PQ government gone, workplace laws remain (HR Rulebook)

Health issues have dominated legislatures so far this year

From SARS to workplace safety to drug coverage, health issues have dominated legislatures so far this year.


The federal government acted quickly to address the needs of Canadian employees unable to work due to SARS-related quarantine. Some Canadians affected by SARS have been placed in quarantine by medical authorities, while others have been sent home by their employers. The current quarantine period for SARS as determined by medical authorities is 10 days.

HRDC has proposed amendments to the Employment Insurance (EI) regulations with respect to SARS-related quarantines, removing the usual two-week waiting period. In these cases, the requirement for a medical certificate will also be removed.

The amended regulations apply to any SARS-related claims for EI sickness benefits where the period of quarantine has been imposed or recommended by a public health official and the claimant was asked by the employer, a medical doctor, a nurse or another person in authority to go into quarantine.

The amended regulations apply to any SARS-related claims submitted on or after March 30.

Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) announced that Old Age Security (OAS) benefit rates will increase by 0.6 per cent for the next three months (April to June). The basic OAS pension, paid to most Canadians 65 years of age and older, will be $456.08 per month.

The EI regulations have been modified to introduce expiry dates on all 900-series Social Insurance Numbers (SINs). SINs beginning with “9” are issued to people who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents, who need a SIN for employment purposes or other authorized uses, such as income tax filings. These people include temporary foreign workers and refugee claimants. As of March 30, 900-series SINs are valid until the end of the person’s authorized stay in Canada to a maximum of five years.

British Columbia

The B.C. government has introduced a new Fair PharmaCare program to improve fairness in financial assistance for drug coverage. Effective May 1, financial assistance for costs associated with the purchase of drugs and designated medical supplies for seniors and those falling under the old universal plan is determined by income level. The new program has two components at the outset:

•the Fair PharmaCare Program, which applies to all eligible B.C. residents born in 1940 or later; and

•the Seniors’ Fair PharmaCare Program, which provides increased assistance to those born in 1939 or earlier. This second element will be phased out over time.

According to the Ministry of Health Services, under this new system, approximately 16 per cent of current recipients (about 250,000 people) will pay more for prescription drugs and designated medical supplies. The remainder will pay the same or less than what they are paying under the existing program.


Despite the fact that Alberta has a pretty good workplace safety record relative to the rest of the country, the province is trying to improve its statistics.

Currently, more than 100 Albertans die from work-related injuries or illness each year, while 3,000 are injured on the job every week.

Work Safe Alberta is calling on workers and employers to reduce the number of safety violations and lost-time injuries by 40 per cent by 2004. Improved enforcement measures will include:

•increasing the number of safety officers;

•increasing the maximum fine for a first Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) offence from $150,000 to $500,000;

•allowing judges to award penalties other than fines or incarceration for OHS offences, such as providing safety or education programs; and

•extending from one to two years the length of time available in which to begin a prosecution.


Amendments to Quebec’s Act Respecting Prescription Drug Insurance regarding maximum contributions came into force on March 1. Changes in effect on that date relate to maximum contributions as follows:

•the maximum contribution is $200 per year, divided into equal parts for each month, for persons 65 years of age and older receiving 94 per cent or more of the maximum amount of guaranteed monthly income supplement under the Old Age Security Act; and

•the maximum contribution will be $548 per year, divided into equal parts for each month, for persons 65 years of age and older who receive a fraction below 94 per cent of the maximum amount of guaranteed monthly income supplement under the Old Age Security Act.

The status of Bill 143, An Act to Amend the Act Respecting Labour Standards and Other Legislative Provisions is somewhat uncertain at the moment, given the recent Quebec election and the return of the Liberals to power.

The act was slated to come into force on May 1, with some exceptions. The amendments introduce significant changes designed to improve work-life balance for Quebec employees. Among other things, the act:

•specifies the situations in which an employee is deemed to be at work;

•introduces a right to refuse to work over and above a certain number of daily or weekly work hours, and raises the minimum period of weekly rest from 24 to 32 hours;

•raises the time for which an employee may be absent for sickness or an accident from 17 to 26 weeks and from five to 10 days per year for family obligations;

•entitles an employee to be absent for up to 12 weeks per year if the employee’s presence is required to care for a close relative because of a serious illness or accident; and,

•provides that, during an absence owing to sickness or an accident, or a maternity, paternity or parental leave, the group insurance and pension plans recognized in the employee’s place of employment are maintained. The employee is to be reinstated in the employee’s regular position, and with the same benefits, at the end of the absence or leave.

For more on Quebec’s new labour legislation, click on the "Related Articles" link below.

Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia Pension Benefits Act (amended) was introduced by the Nova Scotia Ministry of Environment and Labour in March 2001, and took effect on Jan. 1, 2003. Among other things, the act made changes to Life Income Funds (LIFs) including the removal of the requirement to buy a life annuity by age 80; the ability of LIF owners to receive temporary income from their plan until age 65; and the ability to unlock small LIFs for owners who have reached age 65.

Sari Sanders is a lawyer and the head of Hewitt Canada’s Research group. She may be contacted at (416) 225-5001, [email protected].

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