(Vancouver) Legislation that allows employers to “opt out” of minimum legal employment standards has resulted in substandard and unfair working conditions and may be unconstitutional, according to a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Bill 48 was passed by the provincial government in 2002 and, among other things, excludes unionized workers from core protections of the Employment Standards Act (ESA).
Negotiating Without a Floor: Unionized Worker Exclusion from BC Employment Standards, by labour economist David Fairey, finds that Bill 48 has had detrimental impacts to workers’ economic security in two key areas:
- Overly collaborative or “employer-accommodating” unions can now legally negotiate substandard working conditions (meaning, collective agreement provisions below those required under the ESA). Fairey reviewed 56 collective agreements signed by the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), the largest such union in BC. The majority had multiple substandard clauses in areas such as overtime, vacation and termination pay, and meal breaks. While CLAC frequently signed substandard agreements prior to Bill 48, workers formerly had the right to file grievances or appeal to the Employment Standards Branch or Labour Relations Board – a right now denied.
- Other unions simply lost minimum protections when Bill 48 was passed. Before Bill 48, they had signed agreements knowing that if areas dealt with by the Employment Standards Act weren’t explicitly addressed in the collective agreement, their members were automatically covered by the Act. After Bill 48 many of these same agreements left union members without the rights and protections of the Act because of its new exclusion provisions.
“The provincial government ripped gaping holes in hundreds of collective agreements, stripping people of their basic rights” says Fairey. “Employment standards are supposed to ensure that all workers are protected by the law. They should create a starting point for negotiating better conditions, not force workers to begin from scratch just because they are part of a union.”
Fairey points out that Bill 48 is also unfair to employers who respect minimum standards. “It creates an uneven playing field. Employers should not be allowed to opt out of the law.”
Negotiating Without a Floor was produced as part of the Economic Security Project, a joint research initiative of the CCPA and Simon Fraser University, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The full report is available at www.policyalternatives.ca.
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