Quebec moves to protect workers

New legislation enhances protection for employees, expands coverage to farm workers and domestic caregivers

Quebec is taking steps to protect an estimated 60,000 farm workers, caregivers and resident domestics and enhancing protection for all workers in the province.

The law setting labour standards for the 58 per cent of Quebec workers who are not unionized is being expanded to cover the above groups, making them eligible to receive the $7.20 hourly minimum wage and protection from wrongful dismissal among other things. Unionized employees are protected by their contracts but are entitled to the minimum standards set out in the legislation.

Jean Rochon, Quebec’s Labour Minister, tabled the bill in the province’s National Assembly and said he expects it will, "do a lot of good," for the people in Quebec. He said most of those affected by the new legislation are young people or women in low-wage occupations.

Highlights from Bill 153 include:

•An employee who is fired without cause will be able to get her job back or win a cash settlement if she has been on the job for two years. Previously, the wrongful-dismissal provision applied only after three years.

•Employees can refuse to work more than four hours of overtime.

•Employees will be able to take up to 10 days off without pay, double the current five days, for family reasons. The province is also broadening which family members qualify.

•Unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks will be allowed to care for gravely-ill relatives.

•Part-time employees, who don’t currently benefit from statutory holidays, would have to be paid an additional one-twentieth of their earnings in the four weeks before the statutory holiday.

•Employees would have legal recourse against abusive employers, under measures in the bill to counter psychological harassment.

Rochon said there will be some exceptions to the rules like nurses, who would not be able to refuse to work extra shifts if it endangered the health and safety of others, or in cases where leaving work would put the public’s safety in jeopardy.

Quebec employers were quick to denounce the changes. The Conseil du Patronat, one of the most vocal employer groups in the province, said the changes add a regulatory burden and the government did not take the impact on business costs and job creation into account. The Quebec Federation of Labour applauded the changes, and said it will be suggesting even further improvements to the government.

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