New labour rules pay people to 'sit on the couch,' says Alberta businessman

An Alberta business man is criticizing the NDP government’s new rules surrounding holiday pay saying new regulations hurt businesses and employees.

'I can't understand, for the love of Pete, why our provincial government has made these changes'

Marty Giles, an Alberta business man, has criticized the NDP government’s new laws surrounding holiday pay saying the new regulations hurt not only his business but his employees as well. 1:40

A northern Alberta businessman is criticizing the NDP government's new rules around statutory holiday pay, saying the new regulations hurt businesses and employees.

Marty Giles recorded a video rant and posted it on social media. In the eight-minute video, he outlines how the new labour rules will hurt his vehicle dealerships in Fort McMurray, Calgary, Cochrane and Fort McKay.

Giles said he's against the new standards for general holiday pay because they mean some of his dealerships will run at a significant deficit on those days due to higher labour costs, he said.

"I can't understand, for the love of Pete, why our provincial government has made these changes to general holiday pay," Giles said in the video.

In an interview with CBC on Wednesday, Giles said he made the video to get the attention of politicians in Edmonton.

The new labour rules, which took effect Dec. 31, changed holiday pay, overtime, vacation and other rules.

NDP Labour Minister Christina Gary said the the new rules protect jobs and prevent workers from being exploited.

Paying workers who aren't scheduled

The issue for Giles is that his car dealership, Northstar Ford, which operates in Calgary, Cochrane and three locations in the Fort McMurray region, now has to pay workers whether they are scheduled to work on a holiday or not.

Giles said that means he's paying people to "sit on the couch."

That is a particular concern for one of the dealership's Fort McMurray locations, he said, because it is open seven days a week, including holidays.

Before the changes were introduced, Giles didn't have to pay workers if a holiday fell on their day off. Now he has to pay around 200 staff their regular hourly wage even if they are not scheduled to work on a holiday, he said.

The employees scheduled to work on a holiday will earn their regular wage plus time and a half.

Marty Giles owns the car dealership Northstar Ford which operates in Calgary, Cochrane and three locations in the Fort McMurray region. (David Thurton/CBC)

Giles estimates his car detailing department alone would lose $103 an hour on statutory holidays because of the new rules.

Giles said his employees who want to earn more money working as many holidays as possible will likely take a hit because his dealership is considering cutting shifts to avoid losses.

And when workers earn less, the government takes in a smaller amount of tax revenue, he said.

"So now, not only have you reduced what I pay you in tax, you've actually taken the middle class [and] you've reduced the amount of money they can pay in tax," Giles said.

'Unfortunate,' says chamber

Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce President Bryce Kumka said the NDP government's holiday-pay change has real implications for businesses that rely on shift work.

An increasing number of shift workers will qualify for holiday pay, and the labour costs will trickle down to either workers or consumers, said Kumka. 

"It's unfortunate that this is happening," Kumka said. "Because it's difficult economically given all the additional costs that have been loaded on businesses over the last couple of years."   

Labour laws needed update, NDP says

The United Conservative Party has heard many complaints from employers about the new rules, spokesperson Annie Dormuth said in an emailed statement.

"We obviously support workers being paid holiday pay for days where they would normally be working," Dormuth said. "But being forced to pay an employee for a day he or she would never be working makes little sense."

Labour Minister Christina Gray said Alberta's employment standards code was last updated almost 30 years ago. (CBC)

Labour Minister Christina Gray wasn't available Wednesday but her office said in an emailed statement that Alberta's employment standards code hadn't been updated for almost 30 years. "Many of our standards were far behind those in other parts of the country," the statement said.

Gray said the government defends workers but it is also listening to business owners to ensure their concerns are being addressed. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook and Twitter, email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.