Posted on Jun 1, 2017

Updating Employment Standards & Labour Relations Code

Sherwood Park News - June 1, 2017

I am proud to be part of a government that is making life better for Alberta workers. Alberta’s workplaces have changed a lot in the past 30 years and yet the laws governing our workplaces have not been updated in this time. Most folks I talk to are surprised when they hear that while they pay into employment insurance, they do not have access to the same job-protected leaves as other Canadians.
Recently, the story of Amanda Jensen was reported in the news. As a mom, when she found out that her son had leukemia, her first priority was to focus on the lifesaving treatment he needed. So it came as a surprise, when a few weeks later, she was let go from her job as her request for compassionate care leave was not approved. Her story exemplifies the role that modernizing out-of-date laws that can play in supporting fair and family places workplaces.
For example, Alberta is one of the few provinces where workers have no assurance in law that they won’t be fired for being sick. Alberta workers also have no guarantee they will keep their job if they take time off work to attend to family responsibilities or emergencies such as a death or injury of a loved one. It also takes much longer for workers here to qualify for maternity and paternity leave than in other jurisdictions, which makes finding a proper work-life balance challenging.
We’re fixing that. If passed, Bill 17 would ensure Albertans can go to work and contribute to our economy while still being able to care for themselves and their families. Our new legislation finally moves Alberta into the Canadian mainstream after decades of inaction by the former government. Our goal is to bring in modest updates to the Employment Standards and Labour Relations Codes.
Our bill would give parents of sick children, survivors fleeing domestic violence, and those suffering from short-term illnesses or mourning the loss of a loved one, the time they need to take care of themselves and their families. Through our efforts, we hope to empower Albertans to take care of their personal responsibilities.
Changes to the Labour Relations Code will also ensure fair rules for both employees and employers that support a growing economy. While the best agreements are always reached by parties at the negotiating table, our bill would ensure parties can access first contract arbitration when an agreement has not been reached after 90 days. This will help limit the number of strikes that can harm long-term relationships between employers and workers. And it would institute a hybrid union certification process for newly-organized workplaces, helping avoid any undue influence or intimidation that can occur on both sides of a negotiation. Our proposal helps ensure Alberta has a fair and balanced labour relations system that respects the collective bargaining rights of both employees and employers.
Our government is also protecting the rights of waged, non-family farm workers while respecting the unique nature of Alberta’s farms and ranch community by preserving the family farm way of life by implementing recommendations from the Technical Working Groups. The proposed changes would have no effect on youth activities such as 4-H, casual work or branding parties, and would ensure friends and neighbours can continue helping each other as they have done for generations.
The proposed changes to bring our Employment Standards and Labour Relations Codes into the Canadian mainstream are expected to come into effect January 1, 2018 and if passed.

Estefania Cortes-Vargas is the Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Strathcona-Sherwood Park Constituency. If you have any comments or questions concerning this column or other provincial government issues, please contact Estefania at her constituency office located at #19 – 99 Wye Rd., Sherwood Park, T8B 1M1. Telephone: 780-416-2492 or e-mail: