Safety at forefront of fall legislative season (HR Rulebook)

With 2001 drawing to a close, here’s a final instalment of recent legislative changes across the country.

Federal
Proposed regulations with respect to the “small weeks” pilot project have been introduced. The “small weeks” project is a new means of calculating EI benefits that would allow claimants to exclude low-earning weeks (less than $150) from the benefit calculation of average earnings.

Previously, part-time and short-term workers might have been inclined to avoid working short weeks, as the earnings from those weeks would have reduced their EI benefits. The changes will provide greater flexibility to people with varied work schedules and encourage them to accept available work without fear of lowering future benefit rates. The plan is effective Nov. 18, 2001.

Human Resources Development Canada’s Labour Program has also introduced a new Web site dealing with work-life balance. It has information on relevant laws, statistics and research on work-life balance and sample work-life provisions in collective agreements: http://labour-travail.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/worklife/welcome-en.cfm.

British Columbia
British Columbia’s minimum wage rose from $7.60 to $8 per hour as of Nov. 15 as the Liberal government (sworn in June 5) honoured the commitment made by the preceding NDP government. Even before this latest increase, B.C. had the highest minimum wage in Canada.

To soften the blow of the increase on small business owners and to reduce youth unemployment in the province, the government also introduced the “first-job” wage rate.

Workers hired on or after Nov. 15, who have less than 500 hours (roughly six months) of paid work experience, will be paid the first-job wage rate of $6 per hour. Once they have 500 hours of experience, they will receive the regular minimum wage. (For more information, go to www.hrreporter.com and in the search field enter article #1485 or #1525.)

Ontario
On Oct. 18, Labour Minister Chris Stockwell announced consultations to establish a process for updating Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs). OELs restrict the amount and duration of workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace, such as asbestos, benzene, lead and silica. Ontario now has OELs for more than 700 hazardous chemical substances. Employers must comply with these limits under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The ministry said that the permanent process to update OELs will help:

•prevent occupational illness due to exposure to hazardous substances;

•keep pace with developing technology; and

•set exposure limits that are relevant to safety in today’s workplace while ensuring Ontario remains competitive.

The ministry has prepared a consultation paper that includes options for the process. The paper is available at www.gov.on.ca/lab/ann/majore.htm#oel. Interested parties are invited to make written submissions by Feb. 28, 2002.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Labour has also released guidelines for identifying and handling anthrax and other biological agent threats. The guidelines are available at www.gov.on.ca/LAB/ohs/ohs_e/hsg_anthrax_e.htm. (For additional information, see www.hrreporter.com, and in the search field enter article #1455.)

Another workplace safety measure introduced by the busy Ontario Ministry of Labour is the draft regulation on working in confined spaces. It was released on Sept. 21. Stakeholders had until Nov. 16 to submit comments and the ministry is now reviewing those comments. The draft regulation deals with dangers due to the potential for a build-up of hazardous gases or dust and the risk for suffocation, fire or explosion in confined spaces. The draft regulation extends protection to all workers, not just those in the industrial, mining, construction and health-care sectors. The draft regulation is available at www.gov.on.ca/LAB/ann/01-51rege.htm.

Bill 53, the Public Sector Employee’s Severance Pay Disclosure Act, 2001, received second reading on Nov. 1.

It requires that, if a former public-sector employee, who is not subject to a collective agreement, receives $100,000 or more as severance pay, the former employer must make available for public inspection a written record of the amount of severance paid.

Quebec
Draft regulations to amend the Regulation Respecting the Supplemental Pension Plans Act were published on Sept. 26. Key provisions include:

•Further detail on how to deal with the additional termination benefit. The plan may provide that the additional benefit can be converted into a life pension on the date the member ceases to be an active plan member, or, with the member’s consent, the additional benefit can be converted into an ancillary benefit also determined on the date of termination of membership. Under the first method, if the benefit exceeds tax restrictions, the excess amount must be paid to the member in cash.

•Regarding annual statements, the statement of an active member must now include the commuted value of the accrued benefits for members who would have been entitled to a transfer as of the date of the statement. This is in addition to the supplementary financial information, like employee and employer contributions, and contribution holidays already required by Bill 102 — an earlier amendment to the Supplemental Pension Plans Act.

To reflect the changes, amendments to defined contribution plans must be submitted to the Regie des Rentes by Dec. 31. For defined benefit plans, the deadline for filing plan amendments has been postponed to June 30, 2002.

Quebec’s Pay Equity Act came into force Nov. 21, 1997. The act requires that employers subject to provincial labour laws with 10 or more employees fully address pay equity issues in the workplace. The deadline for compliance was Nov. 21, 2001, although employers have an additional four years to implement approved compensation adjustments. By Nov. 21, affected employers should have completed either:

•the implementation of an approved compensation structure that complies with provisions of the act; or

•a pay equity plan that outlines changes to be made to the employer’s compensation structure in the period from Nov. 21, 2001 to Nov. 21, 2005. All efforts to comply with the act must be approved by the Pay Equity Commission before implementation. Non-compliance may result in fines of up to $25,000.
(Source: Hewitt Monitor, October 2001.)

Nova Scotia
The minimum wage in Nova Scotia increased from $5.70 per hour to $5.80 per hour as of Oct. 1. The rate for inexperienced workers increased from $5.25 per hour to $5.35 per hour.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is in the midst of an organizational review. For more information, see http://gov.ns.ca/humanrights/.

Effective Sept. 3, amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety First Aid Regulations include:

•expanding the list of qualified first aid providers so that workplaces will be required to have first aid attendants with different levels of training, depending on the size and location of the site (for example, an office near a hospital may only require an attendant with an emergency first aid certificate and 6.5 hours of training, while a mining facility in the middle of nowhere may require an attendant with an advanced certificate and 35 hours of training);

•permitting employers who share the same work site to share first aid services (previously limited to construction projects);

•clarifying which costs for first aid training are to be paid by the employer;

•clarifying the requirements for first aid remote location plans, when work is far from a health- care facility; and

•removing the restriction on administering medication as a first aid measure.

Prince Edward Island
All employers with 20 or more regularly employed employees (working more than 12 weeks a year) must have an active safety committee and a written safety policy in place by Dec. 22.

Additionally, a full safety program must be in place by Dec. 2002. P.E.I.’s Occupational Health and Safety Act was revised last year to ensure employers and employees work together to ensure better workplace safety records. There are no restrictions on the size of the committee, but at least 50 per cent of members must be employees who do not exercise managerial functions. Employee time spent on committee activities must be deemed “work time” and have no bearing on normal salary and benefits.

Marcia McDougall is a consultant with Hewitt Associates’ Toronto office and the editor of Carswell’s monthly newsletter The Canadian Employer. She may be contacted at (416) 225-5001.

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