Fools rush in

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The Alberta government introduced new labour legislation this week, the first major update to labour laws in 30 years.

An update to labour legislation is needed. Some of the legislation has become outdated and doesn’t reflect the current realities of workplaces in the province.

There are certainly some good aspects to this legislation. Allowing people to take time off to look after sick family members is a good thing; one shouldn’t have to choose between a job and offering compassionate care to a loved one. Gas station attendants shouldn’t be forced to pay for gas-and-dash incidents and now they won’t have to. Getting rid of an exemption that allowed people with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage is the fair thing to do.

These are only a few aspects of this legislation. The new bill is massive and includes many changes to existing labour law.

Although many of the changes to labour standards are being practiced by businesses, there is still plenty of risk involved with making these changes, particularly to small businesses. One might think the government would spend significant time consulting with businesses, but in this case it didn’t.

The NDP only allowed for a consultation period of 30 days. That’s simply not enough time for feedback and consultation on legislation of this level of importance. The opposition called for more time for consultation from the day it was announced; yet the government ignored these pleas. Ontario is currently reviewing its labour laws and spent two years on the process.

“Healthy labour relations depends on good faith, fairness and balance between employers, workers and unions,” said Janet Riopel, president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. “The rushed process and lack of transparency with little public reporting does not inspire confidence in the new legislation.”

As expected, the new legislation also includes changes to union certification, making it easier to form a union by removing the time-tested requirement of secret ballot if the union can reach a 65 per cent threshold through the card check system. While the government frames this as a compromise, the change clearly benefits unions.

The NDP have wrapped up changes to both the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code into one bill that serves to benefit them politically. While opposition parties support boosting job-protected leaves, they don’t support the changes to union certification. These are two different issues and the new bill will alter two different bills, so they should be treated separately.

Wrapping two issues into one bill confuses the issues. The government should not make controversial union certification changes alongside commonsense changes to things like compassionate care.

Updating the provincial labour legislation is important, but it shouldn’t be rushed. These changes will have a lasting impact on businesses in the province, but all stakeholders haven’t been properly consulted. It’s another case of this government being driven by ideology, rather than taking the time to listen to Albertans.

Albertans haven’t been properly consulted, but we will have to live with the changes. This is legislation that is worth taking the time to get right.

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