Reviews of Workplace Legislation Underway in Alberta
In Alberta, the Employment Standards Code1 establishes the minimum standards for employment relationships. Relatedly, the Labour Relations Code2 governs the relationships between unions and management.
Both the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code came into effect in 1988. There haven’t been any significant updates to either piece of legislation since that time. Recently, in an effort to ensure that “Alberta has fair, modern and family-friendly workplaces that support a growing economy,”3 the Government has announced that it will conduct reviews of the legislation.
With respect to the review of the Employment Standards Code, the Government is soliciting feedback from the public by way of a survey which seeks feedback on the following topics:
- Maternity, parental and compassionate care leaves;
- Introducing leave for the care of critically ill children;
- Other job-protected leaves in relation to the federal Employment Insurance program; and
- Improving enforcement and administration.4
With respect to the review of the Labour Relations Code, the Government has asked former Labour Relations Board Chair Andrew Sims, QC, to consider the following issues:
- Whether to mandate a Rand formula (whereby an employee must pay dues regardless of whether they are a member of the union or not) in collective agreements;
- Assessing the processes used to let employees exercise their constitutional right to choose, change or cancel union representation in a timely and effective way;
- Whether it is appropriate to use reverse onus provisions with respect to certain alleged unfair labour practices;
- Reviewing current definitions of “employer” and “employee” to ensure that they are consistent with today’s workplaces, including the manner in which bargaining rights may be maintained, adjusted or changed as workplaces and ownership change;
- The options available for dispute resolution in intractable disputes, which may include situations that involve unresolved first contracts, proven unfair labour practices, the failure to maintain essential services or public emergency situations;
- Enabling the Alberta Labour Relations Board to adjudicate a wider range of workplace disputes;
- Improving the Alberta Labour Relations Board’s powers, procedures and remedial options with a view to timelier dispute resolution, flexibility in the use of mediation and available remedies;
- Improved powers and procedures in grievance arbitration, including the current judicial review processes;
- Improved mechanisms for ensuring the fair representation of employees in matters arising out of collective agreements; and
- Examining areas of the Labour Relations Code where, due to the wording of the legislation or developed practice, Alberta’s labour law processes depart from the Canadian mainstream.5
The Government is also inviting stakeholders to make written submissions on these issues.
The public and stakeholders have until April 18, 2017 to provide feedback or submissions in relation to the reviews of the legislation. While the exact nature of any updates to the legislation will not be proposed until after that date, it seems likely, based on the nature of the issues raised by the Government, that the general trend of any updates will be to increase the rights of employees, expand the jurisdiction of the Alberta Labour Relations Board and promote efficiency in the adjudication of disputes. Consequently, any updates are likely to have a significant effect on employers.
Field Law’s Labour and Employment Group will continue to monitor the status of the reviews of the legislation and will provide updates along the way.
1 RSA 2000, c E-9.
2 RSA 2000, c L-1.