Improving the lives of workers is sound business sense

September 11, 2019

By Hassan Yussuff, as published in the Toronto Sun.

There will always be those who believe that the most important aspect of any business is the bottom line, regardless of how such tunnel vision can negatively impact the lives of workers.

But the best employers understand that a sound business model includes nurturing workplaces in which their employees are treated with dignity and respect.

Those who care about the people who work for them will often see higher productivity from a healthier, happier workforce.

It’s with this in mind that Canadians working in federally-regulated sectors will have a lot to look forward to when changes to the Canada Labour Code come into effect on September 1st.

While there are those sounding the alarm at the new rules, it’s prudent to take a step back and reflect on what the amendments actually mean for everyone.

First, there are the workers who will be directly impacted. These include full-time, part-time, and casual employees working in a range of fields including railways, shipping and banks. Then there is the wider public who these workers indirectly and directly serve. All of us win when people are treated fairly.

Everyone wins when employers recognize that every worker has personal responsibilities and obligations that will change over the person’s career.  Having flexible work arrangements means ensuring that workers can adapt to changing circumstances in their lives without jeopardizing their livelihood.

Everyone wins when workers have the right to refuse overtime so that they can care for their family members and fulfill their commitments to their children’s education.

Everyone wins when workers experiencing domestic violence are able to access paid leave to cope with what would be a highly traumatic and difficult experience for anyone. Victims of domestic violence should not be forced to choose between their well-being and their livelihood.

While these are only a few of the amendments coming into force on September 1st, the changes to the Labour Code as a whole are designed to ensure that workers are able to balance their health, well-being, personal obligations and their jobs.

Unfortunately, it has become routine to hear a chorus of disapproval when efforts to improve the working conditions of Canadians are implemented. There will always be those who decry the introduction of such provisions as overly burdensome or too much red tape for employers. The reality, however, is that most provincially-regulated workplaces have already had to contend with similar, if not more stringent, rules for a number of years now and the sky hasn’t fallen – the federal government is simply playing catch-up here.

It’s also unsurprising that critics will claim that the plans to introduce updated standards are hidden from public view, to be sprung on unsuspecting stakeholders at the very last minute. These amendments to the Labour Code have been in the works for several years and are the result of wide-ranging consultations between the government, workers, unions and employers.

By improving the lives of workers, we are improving the quality of life for everyone. Employers who lack vision may fall for the scaremongering but those who have the best interests of their workers at heart should welcome these amendments as being long overdue. In fact, they should advocate for further improvements.

For instance, it’s time that the federal government reinstate a minimum hourly wage for workers in federally regulated sectors. The minimum wage must be set at $15 an hour and tied to indexation so that jobs help workers get ahead rather sustaining them in a cycle of poverty.

Workers must also be able to “switch off” their work phones and emails once they’ve returned home. Unfortunately, in this era of instant communication, many employers expect their staff to respond on their own personal time – that’s simply unhealthy and unfair.

Canada’s workers are making positive strides. Employers can either get with the program, or risk losing their best workers.

Hassan Yussuff is the President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow him on Twitter @Hassan_Yussuff.

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