Editor’s Voice: Labour Debates are Brewing

There are labour debates taking place within the country that we need to keep an eye on. Both in Ontario and Alberta, discussions (and likely legislation) is brewing that will change the nature of overtime work and how it is calculated or “banked” depending on the situation. In Ontario, according to the current Employment Standards Act, for an employee to be able to work more than 48 hours a week, both the employer and employee are required to sign an agreement and gain approval from the Ministry of Labour. Bill 66 removes the extra step of approval by the ministry, allowing employers to ask employees to work overtime with little to no oversight.

Current laws also allow employers to average out hours worked over two or more weeks, but only with the agreement of workers and approval from the Ministry of Labour. For example, working 30 hours in one week and 50 hours in another could be averaged to 40 hours both weeks — and would thus not be considered overtime. Bill 66 will get rid of the requirement for overtime averaging to be approved by the Ministry of Labour.

There is a similar situation in Alberta. The former NDP government changed the law to make employers pay all overtime at 1.5 times the employee’s regular hourly rate, no matter how it’s taken (as cash or banked time). Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta, wants to allow banked overtime to be paid out at straight time for both time-off-in-lieu and cash payouts.

Why is this important? While not explicitly removing time-and- a-half options for workers, governments are giving employers the ability to pay time-for-time instead of a time-and-a-half cash payout. Is it economically more feasible? Who does it benefit, really? Employers obviously benefit, as there is an elimination of bankable overtime hours. However, morale and work, especially in service (where overtime and tips are important) and minimum wage paying jobs, will certainly decline. Perhaps the debate needs to tackle what makes a good minimum wage before we even discuss how to bank overtime hours.

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