More funding for worker training, expanded occupational safety enforcement and extended leave provisions are among the changes proposed in the 2015 Federal Budget.

The Federal Budget brought down April 21, 2015 contains hundreds of proposed changes to laws and funding which will affect employers and the labour market, directly or indirectly. Among them are reforms directly targeting the workplace, employers and employees. Some affect the entire country, some the federally regulated private sector and some specifically address issues within the federal government.

Themes from this year’s Budget are these:

  • A heavy emphasis on the labour market, to ensure employers have a pool of qualified employees to draw upon.
  • Greater support for employees’ personal needs through expanded leave and employment insurance (EI) benefits.
  • Bigger investments in the federal government’s enforcement of occupational health and safety in the federally-regulated private and public sectors, as well as expansion of legal protections for interns and persons vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence.
  • A major move on rationalizing the government’s own employment practices, by reforming and reducing expenditures on sick leave, disability and workers’ compensation.

General Provisions

  • Under the new “EI Compassionate Care” benefits (employment insurance benefits paid to persons on leave to care for gravely ill family members), employees will be eligible for 6 months’ EI, expanded from 6 weeks.
  • The “Working While on Claim” pilot project, which will permit people to work and earn while still in receipt of EI benefits, is to gain a further $53 million in funding over the next two years. This is part of an ongoing effort to reduce long term dependence on EI.
  • The Budget establishes a $35 million fund to help immigrants upgrade their foreign credentials. This is advantageous both to individuals and to prospective employers. For more information on reform to the temporary foreign workers program, read Gowlings recent reports here.
  • Substantial parts of the Budget are devoted to various provisions on worker training, with a heavy emphasis on apprecenticeships (harmonizing federal and provincial rules, improving tax support for the hiring of apprentices, granting money to apprentices).
  • The Budget has a strong focus on small businesses, with a host of provisions funneling money or tax breaks to that sector. Tax changes, such as a reduction of the small business tax rate from 11 to 9 percent and an extension to 10 years of the accelerated capital cost allowance, will be advantageous to employers. Gowlings’ detailed analysis of these tax provisions can be found here.
  • Approximately $250 million is budgeted, over the next five years, to establish and fund Aboriginal Labour Market Programming, meant to provide education and improved employment opportunities to young Aboriginal Canadians.

Federally-regulated workplaces

Federally-regulated workplaces include private sector employment in fields such as inter-provincial shipping, trucking, rail, telecommunications as well as banking.

  • Changes are planned to guarantee new forms of statutory employee leaves to meet family responsibilities, as well as extended bereavement leave. This fits with the general EI Compassionate Care extension.
  • The Canada Labour Code Part II occupational health and safety provisions are to be amended to address workplace violence and sexual harassment.
  • The Budget includes other Canada Labour Code amendments to extend occupational health and safety law protections to interns, and to “clarify the circumstances under which unpaid internships can be offered.”
  • The Government also intends to hire more inspectors to enforce the health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code in federally-regulated private and public workplaces.

The Federal Government

The Government of Canada employs approximately 250,000 people, down more than 30,000 employees in the past five years. Rationalizing and reducing the cost of public sector employment remains an ongoing objective for the Government, judging by this year’s Budget.

  • As an employer, the Government of Canada plans to save hundreds of millions of dollars from savings to be gained by cutting public service sick leave from 15 to 6 days per year under a proposed disability plan. The change has been uniformly rejected by all trade unions now bargaining on behalf of public servants, but it appears the Government will impose the reform without negotiating it.
  • The Budget also calls for amendments to the Government Employees Compensation Act (“GECA”), a law which governs workers’ compensation coverage for employees of the federal government.