The BC Building Trades applauds the BC Government for the changes to the Employment Standards Act proposed today.

Introduced in the legislature this afternoon, the amendments include raising the age a child may work from 12 to 16 years, extending the time frame during which workers can recover owed wages from six months to one year, and making collective agreements subject to the minimum requirements of the act.

“We are especially pleased with the provision that prevents organizations operating under the guise of being a trade union to have collective agreements that are substandard to the Employment Standards Act,” said BCBT executive director Tom Sigurdson.

The BC Building Trades made several recommendations to the Employment Standards Act review process, including having the Employment Standards considered the floor for collective agreements. That would prevent employer-friendly unions from working with unscrupulous employers to secure collective agreements that stipulate any provisions that are considered lower than set out in the act.

“There are a few organizations that purport to be unions but are really nothing more than dues collection agencies. Those organizations are employer-obedient and do nothing to represent workers’ interests,” affirmed Sigurdson.

He added, “While I would have hoped those organizations would have been banned, at least the new Employment Standards Act will ensure no collective agreement falls below the minimum rights for workers.

“For workers in B.C. who do not have the benefit of union representation, the Employment Standards Act is their only projection from unscrupulous employers.

“B.C.’s construction industry has been infected by alternative unions that purport to represent workers but are in fact employer-friendly associations. In this environment, the exclusion of unions from the basic minimum standards invites a race for the bottom.”

The last Commission on Employment Standards in B.C. took place in 1993, and it has been 15 years since any major changes were made to the act.

BCBT also lauded the proposed elimination of the self-help kit that required workers to present their grievance to their employer before submitting a formal complaint to the Employment Standards Branch. Feedback during the public engagement process indicated the process wasn’t working and workers were deterred from filing complaints.

The BCBT’s women’s committee, Build TogetHER, also provided a submission to the review process. Build TogetHER recommended the government consider a maternity leave program that allows pregnant workers whose work endangers the health of their unborn or nursing babies to be assigned risk-free tasks. If an employer fails to propose a reassignment to risk-free duties, workers should have the right to stop working temporarily and receive compensation.

Currently, the Employment Standards Act provides for unpaid maternity leave entitlements corresponding to the length of time women may receive income replacement benefits under the Employment Insurance Act.
Under the Employment Insurance Act, women can only begin claiming EI maternity benefits 12 weeks prior to expected “confinement” or when the child is born, whichever is earliest.

“This discriminates against women in the skilled construction trades whose jobs pose a risk to them and their unborn children,” said Julia Ballantyne, of Build TogetHER. “These women are forced to battle with the decision to try to keep their job but risk harm to them or their unborn child. Plus, they may have to discontinue their work earlier than the schedule permitted by EI and as a result suffer an undue financial hardship.”

Indeed, Ballantyne, who gave birth to a son a month ago, quit her job as a refrigeration mechanic well ahead of her due date – and forfeited her eligibility for EI – in order to ensure the baby’s health and safety.

The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA), which is Ballantyne’s union, introduced a national parental wellness benefit program in March that addresses this discrepancy for their members.


For further information:
Tom Sigurdson,
Executive Director,
BC Building Trades
T: 778-397-2220
E: [email protected]