The B.C. government has introduced a Labour Code and Employment Standards Act. What are the implications of these changes for silvicultural contractors?

Changes to B.C. Labour Code and Employment Standards Act

The short answer to the question of what immediate effect do the proposed changes to the Labour Code and Employment Standards Act have on most silvicultural contracting businesses in British Columbia is none. The new laws have only been introduced into the Legislature for debate and although their passing is a foregone conclusion they will not be enacted until the fall.

The eventual Labour Code changes primarily involve the mandate of the Labour Relations Board, free speech, successorship and related trade union issues few of which will affect the almost completely non-union silviculture sector.

More relevant are the new provisions of the Employment Standards Act (ESA). For now the special silviculture regulations enacted three years ago are still the standard. However, while the new Act is working its way through the Legislature new ESA regulations will have to be written. It is in this process that silvicultural employers have a direct interest and the WSCA will have a key role.

The proposed flexible hours of work contained in the recently introduced Employment Standards Act do not come close to matching the current hours of work and shift patterning provisions provided for the silvicultural industry under the existing special regulations. Concerned more with overtime averaging and shift flexibility typical of the hourly rate service industry the new laws still work around a forty hour week when worked out over a four week maximum. This is of little use to the piece work-based silviculture industry with its short intense work seasons and its necessarily long work days.

The government has promised to meet with the silviculture industry to discuss possibly writing the new Act’s silvicultural industry regulations. The WSCA has asked government to allow the silvicultural industry’s unique current regulations to stand and be included in the new laws. How much negotiation this will require is unknown at this point. Meetings are expected later this spring. If you have issues or recommendations to do with the current regulations contact me now.

At least three other themes emerge from the new Act. There will be a new approach to education and enforcement at the branch level with an increased reliance on self-regulation. Some industries (not us) have already been selected to collaborate with government on pilot projects to develop practical strategies. Fines have increased considerably and the director of the Branch will be given powers to investigate without first receiving a complaint. Minister Graham Bruce has made it clear that there will be no tolerance for non-payment of wages (this includes failure to meet two week pay periods, penalties, hold-backs etc still typical of many silvicultural companies). He has said he will be quick to impose penalties on problem firms and if necessary devise compliance strategies for problem industries.

The government is also making its generic promise to keep things simple. However, just looking at the Act’s already convoluted requirements for shift averaging suggest this may be easier said. As well there are some provisions of the Act that are still vague and will have to be cleared up as the thing becomes law.

Stat. holiday provisions have changed and may effect calculations for piece-work depending on the new regulations. Workers will have to first seek remedies with their employers on their own, using a government guide, before their complaints will be accepted at the Branch. Hand in hand with this will have to be the mentioned increased reliance on education regarding rights and obligations in the workplace. However that program is not yet defined. Complaints will have to be filed within six months and investigations will be limited to six months as well rather than the previous two years. Keeping payroll records will be only required for two years rather than five. A transition strategy to allow businesses to adapt to the new changes is mentioned but not described. All this will generally take effect by next year.