Province tackles work-family balance with new workplace legislation
June 12, 2017 by John Bleasby
Alberta’s NDP government jump-started the restructuring of their province’s employment workplace standards, recently passing into law important new legislation after only 4 months of consultation with small business. Called the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, Bill 17 is a hastily-fabricated framework that will dramatically change the work environment of almost every small business in Alberta when it takes effect on Jan 1, 2018.
Overtime and leaves from work amendments will impact construction dramatically
There are dozens of new and amended rules affected by Bill 17. Not all will impact the construction industry. However, with construction running at near-full capacity to meet demand, particularly in the Fort McMurray area, some of the changes will only add to cost and complexity. For example, entitlement for leaves after only 90 days of employment, combined with a mere 48 hour notice for a return to work notice, will make it challenging for contractors who temporarily replace workers on leave from job-sites during periods of absence.
However, the biggest impact on the construction industry concerns overtime. Currently, workers can opt for time-off rather than overtime pay on a one-for-one basis— one hour of time-off for each overtime hour worked. Bill 17 changes this to 1.5 hours of time-off for each overtime hour worked. Workers will be able to bank those time-off hours for six months, up from the current three months. Furthermore, a new ‘Averaging Agreement’ means that, if the majority of workers affected agree, work days cannot exceed 12 hours, nor can a work week exceed 44 hours as calculated on an average anywhere from one to 12 weeks.
No more overtime for many workers
The overtime and work week changes will have a huge impact on how a contractor runs a site, says Edmonton contractor Les Yochim, President of The BelVan Group of Companies Ltd.. “We’re simply going to have to prohibit any overtime,” says Yochim. “We can’t effectively bill our customers overtime at time and a half.” For sub-trades under contract who will permit extra hours to be banked under this new formula, they will need to project that implied extra overtime cost into their budgeting and proposals for any new project after January, adding to overall costs. “Working, say on Saturdays to get a job done, is often client-driven,” says Yochim, adding that it’s near the end of the project when builders are trying to get things completed for their customer that the impact of these new rules will have felt.
Workers will loses out too
Like many small business owners in the province, Yochim is concerned that the lack or even complete absence of consultation with the construction industry prior to the passing of this Act resulted in the short-sighted decisions contained in Bill 17. He suggests that his own workers won’t necessarily be pleased with Bill 17’s overtime rules either. In the past, they have been able to work a few extra hours, bank them, and then use them to take perhaps an occasional three day weekend with their families. Without overtime, that ability will be taken away because the 1.5 time off formula beyond a maximum 44 hour work week will become too costly. “It will have to be eight hour days, five days a week pretty much.”
Governments now enact labor changes formerly the mandate of unions
Workplace changes are gripping the country, some through strikes and others through legislation. Quebec was recently hit with a province-wide strike of construction workers over work-family life balance issues, ending only after back-to-work legislation was passed. Ontario also recently passed new provincial employment and workplace laws after two years of intensive consultation.
In Alberta, Yochim notes that unions have far less influence than in Quebec, at least in residential work. However, the argument can be made that union demands are finding their way into provincial legislation like Bill 17 with increasing frequency anyway , usurping union power locally but still impacting employers the same way. With a labor-oriented NDP government in power in Alberta, Bill 17 passing into law with such little industry consultation shouldn’t come as a surprise. “It comes with the territory, I guess,” says Yochim.
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