Labour law changes are coming to federally-regulated workers. If you have been following the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario, then the changes introduced in the federal government’s Budget Implementation Act, Bill C-86, will sound similar to the labour law changes the Ontario Liberals introduced in 2017 with Bill 148.
The changes will affect the roughly 900,000 workers in federally-regulated industries such as international transportation, banking, telecommunications, broadcasting, and most federal crown corporations. This does not include the federal public services.
What’s in Bill C-86?
The changes to Part III of the Canadian Labour Code follow extensive consultation and will include:
-Equal pay for equal work (whether full-time, part-time, temporary, casual or contract).
-The proposed act would eliminate length of service requirements for sick leave, maternal leave, general holiday pay and other types of leave and would entitle workers to 5 paid leave days for victims of family violence, 5 personal leave days (3 paid), unpaid leave of up to 17 weeks for personal injury, organ donation or medical appointments.
-Workers would be entitled for an unpaid break of 30 minutes for every 5 hours of work, a minimum 8 hour rest period between shifts, breaks for breastfeeding and medical reasons, as well as 96 hours notice of scheduling.
-Workers would be eligible for 3 weeks of paid vacation after 5 years (instead of the previous 6) and would be eligible for 4 weeks of vacation after 10 years of service.
These proposed changes came shortly after the Doug Ford government passed Bill 47, an attempt to repeal the benefits Bill 148 brought to working conditions in Ontario. The federal Liberal move to change labour laws along the lines of Ontario’s Bill 148 recognizes the popularity of those reforms and the demands put forward by the $15 and Fairness campaign.
The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign has been patiently building a grassroots movement for the last five years that has helped to unite unionized and non-unionized workers, placed the fight against oppression at the centre of a struggle for decent work and put pressure on all political parties to deliver $15 and Fairness for Ontario.
The federal labour law changes, along with a task force on a $15 minimum wage for federally regulated workers, comes at a time when a group of federally regulated workers are fighting for $15 and Fairness in their workplace. Workers in the IAMAW (Machinists Union) at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and Ottawa’s MacDonald-Cartier International Airport have used the framework of $15 and Fairness at the bargaining table to help fight for decent work for their members.
Bargaining in movement demands
In both Ottawa and Toronto, aircraft fuelers, maintenance and baggage handlers for Swissport, Innotech, Menzies and Air Canada are drawing lessons from the Fight for $15 and Fairness about how to win their demands and secure them. Understanding that workers benefit when they fight together, Ottawa’s airport workers have been donning $15 and Fairness t-shirts for a meeting with their employer.
The importance of connecting bargaining demands to the Fight for $15 and Fairness is something Dan Janssen, a baggage handler in Toronto and Vice President of IAMAW Local 2323 is keenly aware of.
“When you are at the bargaining table and you can show there is a growing appetite across the province for fair working conditions, it makes it easier to get the message across to employers,” said Janssen. “Unions should be seeking to achieve the same goals as the fight for $15 and Fairness and to improve upon them for their members. Connecting your members to the campaign is just as important so that they too can join the fight for the same improvements in their workplace and across the province.”
The victory of Bill 148 was made possible by a fight for $15 that spanned the province and connected up with a growing movement to raise minimum working standards across the country, continent and around the world. Successful fights for $15 in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York and victories against zero-hour contracts in the UK, fuelled the confidence of workers in Ontario to organize and win better labour laws. However, the victory of Doug Ford’s Conservative Party and the roll back of many of those gains in Bill 47 last year revealed the necessity of securing those gains in collective agreements.
We can’t wait for promises
This danger presents itself again federally, the Liberals have not set timelines for when these new labour law provision will come into force. It is very possible that their enactment could be delayed until after the election. Janssen, who campaigned hard for $15 and Fairness in his workplace and community, knows the dangers of relying on the Liberals to deliver on their promises.
“As we head towards the federal election this October there is a huge risk that that federal workers will not benefit fully from the updated labour laws. The current government has set implementation dates for many of the improvements at september 1 or later, so federally regulated workers will not have much time to see a positive impact before they head to the polls,” said Janssen. “As we have seen in Ontario, an election of a conservative government will definitely put these improvements at risk. No matter which party is elected, there will be a big push from federally regulated employers to repeal the changes to the Canada Labour Code.”
This puts a premium on fighting to have these positive labour law changes written into the contracts that federally-regulated workers are bargaining for right now. As Janssen emphasizes:
“When Swissport and Teamsters 419 members were out on strike in 2017, there was an upswell of support for an increase in the minimum wage and the Ontario liberal government announced it would make labour improvements within Bill 148. In bargaining, the committee was able to make the case for a $15 wage in the agreement. When Bill 148 was repealed and the minimum wage frozen, these workers’ wages were not rolled back. As other rounds of bargaining take place this year, unions need to ensure they are using the improvements in the Canada Labour code as the new floor and doing their best to bargain even better language for their members.”
In the wake of Bill 47 and the repeal of Bill 148, the Fight for $15 and Fairness is entering into a new phase. We need to be able to Fight for $15 and Fairness in our neighbourhoods and campuses, organize $15 and Fairness into unions, and bargain for $15 and Fairness with employers. The strength of the campaign comes in linking up the struggles of union and non-union workers into a collective fight for decent work. Bill C-86 reflects the growing voice of workers across the Canadian state for better working conditions and the airport workers’ fight to bargain Bill C-86 and more is a vital contribution to the fight fairness for all workers.