Unions, business at odds over new Alberta labour laws
'We didn't understand why we had to enter into this rushed process,' says chamber of commerce president
Unions in Alberta are applauding the NDP government's move to revise the province's labour laws Wednesday, but the business community says the government should consult the public more before making big changes.
"We have been under imbalanced labour laws for the last 30 years," president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, Michael Parker, said.
"We're not leading the pack in all of this, but it puts us in line with the rest of the country as far as labour laws go."
"There hasn't been good labour relations in a number of areas and this levels the playing field to be make it fairer for everyone."
Key changes see employees being able to take unpaid leave for long-term illness, death or disappearance or a child, critical illnesses and domestic violence.
Parker said an important part of the legislation is protecting people's jobs even if they have to take unpaid leave.
"What we see today is finally some language that says it's ok to take care of your family for a bit, and you still have your job when you come back," Parker said.
Under the laws, employees can stay at home longer after having a baby, with paid parental leave being extended from 37 to 52 weeks. Taking time off for compassionate care is extended from eight to 27 weeks.
The NDP started consulting the public about the changes on Mar. 13 and the revised labour laws took 10 weeks to put together.
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Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president Janet Riopel acknowledged portions of the law needed to be updated, such as allowing people to take time off to look after sick family members.
But Riopel says the process was unduly hasty — they had about 30 days to give their input.
"We have had relative labour peace in this province for decades," Riopel told CBC News Wednesday.
"And we didn't understand why we had to enter into this rushed process, to bring in things that are really impactful on both employers and employees."
The proposed legislation drew criticism from opposition parties, with Wildrose and the PCs also saying there wasn't enough consultation on the issues. Both parties suggested the government split the employment standards and labour code changes into two separate bills.
Amendments to the employment standards code and labour relations code will streamline the way a group of employees joins a union.
It's ok to take care of your family for a bit, and you still have your job when you come back,- Michael Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta
The new threshold allows workers to join the union if 65 per cent of them simply sign up for a union card.
In the past, employees would vote on whether to join the union — a potentially lengthy process during which both employers and union leaders were known to try to influence workers' voting decisions.
"You could have 90 per cent signing the cards, you'd still have to go back months later, weeks later, for the secret ballot," Parker pointed out.
The Wildrose also claims there's a potential conflict of interest within the NDP caucus, and is asking the ethics commissioner to look into it.
"I trust the commissioner will carefully review this topic and report back with any personal ties that may result in conflicts of interest in voting for the legislation," Wildrose Deputy House Leader Dave Hanson said Wednesday.