This week, the Honourable Harry Bains, B.C.’s Minister of Labour, submitted bills to the legislature to amend the province’s three major workplace-related statutes that fall under the Ministry of Labour’s jurisdiction: the Employments Standards Act, the Labour Relations Code, and the Workers Compensation Act.

These bills must still go through the legislative process before they become law. However, they signal that there are important changes likely ahead for B.C. employers.

Employment Standards

On April 29, 2019, Minister Bains submitted for first reading Bill 8, the Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2019. The government’s news release regarding the changes provides background information as well as a summary of the proposed amendments. Among other things, the changes:

  • require employers to provide employees with information about their rights (s. 5);
  • increase the age of work from 12 to 16, except children who are 14 or 15 can perform “light work” (s. 6);
  • require operators of temp agencies to be licensed (s. 9);
  • increase the time employers must keep payroll records from two years to four (s. 14);
  • prohibit employers from withholding or deducting from tips, except for tip pooling (s. 15);
  • extend the period workers can recover owed wages from six to 12 months, with the possibility of extending to 24 months in certain circumstances (s. 29);
  • provide up to 15 weeks of unpaid leave for employees escaping domestic violence (s. 19);
  • provide up to 36 weeks of unpaid leave for employees caring for a critically ill family member (s. 18); which is a separate leave provision from the 27 weeks of compassionate care leave that currently exists;
  • amend the Employment Standards Branch’s investigation and dispute resolution process (ss. 23-28);
  • deem employment to continue if the employer corporation goes into receivership (s. 31); and
  • amend the rules respecting when the Employment Standards Act applies to collective agreements (s. 3).

Labour Relations Code

On April 30, 2019, Minister Bains submitted for first reading Bill 30, the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2019. The bill arises from the work of a panel that Minister Bains convened in February 2018 and its subsequent August 2018 Report, which contained 29 recommendations for amending the Labour Relations Code. The government also distributed a news release regarding the changes that these proposed amendments would bring including:

  • permiting “lawful consumer leafleting” when picketing (s. 1);
  • requiring an independent review of the Labour Relations Code every five years (s. 2);
  • permitting a person “to communicate to an employee a statement of fact or opinion reasonably held with respect to the employer’s business” (s. 4); which previously was, “a person has the freedom to express his or her views on any matter, including matters relating to an employer, a trade union or the representation of employees by a trade union, provided that the person does not use intimidation or coercion”; and therefore, it can be expected that union’s will attempt to restrict current rights of employers to communicate with their employees;
  • permitting the Board to certify a union where it is “just and equitable” if there has been a prohibited act, notwithstanding a failed vote (s. 5);
  • restricting the time period during which raids are permitted (s. 6);
  • shortening the requirements for the time between an application for certification and an employee vote from 10 days to five (s. 7);
  • extending successorship protection to re-tendering of service contracts in building cleaning, security, bus transportation, food, and non-clinical health sector services (s. 10);
  • extending the time during which an employer must not alter a term or condition of employment post-certification from four months to 12 (s. 11);
  • removing the power to direct the designation of essential services in respect of the provision of educational programs (s. 16);
  • amending the grievance procedure in various respects (ss. 16-21); and
  • increasing fines issuable for individuals from $1,000 to $5,000, and for corporations from $10,000 to $50,000 (s. 25).

WorkSafeBC

On April 11, 2019, Minister Bains submitted for first reading Bill 18, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2019, which proposes changes to B.C.’s occupational health and safety laws. Bill 18 was submitted for second reading on April 29, 2019.

These changes mainly deal with changes to the definition of a “firefighter” whose illness is presumed to have been caused by his or her occupation.

However, there are more comprehensive changes coming to this legislation as well. On April 3, 2019, the government announced in an information bulletin that it is undertaking a formal review of the workers’ compensation system. A report, including possible recommendations, will be delivered to the government by September 30, 2019. This report will likely recommend changes aimed at increasing protections for workers.

The author wishes to thank Piers Fibiger, articling student, for his contribution to this article.

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