In March this year, the Alberta government announced its intention to "modernize" the province's employment and labour laws. On March 28, 2017, we advised that two of the key changes being considered to Alberta's labour laws (which govern employer-union relations in the province) were the introduction of automatic card certification (allowing for certification of bargaining units in a workplace without a certification vote among affected employees) and binding first contract arbitration once an employer becomes certified.

Ten weeks after announcing its "modernization" plan and requesting input from the public, the NDP government introduced Bill 17, The Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, on May 24, 2017. The Bill proposes sweeping changes to Alberta's Labour Relations Code and the Employment Standards Code. The significance of these changes for provincially regulated employers and businesses in Alberta will be analyzed in a future blog. Highlights of the proposed changes to Alberta's employment and labour laws are as follows:

Key Changes to the Alberta Labour Relations Code (Governing Employer-Union Relations in Alberta)

  • The process for certifying a new trade union will be changed. If between 40 and 65 percent of employees sign cards in favour of a union, a certification vote will be required. If over 65 percent of employees sign union cards, no vote is required and certification can be automatically ordered by the Labour Relations Board.
  • In cases where employers have engaged in unfair labour practices, the Labour Relations Board will be able to grant certification of a union without the need for a vote.
  • Where an unfair labour practice complaint is made involving discipline, dismissal or other alleged intimidation of an employee, the onus will be on the employer to prove the action it took does not constitute an unfair labour practice, rather than requiring the employee to prove that it does.
  • Where a bargaining unit within a workplace becomes certified, the Labour Relations Board will have the power to order binding arbitration and a first collective agreement if negotiations are unsuccessful.
  • The definition of "employee" will be changed to include dependent contractors who work only for one employer. This will allow contractors to unionize and bargain collectively.

Key Changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code (Governing all Provincially Regulated Workplaces in Alberta)

  • New and enhanced employee leave provisions:
    • New or codified leaves of absence for long term sickness, short term sickness, caregiving, bereavement, domestic violence or death/disappearance of a child.
    • Enhanced leaves of absence for compassionate care and maternity/paternity.
  • Employers will now need the agreement of employees (or the majority of a group of affected employees) before imposing an Averaging Agreement (previously a Compressed Work Week) to reduce overtime pay obligations by averaging the employees' working hours over a period of 1 to 12 weeks.
  • Employees can bank overtime hours for 6 months (up from 3 months), but that time must be taken/paid at time and one half (rather than hour for hour currently).
  • Employers are prohibited from requiring employees to use banked overtime or vacation as part of the statutory termination notice they receive.
  • Increased notice requirements to employees and the government for mass terminations, from the current 4 weeks (for terminations involving 50 or more employees) to 8 weeks (for 50-100 employees), 12 weeks (for 101-300 employees) or 16 weeks (for 300+ employees).
  • A new administrative penalty regime and appeal process that strengthens penalties and allows the government a longer period of time to commence prosecutions (2 years instead of 1 year).