B.C. government to change Employment Standards Act

Tweaks to raise age for workers to commence work, add new forms of unpaid leave

The B.C. government on April 29 unveiled plans to amend the Employment Standards Act to do what Labour Minister Harry Bains believes will protect children and support other workers.

His biggest proposed change is to hike the minimum age for workers in the province, except in certain situations, to 16 from 12, which was the age to which the former Gordon Campbell government lowered B.C.’s legal minimum working age in 2003.

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The NDP government plans to allow children as young as 14 years old to work in jobs that the government considers to be “light work,” such as stocking grocery-store shelves. Children may also appear in entertainment, such as movies or television shows, if they have parental consent.

Other changes to the act expand job-protected leaves.

Currently, workers who are trying to escape from domestic violence have no ability to take time from their jobs to find the solutions they need to make life safer for themselves and their kids, according to the B.C. government.

Proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act are set to provide up to 10 non-consecutive days of unpaid job-protected leaves for those workers, so they can look for a new home, go to medical appointments, and do other necessary activities

Workers will also have a second option, which will allow them to have up to 15 weeks of consecutive unpaid leave.

The government said that it will carry out an engagement process to determine its next steps in making improvements to leave for workers escaping domestic violence.

Proposed legislative changes would also create a new unpaid job-protected leave for those caring for critically ill family members that will align with federal employment insurance benefits. That would allow workers to take up to 36 weeks to care for a critically ill child and up to 16 weeks to care for an adult.

“When British Columbians head out to their workplace, they need to know their safety and rights are being protected in law,” said Bains. “We are making improvements that are long overdue - bringing back basic rights and protections that were gutted by the old government.”

His government plans to create a new legal framework for regulating tips and tip pooling, and protecting workers’ rights with respect to tips and gratuities.

The government wants to prohibit employers from withholding tips or other gratuities from workers, deducting amounts from them, or requiring them to be turned over to the employer.

Planned amendments to the act would permit tip pooling but not allow the employer to share in the tip pool except when the employer performs the same work as workers who share in the pool.

The proposed amendments also extend the recovery period for which workers can recover owed wages from their employer to 12 months from six months — with the possibility of extending the period to 24 months under some circumstances, such as in cases involving willful or severe contraventions of the act.

The changes to the act are also set to make collective-agreement provisions subject to the minimum requirements of the Employment Standards Act.

Previous changes to the act required workers to first download and use a self-help kit as an initial step in trying to resolve perceived workplace wrongs. The workers are then supposed to present that kit to their employers before they are able to submit formal complaints to the Employment Standards Branch.

Feedback from workers and employers indicated that the process is not working and may even deter workers from filing complaints, the government said.

The NDP plans to eliminate the self-help kit as a required step before workers can file complaints. Instead, B.C. will have what the government calls "an effective complaints process."

The proposed legal changes affect several other areas related to services provided by the Employment Standards Branch, such as allowing the branch to waive or raise penalties, requiring employers to inform workers of their rights and requiring licensing for temporary help agencies.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom

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