August 19, 2015 2:32 pm
Updated: August 20, 2015 11:05 am

Reality Check: Does Trudeau’s plan for flexible work change anything?

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WATCH ABOVE: Justin Trudeau says the Liberal government will amend the labour code to allow workers greater flexibility.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wants to make it easier for you – if you work in a federally regulated industry – to pick up your kids on a Friday afternoon.

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That’s the gist of the announcement he made Wednesday morning in Winnipeg, telling a crowd of supporters that he intends to make it easier for Canada’s roughly one million federally regulated employees to request flexible working arrangements from the employers.

“We’ll make sure every federally regulated worker has the legal right without fear of reprisal, to make a formal request to their employer for more flexible work conditions,” he said.

Trudeau also said he will work with provinces to extend this policy to people working in non-federally regulated industries.

But can it work? It does in the U.K. but it won’t change much in Canada.

“What difference does that make then? Any employee can ask for anything,” Howard Levitt, the senior partner at Levitt & Grosman LLP in Toronto, said during an interview Wednesday. “Why do you have to pass a law saying you can ask for something which you can ask for anyway?”

Levitt explained that Canadian employers have to accommodate childcare issues.

“If for example, you have childcare needs, or eldercare that you can’t accommodate in any other way but from changing your shift, the employer is obliged, subject to undue hardship to accommodate you,” Levitt said.

WATCH: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau expanded on what he changes to the Canadian Labour Code if elected would entail.

A 2014 ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a decision that said employers must try to accommodate childcare obligations when ruling on a 2004 Human Rights Complaint by Fiona Johnston when she, along with her husband, were working for Canadian Border Services Agency at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

The Liberal plan borrows from the United Kingdom’s Flexible Working Act which was passed in 2003.

That law originally encompassed parents and caregivers but has since been extended to all U.K. workers and lets people get away from the nine-to-five, 40-hour week, work-in-the-office-only mentality. Part-time work is the most common option.

Trudeau said Wednesday federally regulated employees will be able to make formal requests to their boss for a flexible arrangement, and their boss has to at least reply. They don’t, however, have to accept the request.

United Kingdom employers are given eight reasons which they can use to deny a request including a detrimental impact on quality or performance.

“There’s not an employer in the land who could not find three of those eight exceptions to apply to any potential request, let alone one,” Levitt said, noting that employers schedule their employees for specific reasons and could easily find a reason to deny a request.

But most employers, at least in the U.K., do accept the requests. According to a survey by the London, England-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the overwhelming number – 83 per cent – of people who made a request were granted a flexible arrangement.

Most employers, according to the CIPD survey, also find flexible arrangements have positive effects on their day-to-day operations with 73 per cent citing a positive impact on employee motivation, and 83 per cent citing a positive impact on employee engagement.

Only 38 per cent of employers, according to the same survey, cited a positive impact on innovation, 41 per cent thought flexible work fostered better knowledge sharing, and 48 per cent cited a positive impact on customer service.

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