The year in HR

Looking back at the stories that made the news in 2007

In the 2006 year in review (Jan. 15, article #4924), we said if the labour shortage turns out to be as bad as predicted, 2006 might be looked at as the year it gained a foothold. Well, 2007 has done nothing to dispel the notion of a labour shortage, which made frequent appearances in the pages of Canadian HR Reporter. A massive class-action lawsuit on unpaid overtime and a historic, controversial labour deal also made big headlines.

Labour shortage

It wasn’t just the much-talked-about oil-and-gas sector feeling the labour pinch. The service sector in the Western provinces was also hit by an inability to find workers.

Calgary-based Humpty’s Restaurants was spending $4,000 a month on recruitment and had to close locations early because of a lack of staff. So a team of recruiters went to Mexico to interview applicants, hiring 16 cooks and one assistant manager. (Jan. 15, article #4935.)

The labour shortage turned into a civil war, with provinces jockeying for talent across the country. Nova Scotia put billboards up in Alberta, urging Nova Scotians to come home with slogans such as “Calgary is a nice place to visit.” Manitoba announced a tax-rebate program to keep post-secondary graduates in the province and New Brunswick put $55 million into a similar tax-break program. (Jan. 29, article #4972.)

But just because workers were in demand, it didn’t mean employers were turning a blind eye to bad behaviour. Though a couple of legal cases saw managers citing labour shortages as a reason for tolerating inappropriate behaviour, an employment lawyer said there was no evidence unacceptable behaviour was being condoned or becoming more acceptable. (Jan. 29, article #4970.)

The tight labour market also had an effect on pay for performance — and not in a great way. Employers were forced to hand over bonuses for work that, 10 years ago, might have merited discipline. (April 23, article #5148.)

Four senior HR leaders from across the country talked in depth about their impressions of the labour shortage and what their organizations are doing to prepare. (Sept. 10, article ##5427.)

Labour relations

The handshake that shook the labour relations world took place between Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) president Buzz Hargrove and Magna founder Frank Stronach. Debate is still raging over the Framework of Fairness Agreement, with many other union leaders — including some in the CAW — condemning it. (Nov. 5, article #5605.)

The labour shortage could make for strange bedfellows. The Conference Board of Canada said labour and management will have to find new ways to work together to attract and retain workers. It said employers still want to increase productivity and workforce flexibility, but retention concerns will make them more willing to offer job security. (Feb. 26, article #5031.)

For the first time in Canadian history, women outnumbered men in the ranks of unions. That means unions are increasingly fighting for policies to improve the status of women at work, such as child care, pensions and mandatory retirement. (Sept. 24, article #5468.)

Employment law

There’s no such thing as a boring year in employment law and 2007 was no exception. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was slapped with a $600-million lawsuit over unpaid overtime. (July 16, article #5310 and article #5303.) KPMG was hit with a similar $20-million suit, and Scotiabank was slapped with an unpaid overtime suit in December.

Random drug testing was dealt another blow when Imperial Oil lost its fight to use a new technology that could tell whether a worker was impaired by marijuana. Previous tests had been dismissed because they couldn’t prove actual impairment — only whether the employee had ever used an illegal drug. (Feb. 12, article #4996.)

For a complete list of the Legal View columns that appeared in Canadian HR Reporter, go to and enter “legal view” as a search term.


Organizations don’t seem to be walking the talk when it comes to diversity. While 85 per cent cited it as a priority, four in 10 organizations (42 per cent) had no strategic plan to foster it, according to a Conference Board of Canada report. (Jan. 15, article #4936.)

Minorities with foreign credentials said they don’t feel as valued as their Canadian-educated counterparts, according to a study. That translated into a general feeling of dissatisfaction with their careers and boosted the chances they’d look for career opportunities outside Canada. (March 26, article #5094.)

Despite robust laws and policies designed to increase the representation of women, Aboriginals, people with disabilities and visible minorities in the federal public sector, progress has been slow. One proposed solution to speed things up was to tie performance bonuses to employment equity goals. (March 26, article #5090.)

The phrase “ghetto dude” made its unfortunate appearance in the HR lexicon after a recruiter in an Ontario cabinet office mistakenly sent an e-mail to a candidate, rather than a colleague, with the sentence: “This is the ghetto dude that I spoke to before.” The incident sparked an apology by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to Evon Reid, a black University of Toronto student who had applied for a media analyst position. (Aug. 13, article #5366.)

The glass ceiling is still firmly in place at some organizations. A survey of Financial Post 500 firms found more than one-third don’t have a single female corporate officer. Scotiabank provided a good business case for promoting women into the senior ranks. From 2003 to 2006, the representation of women in the most senior roles rose from 26.7 per cent to 36.8 per cent while the bank’s return on equity jumped from 16.6 per cent to 22.1 per cent. (May 7, article #5181.)


The hard work of HR and marketing departments was recognized at the first annual Employer of Choice Marketing Awards in Toronto. Calgary’s Southland Transportation, a school bus company, took home honours for its print and broadcast advertising that focused on stay-at-home mothers and retirees. The campaign enabled the company to fill 194 positions in Alberta’s notoriously tight labour market. (April 23, article #5154.)

Fake university degrees popped into the news after police in Ontario busted a counterfeiting ring that supplied forged university degrees and transcripts. Experts had trouble spotting the fakes, which meant most employers didn’t stand a chance. This underscored the importance of conducting detailed background checks. (May 7, #5182.)

