Albertans start new year with new workplace protections

Original Article: Tom Vernon, Global News | Jan. 1, 2018

Albertans who need to take time off in 2018 are getting a greater assurance their job will be waiting for them when they return.

Labour legislation passed by the Alberta NDP last spring mandates up to five days of job-protected unpaid sick leave, three days of bereavement leave for the loss of a family member and up to 16 weeks for long-term illness or injury. There are also new unpaid leaves to care for a sick family member, to deal with domestic violence or attend a citizenship ceremony.

“Most employers are providing better than these new minimums, but they weren’t universal,” Labour Minister Christine Gray told Global News.

“I spoke to a chef who had passed out on the job from exhaustion, missed his next day of work and was fired because he didn’t have access to any sick time.”

To ensure businesses are compliant, the government also introduced a new administrative penalty system to allow fines to be levied.

Leave provisions weren’t the only changes made to labour laws by the NDP in 2017. They changed how unions are certified, eliminating the secret-ballot vote if two-thirds of employees sign a union card.

For employees who bank their overtime, it will now be charged at time-and-a-half, instead of straight time. These changes were met with concern by Alberta business groups.

“Healthy labour relations depends on good faith, fairness and balance between employers, workers and unions,” Edmonton Chamber of Commerce CEO Janet Riopel said in the spring when the legislation was passed.

“The rushed process and lack of transparency with little public reporting does not inspire confidence in the new legislation.”

The government also passed significant reforms to OHS and WCB rules, which are set to take effect later this year.

“There are sweeping changes that will impact small businesses, and these are the job creators of our province,” said UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

Aheer is most concerned with a coming requirement for joint health and safety committees in all workplaces with more than 20 employees.

“A lot of the dollars that were being directed for OHS was actually going into safety training, that may actually be redirected into these councils,” added Aheer.

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