jobs and the economy

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bill C-59 – the government’s latest omnibus budget implementation act – once again includes legislative changes that have little to do with federal budgets, and demonstrates this government’s disregard for collective bargaining and the law.

Collective bargaining circumvented

The budget implementation bill extends the definition of “insured participant” for the purposes of EI Part II training supports in two ways. First, to persons who have had a regular EI claim in the past 60 months (an increase from 36 months). Second, to new labour market entrants and re-entrants who didn’t have enough hours for a regular EI claim, but would have had enough hours by their regional unemployment rateIt gives Treasury Board the power to eliminate existing sick leave and disability provisions, and establish short-term and long- term disability programs, regardless of whether an agreement is reached with public service unions at the bargaining table.

It authorizes the government to dictate terms and conditions regarding the sick leave of employees, such as the number of hours of unused sick leave an employee is entitled to, the maximum number of hours of unused sick leave an employee may carry over from one year to the next, and the disposition of unused hours of sick leave.

The Act also grants Treasury Board the authority to establish a short-term disability program and lays out the details of such a plan, saying that the program will be binding regardless of provisions in collective agreements or arbitral awards. 

Treasury Board will establish a committee consisting of representatives of the employer and bargaining agents to make joint recommendations regarding modifications to the short-term disability program.

These provisions will enable the government to move forward with its plan to eliminate existing sick leave benefits in the federal public service and impose a short term disability program. More broadly, it represents an attack on the right to collective bargaining in the federal public service. 

Buried clauses forgive illegal destruction of gun registry records

The federal government is also using the bill to retroactively protect the RCMP against charges for illegally destroying long-gun registry records in 2012, according the Information Commissioner.
Readers were initially puzzled by clauses in the bill that would retroactively exempt gun registry data from the Access to Information Act, as well as any information about how the data was destroyed.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault shed light on the clauses when she tabled a report in Parliament on May 14 revealing that the RCMP destroyed registry records in 2012 – before the act ending the registry was passed, and after being asked by her office to preserve records because of an outstanding complaint over an Access to Information Request.

The Information Commissioner is taking the RCMP to court and warns that by including these clauses, Bill C-59 “sets a precedent against Canadians’ quasi-constitutional right to know.” 

Austerity enshrined in budget balancing 

The bill also provides more information about the government’s proposed balanced-budget legislation, enshrining austerity in federal fiscal management. Any deficit will automatically trigger implementation of a government-wide wage clamp-down, prohibiting an increase in operating budgets to fund annual wage increases. Any fiscal surpluses will automatically be used to pay down federal debt. 

Compassionate Care Leave changes positive, but not accessible enough

The budget bill amends the Canada Labour Code to increase the maximum amount of compassionate care leave to 28 weeks, to be taken within 52 weeks. This section also amends the Employment Insurance Act by increasing the maximum number of weeks that compassionate care benefits can be received to 26 weeks, and to extend to 52 weeks the period within which those benefits may be paid. 

Although the change is a step in the right direction, the benefit will be out of reach for many workers, especially those in part-time, contract, or casual jobs. To qualify for the benefit, an individual must have accumulated 600 insured hours in the previous 52 weeks (or since their last claim under the Employment Insurance program), and demonstrate that their regular weekly earnings from work have fallen by more than 40 per cent. 

Many workers in non-standard employment relationships will be unable to take advantage of this benefit, and instead will be forced to choose between retaining their job and income, and leaving work to attend to and care for a dying loved one. 

Changes for interns sidesteps issues around unpaid interns 

The omnibus bill implements changes to the regulation of interns under the Canada Labour Code that were first suggested in the budget. The amendments carefully avoid defining interns as employees, but, Part II of the Code (respecting occupational health and safety) and Part III (concerning employment standards) are amended to apply to a person in the workplace primarily to gain knowledge and experience and “who is not an employee but who performs for an employer...as if that person were an employee of the employer.” 

A person enrolled in a secondary or post-secondary educational program will not be covered by the employment standards contained in Part III. But the bill does not address broader issues of exploitation of individuals working on unpaid internships. Persons on a four-month internship, or in a position requiring a designated number of hours of work over the course of a year would also not be covered by the employment standards in Part III. 

EI eligibility changes lack necessary funding

The budget implementation bill extends the definition of “insured participant” to persons who have had a claim in the past 60 months (an increase from 36 months). It also extends the definition of “insured participant” to new labour market entrants and re-entrants who didn’t have enough hours for EI, but would have had enough hours by their regional unemployment rate. 

This has been the federal government position in Labour Market Development Agreement (LMDA) negotiations with the provinces for the past 18 months. The provinces generally agreed with the principle, but were asking for increased funding to cover the increase in eligible participants. This bill doesn’t increase funding, but appears to allow provinces to opt-out of the eligibility extension. 

As is currently the case for Part II participants, workers must make a claim for EI benefits in order to establish their eligibility. 

Prevention of Terrorist Travel Act hands new powers to minister

This omnibus budget bill includes a new piece of legislation, at best distantly related to the budget, called the "Prevention of Terrorist Travel Act." 

Under this new legislation, the "Cabinet Minister deemed responsible by the Governor in Council" (likely the Public Safety Minister or Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) will be able to decide when to revoke or refuse a passport for someone suspected of planning a terrorist act in Canada or abroad. 

The person will be advised that the passport will be cancelled and given thirty (30) days to respond and provide information that may cause the Passport Program to reconsider the cancellation. The individual can appeal the cancellation before the Federal Court of Canada within 30 days of the date of the decision. 

The government would have to enter evidence before a Federal Court judge in support of the cancellation, but the judge can protect that information from disclosure.