Categories: Business

NDP kick off new year with carbon tax and employment standard changes

Change is afoot for businesses in St. Albert. New Year’s Day not only kicked off 2018, but also marked the beginning of an updated employment standards code and a carbon tax increase of 50 per cent.

Under the new standards code employees will have more job protection for leave of absence, be entitled to time and a half for working overtime and be subject to age restrictions based on type of work.

Marie Renaud, St. Albert MLA, said the changes have been a long time coming.

“Most Alberta employers were fairly good at implementing their own internal strategies to deal with leaves and sick time, but however, there are some who defaulted to the minimum standards,” she said.

Renaud said the new code will take some time for business to adjust to, but she said that the new employment standards shouldn’t have a negative impact on businesses. Since the success of businesses rests on its employees, she said taking care of them during times of emergency helps retain workers.

“You’re going to increase your retention and you’re going to really enhance the loyalty of your employees,” she said.

Jennifer McCurdy, CEO and president of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, said the employment standards code needed to be updated, but worries the changes were implemented too quickly.

“It’s come on so quickly,” she said. “There’s going to be a learning curve for these businesses.”

Changes to the employment standards code were passed in June after a five-week consultation period that took place earlier in the year. CBC reported that while the changes were passed, the regulations weren’t released until Dec. 5.

McCurdy worries small businesses that don’t have human resource departments to learn the new code have been put in a difficult situation.

“A lot of the small businesses, they don’t have an HR department to muddle through it all and make sure they’re complying with the new regulations,” she said. “That’s just adding a new stress to them.”

The new code also bans those between the ages of 13 and 15 years old from doing any hard labour. The NDP government has not defined what constitutes as “light work.”  McCurdy said it could have a negative impact on certain types of businesses in the city.

“It’s going to make it harder for young people to get their first job,” she said. “Could that mean that they couldn’t work in a fast food kitchen because there’s hot oil and maybe an open flame at the stove? So it’s just adding another layer of complexity to employers.”

Youth employment regulations will come into effect on May 1.

McCurdy said that extra protection for taking a leave of absence is a good step for the new code. Employees who leave to tend to a sick family member or who need a personal day are entitled to extra time off.

“I think it’s really helpful for people. Nobody wants to have to deal with a terminally ill family member, but knowing you can do it and not lose your job, that you have protection, gives people an ease of mind.”

Not only are businesses having to adjust to the new employment standards code, the provincial carbon tax increase also took effect on Jan. 1.

Carbon taxes jumped by 50 per cent, increasing to $30 per tonne of carbon-dioxide emissions from $20 per tonne.

The price of gasoline, natural gas, household energy use, driving and propane will all increase. The NDP government said 60 per cent of Albertans are eligible for either full or partial carbon tax rebates, which people will start receiving next week.

Businesses on the other hand will have no rebate to help offset costs. Since the carbon tax will make fuel more expensive, McCurdy said the cost of running a grocery or retail store is going to increase because of the reliance on transportation for goods.

Renaud said business costs would go up, but the government is looking towards a more sustainable future.

“The whole point of the levy is to well obviously address climate change, but to look at behaviour and change the way we use energy.”

She said she’s hopeful the carbon tax will be a positive step forward in transitioning away from non-renewable energy.

Dayla Lahring: Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.