Unions unhappy with Alberta’s Bill 32

Government claims legislation will 'bring balance back to labour laws'

Unions unhappy with Alberta’s Bill 32
Legislation proposed by the Alberta government is causing controversy with labour groups but promises to alleviate administrative burden for employers.

Recent legislation proposed by the Alberta government is causing controversy with labour groups but promises to alleviate administrative burdens for employers.

The legislation is meant to save employers an estimated $100 million per year by reducing red tape, says the government.

“Our government was elected on the promise of supporting employee choice and to bring balance back to Alberta’s labour laws,” says Jason Copping, minister of labour and immigration. “This bill will do just that and also help businesses save time and money, letting them focus on getting Albertans back to work while protecting workers.”

Some of the changes proposed under the bill include:

  • Clarifying that employees continue to accumulate vacation time while on a job-protected leave.
  • Clarifying rules for rest periods and flexibility in scheduling breaks.
  • Restoring balance to the relationship between employers and employees with updated rules for union certification and revocation, such as removing strict timelines and remedial certification provisions.
  • Ensuring union members are not forced to fund political activities and causes without explicit opt-in approval.
  • Balancing employee rights to fair collective bargaining, striking and picketing with the need to protect businesses and our economy from harm, and ensuring Albertans continue to receive services they rely on.
  • Changes to collective agreements and first contract arbitration.
  • Making sure employees know how unions are spending their money.
  • Updating rules for temporary layoff notices to help employees stay attached to their jobs longer.
  • Adding flexibility to rules for hours of work averaging arrangements to make it easier for employers to set up arrangements, create schedules, and calculate overtime.
  • Expanding the types of jobs 13- and 14-year-olds are allowed to do without first needing a permit.
  • Creating simpler and more flexible rules for general holiday pay, group terminations, payment of final earnings upon termination, payroll processes and paying administrative penalties to help employers save time and money in their daily operations.
  • Making it easier for employers to apply for variances and exemptions.

The Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) commended the Alberta government for the proposed bill after several of its recommendations were reflected in the changes, such as allowing more time to provide terminated employees with their final pay.

"I applaud Jason Copping… and Grant Hunter, associate minister of red tape reduction, for the common sense approach that the government has taken," says Peter Tzanetakis, president of the CPA.

The Alberta Construction Association was among several groups that applauded the government, citing “greater flexibility and reduced red tape in averaging agreements, hours of work, and temporary layoffs. Changes to these employment standards support seasonal, remote project-based construction jobs, while maintaining fairness in the workplace,” says chair Frederick Vine.

However, some workers’ unions criticized the proposed changes.

If passed, the legislation would prohibit unions from using union dues to contribute to social causes or issues, charities, non-governmental organizations, groups affiliated with or supportive of a political party or “any activities prescribed by the regulations,” even where union members have democratically voted to support such causes and organizations, says the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

“The UCP [United Conservative Party] want us to think this bill is about individual choice. It’s really about dismantling our collective power, which is our political power. And that’s clearly what this government fears most,” says Jason Heistad, AUPE secretary-treasurer. “Bill 32 is just a veiled attempt to throw up barriers to members banding together and advocating for issues that matter most to them.”

The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) says the bill is aimed at undermining the ability of unions to advocate on behalf of their members on issues like the privatization of health care, the creation of a national pharmacare program, and the protection of pensions.

“The UCP is clearly trying to limit the ability of nurses and their union to stand up against a government that would privatize health care and jeopardize their retirement security,” says Heather Smith, president of the UNA.

In June, unions in Ontario called on the provincial government to make changes to Bill 124 after a Manitoba court deemed similar legislation unconstitutional.

A majority (88.8 per cent) of Foodora couriers and drivers in Toronto and Mississauga voted in favour of unionization with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), becoming the first app-based workforce in Canada to do so.

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