(Vancouver) Numbers obtained from the BC Ministry of Labour show that sweeping changes to the employment standards system have dramatically undermined the province’s ability to enforce minimum protections for workers.
David Fairey, a labour economist, obtained the information while doing research for a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called “Eroding Worker Protections: BC’s New Flexible Employment Standards.” He says the number of violation complaints filed by workers plummeted after BC’s employment standards were lowered and the complaints process was made more restrictive. Between 2000/01 and 2003/04 (the last year for which full-year data was made available), the number of complaints fell by 61%.
“It would be great news if the dramatic decline in complaints could be explained by an sudden improvement in employer behaviour,” says Fairey. “Unfortunately, it is the result of policy changes that exclude more people from minimum employment standards, reduce the province’s enforcement resources, and make the complaints system more complicated and intimidating.”
He cites as an example that employees must now confront their employer using a complicated 16-page “self-help kit” (available only in English) before being allowed to file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch. “One Employment Standards Officer I interviewed described the effect of this policy alone on violations complaints as ‘like the turning off of a tap.’”
In addition, between 2000/01 and 2004/05, one third of Branch staff was cut, and the number of offices around the province was reduced by 47% from 17 to 9. This enforcement capacity was gutted at the same time as both the number of workers and workplaces in BC was growing, which means fewer staff are now expected to protect a larger workforce.
“It’s like we took most of the police off the street, closed most of the stations, and told the public to report crimes to head office,” says Fairey. “The province has a legal duty to protect vulnerable workers. These changes amount to willful neglect of responsibility by the government.”
“Taken together, the changes made since 2001 have made the employment standards system less reliable, less transparent, and less effective. Exemptions and exclusions to the rules have become the norm instead of the exception, the minimum conditions of work have been lowered, and it is harder for workers to ensure their rights are respected. In several areas, BC also now has the dubious honour of having the lowest employment standards anywhere in Canada.”
“Eroding Worker Protections: British Columbia’s New Flexible Employment Standards” provides a comprehensive review of the changes and evaluates their impact on workers and employers. It is 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).
To arrange an interview call Shannon Daub at 604-801-5121 x226.