UCP proposes loophole that could heavily reduce overtime payout.

Bill 32 is an attempt at lying so blatantly the government must hope everyone assumes they must be understanding it wrong. It is a massive tip of the scales towards employers and away from workers. From creating loopholes, to petty changes, this proposed act does nearly nothing that government claims it does. The only element of truth to the government’s claims about how this changes the employment standards code is it does simplify termination notices and pay, but it’s not simplified in your favour.

One of the biggest changes the UCP is proposing to the existing employment standards code revolves around “averaging arrangements” which allow employers to enter into agreements about how and when their workers get paid overtime or get banked time. Although the option for workers to enter these agreements has been around for a long time, under these proposed changes employers now gain the ability to require an averaging arrangement. If the employer wants an agreement they get to force one on you, which really doesn’t make it an agreement now does it?

Bill 32 reads:

“(11)Section 23.1 is amended

(a) in subsection (1) (i) by striking out ³an employee or a group of employees MAY enter into an hours of work averaging agreement and substituting ³ if an employer and an employee or a group of employees are not bound by a collective agreement, the employer may REQUIRE or permit the employee or group of employees to work an averaging arrangement;”

Emphasis added

This means very bad news for seasonal workers and rotation workers. Let’s say you work 7 on, 7 off, you work 10 hours a day, so right now you get 40 hours of straight time and 30 hours of overtime for each two week period. With the new act you could only get 70 hours of straight time if your employer decides they require you to work an averaging arrangement.

The bill also seeks to lengthen the maximum time span these arrangements can average the time worked over, growing from 1-12 weeks to 1-52 weeks. So if you have a historically slow period they have more time to change your overtime into regular time. Actually, come to think of it, with these new arrangements they could schedule any employee to work up to 80 hours in one week, then give them the next week off and not have to pay overtime! Wow, that’s balanced alright!

Kenney likes to portray himself as an advocate for Alberta oil workers, but how much do you stand to lose with these changes? If you work on rotation there is a good chance your employer could take at least 20% of your wages and stuff that money into their offshore account in the Cayman islands or wherever they hoard it. If you work any sort of even, on-and-off rotation, 7 on and 7 off, 10 on and 10 off etc, you could be forced to enter an arrangement where you lose all your overtime pay.

Let’s look at a common uneven rotation, 10 hours a day for 14 days gives you 112 hours of straight time and 28 hours of overtime. Since employers can now balance that overtime out over your 7 days off you get 140 hours of straight time and no overtime. What if you work 12 hour days in that same rotation? Well lucky you, you can walk away with 12 hours of overtime. Bust your ass for 12 hours a day, 14 days straight and the Kenney government thinks you should only get 12 hours overtime if you get 7 days off after.

To try and give this bill a fair shake, let’s analyze the claim they actually fulfilled regarding the employment standards code, of simplifying termination notices and payment. Currently there are 3 different rules where employers have to give a certain amount of notice if they fire a group of people within a 4 week period. The 3 rules create groups of 50-99, 100-299 and 300 or more. Each grouping would get an increasing advanced notice of the layoff, from 8 weeks, to 12 weeks, to 16 weeks.

This section has now been simplified to a single rule of 4 weeks. So if you experience a mass layoff you will only have 4 weeks to make plans to tighten your spending or find alternative work, instead of the 8 to 16 weeks you might have gotten previously. I can only imagine what this might do to the small towns that have one big employer nearby, 300 people out of work with only 4 weeks notice. But also, if the employer is unable to provide even the 4 week notice, for undefined reasons, they can submit it as soon as is “reasonable and practicable” which is completely open to interpretation.

In the existing act there are multiple circumstances where an employer would need to provide you with termination pay within 3 days of your last day. There is also a situation where they could take 10 days to pay you after your last day. Finally, there are a few different rules where it would take 3 or 10 days to get paid if you ended the employment. But that will be simplified to the following;

(2) When an employee’s employment terminates, the employer must pay the employee’s earnings within whichever of the following periods the employer chooses:

(a) 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which the termination of employment occurs;

(b) 31 consecutive days after the last day of employment.

There ya go, two rules regardless of who terminates the employment and regardless of the reason or whether a notice was given or not. But where did 31 days come from? What happened to the 3 days? We have just gone from getting paid within 3 to 10 days after losing our jobs to having to wait anywhere from 10 days to 1 month.

Now let’s do a quick run down of the petty changes. We are all used to a 30 min break if we have a 5 hour shift right? Now you have to work over 5 hours for that break. But at least we get 24 hours notice before a shift change right? Not if we have been forced into one of these averaging arrangements, they get to decide the schedule and in what manner schedule changes may take place. Service industry workers will want to make special note of that. One of these petty changes that I find rather funny is they decided to strike this line in the section on variances and exemptions:

“the Director is satisfied that issuing the variance or exemption meets the criteria established by the regulations”

Just why? Now the director doesn’t need to worry if exemptions meet the criteria established? They can just decree whatever they want? And finally, what I think is the most worrying petty change is Bill 32 will change the lay off period from 60 days in a 120 day period to 90 days in a 120 day period. At first I didn’t see the point to this, the government website says

“Employees could be laid off for a longer period of time (90 days within a 120 day period) without losing their job.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but being employed without a pay check for an extra 30 days doesn’t really help me. But with the new averaging arrangements it might help your employer stretch out your overtime for another 30 days, allowing them to convert around 176 hours of overtime into straight time.

And finally, what I think is the pettiest move the government makes in this bill is changing the stat holiday pay calculation so that if you take any vacation time within 4 weeks of the holiday, on either side of the holiday, you will get paid less stat pay for that holiday.

Comparing what I’ve read in Bill 32 to what is said on the government website, I do wonder if I’ve read it wrong. But I just can’t see how this bill matches the quote from Jason Copping, Minister of Labour and Immigration:

“Our government was elected on the promise of supporting employee choice and to bring balance back to Alberta’s labour laws. This bill will do just that and also help businesses save time and money, letting them focus on getting Albertans back to work while protecting workers.”

Actually Jason, you took away our choice in entering averaging agreements, you have made it possible to get less notice for a termination and created delays in getting our termination pay, making us more vulnerable if we needed that money for food and/or rent. There is such an extreme amount of disrespect and contempt to take away our hard earned money, delay our pay, put our schedules at the mercy of our bosses and cut back notice of terminations that it’s hard to believe, but believe it, its right there in writing.