We need federal leadership in this important area. I believe we’re seeing it. I will be voting in favour of this legislation. Thank you.