Health and safety

The first issue of the year contained the startling headline: “5 workers die a day.” There were 1,097 workplace fatalities in Canada in 2005, a 56-per-cent increase from 1996. Most of the increase was attributed to a rise in deaths from occupational disease, with asbestos — “a legacy from the past” — being cited as a culprit. (Jan. 15, article #4937.)

Workplaces aren’t immune from the violence swirling around them. Figures from Statistics Canada showed that nearly one-fifth of physical assaults, robberies and sexual assaults happen in the workplace. (March 12, article #5062.)

Individuals were increasingly targeted for health and safety violations, being hit with fines and jail time, thanks to legislative changes. (March 12, article #5055.)

And the Industrial Accident Prevention Association celebrated its 90th anniversary. (Aug. 13, article #5364.)


With the labour shortage, bringing foreign workers into the country is becoming increasingly important for many employers. Provincial nominee programs can help employers fill positions by seeking out foreign workers and fast-tracking them into Canada. But the process can be lengthy and error-prone. (March 26, article #5083.)

Immigration was also credited with luring Microsoft north to open a development centre in British Columbia. Microsoft said it has long had an eye on Canada’s IT talent pool and expanding to this side of the border gave it the opportunity to tap into employees who aren’t able to immigrate to the United States. (Sept. 10, article #5435.)

Canadian HR Reporter presented its first individual achievement award as part of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Immigrant Success Awards to Sischa Maharaj, a former senior manager of intake programs at CIBC. (Oct. 8, article #5507.)

Immigrants continued to struggle to find work, according to Statistics Canada. The national unemployment rate for recent immigrants was more than double the Canadian-born rate. (Oct. 8, article #5501.)

Mandatory retirement

With the end of mandatory retirement in many jurisdictions, HR leaders from Wal-Mart Canada, the University of Toronto, North Eastman Health Society, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Casey House chimed in on how they’re dealing with older workers. (Jan. 29, article #5427.)

Data from Statistics Canada showed there are more seniors in the country than ever and they’re working longer, living longer and well educated — all great news for employers worried about finding workers. (April 9, article #5127.)

Air Canada was told its mandatory retirement policy was OK after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled age 60 was the normal retirement age for pilots, highlighting the fact that mandatory retirement policies may still be allowed in some cases. (Sept. 10, article #5434.)

Employment standards

Canada’s military role in Afghanistan played prominently on nightly newscasts and made HR news when Saskatchewan and Manitoba joined Nova Scotia in mandating that employers hold reservists’ jobs if they volunteer for a tour of duty. (April 23, article #5155.) Other provinces have since joined the ranks.

Manitoba overhauled its employment standards legislation for the first time since the disco days of the 1970s. Changes included new rules for termination notice, deductions from wages, leave of absence, overtime exemptions, holiday pay and young workers. (Feb. 26, article #5027.) Prince Edward Island also took a look at its legislation. (Aug. 13, article #5359.)

Ontario announced it was looking at job-protected leave — similar to maternity leave, parental leave and compassionate care leave — for workers who want to take time off to donate organs. (Oct. 8, article #5506.)

Top 100 Employers

When former U.S. vice-president Al Gore rolled into Toronto to give his presentation on climate change to a packed house of HR and business professionals at the 2007 Top Employer Summit in March, Canadian HR Reporter was on the scene.

In association with the summit, Canadian HR Reporter produced a special feature on green employers, featuring articles on how the sudden interest in the environment can translate into engagement and case studies on green initiatives from three employers that made the 2007 Canada’s Top 100 Employers list. (March 26, article #5087.)

Gore offered tips for Canadian employers, urging them to focus on the value of intangibles. (April 9, article #5130.)

In October, Mediacorp Canada announced Canada’s Top 100 Employers for 2008. Coverage included a look at some of the winners and the outstanding things they did to make the list. (Oct. 22, article #5549.)

20th anniversary

Enjoying this year in review? Then why not read two decades’ worth? In the July 20th issue, Canadian HR Reporter took a look back at the last 20 years. It’s all packaged nicely online for easy access. (July 20, article #5297.)

Federal budget

Can’t remember what was in the 2007 federal budget? No worries. Canadian HR Reporter had writers on the scene, pulling out the pertinent details for employers. (April 9, article #5125.)

Temporary foreign workers

The labour shortage has put the issue of temporary foreign workers in the spotlight.

The deaths of Chinese workers at an oilsands project sparked calls by labour for a review of the federal temporary foreign workers program. (May 21, article #5211.)

The federal government introduced a pilot project to speed up processing of labour market opinions for temporary foreign workers in B.C. and Alberta for 12 occupations, including food-counter attendants, travel guides, sales clerks, carpenters and crane operators. (Nov. 5, article #5600.)

Pensions, compensation and benefits

Workers put a very high value on benefits. A health-care survey found 61 per cent of respondents said they would pass up the chance to pocket $20,000 yearly in order to hang on to their health benefit plans. (July 16, article #5307.)

There were calls to raise Quebec’s retirement age to 67, as an aging population and culture of early retirement threatened its future prosperity. (Aug. 13, article #5362.)

Strong wage gains were predicted for 2008, with the flurry of compensation surveys released in the fall. (Sept. 24, article #5414.)

One union came up with a novel idea to improve coverage for workers without pensions — make employers who don’t have plans contribute more to the Canada Pension Plan, and give workers without plans additional benefits. (Dec. 3, article #5674.)

Mental health

A study published in the fall provided a strong argument for employers to get involved in mental health. It found workers who sought help at work had higher recovery rates and were off work for about two weeks less per year than those who didn’t. (Oct. 22, article #5556.)

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