For a dozen years, the BC Liberal government has taken an anti-union approach to public sector labour relations. At the same time they have made a series of changes to BC’s employment standards legislation that have exempted unionized workers and other groups from the benefit of certain provisions and made the working lives of vulnerable workers even more precarious.
The BC Employment Standards Coalition formed in 2010 to examine ways of modernizing the act and restoring protections to vulnerable workers. Part of what makes the coalition unique is the breadth of its membership, drawing from a variety of advocacy groups, the labour movement, academia and the legal community.
The coalition is currently working on legislative proposals and campaigns related to the employment standards act, including improvements to provisions regarding wages, child labour, tips and gratuities, hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays with pay, migrant workers, and enforcement.
Among the first of the coalition’s legislative proposals is a recommendation to protect children from being exploited in the workplace, titled the Real Child Worker Protection Legislation and Regulation. BC’s law currently allows children as young as 12 to work with parental or guardian permission. The proposed legislation increases that age to 18 unless a parent or guardian has provided written permission, with a hard floor of 14. The act also allows children to work up to four hours on school days. The proposed legislation reduces that to two hours and requires work to end by 9 p.m. It also enhances supervision requirements and establishes a registry of minors who work.
The coalition has also developed a comprehensive Backgrounder on Migrant Worker Recruitment & Protection to explain why this large and growing vulnerable segment of the BC workforce needs legislative support.
Another proposal, the Migrant Worker Recruitment & Protection Model Legislation, incorporates better rights and protections from employment standards legislation in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta and Quebec, and from International Labour Organization conventions and resolutions. The proposed legislation improves language on ensuring workers are informed of their rights, reasonable and proper accommodations, minimum hours of work, protection against reprisals, the licensing of recruiters, and work schedules for domestic workers.
In 2011, coalition members met with the Ministry of Labour to advocate for improvements to the Employment Standards Act and to express their concerns regarding BC’s current labour policies and practices.
They advocated for the elimination of, or improvements to, the minimum piece rate-based wages for farm workers who hand-harvest 15 different agricultural products.
When the Minister of Labour announced that the system was not going to be changed, thereby freezing these farm worker minimum wages indefinitely, the coalition issued a critique of this government decision titled Minimum Wages for Hand Harvesting Farm Workers Frozen Again by BC Governmentand launched a supporting petition calling for the same minimum wage as other workers, instead of payment by volume or weight of crops the worker picks.