The first major overhaul of the province’s workplace rules in almost 30 years proposes that Albertans be allowed to take unpaid leave to look after themselves and loved ones without fear of losing their jobs.
The Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act introduced Wednesday also would bring maternity and compassionate leave up to federal standards and set new rules for overtime and vacation pay.
There is also a proposal to simplify how unions can be formed or disbanded.
Labour Minister Christina Gray said the changes, hammered out with the help of the former head of the Alberta Labour Relations Board, would modernize laws and bring them in line with most other provinces.
“Our government could not allow legislation that touches the lives of so many to be disregarded any longer,” Gray said.
People working for an employer for 90 days would be allowed to take unpaid leave if they were sick, injured, had a death in the family, a missing child or were the victims of domestic violence.
Right now, there are no provisions for leave in those cases.
Overtime would be banked at 1.5 hours for every hour worked instead of straight time. Minimum annual vacation would be two weeks off paid at four per cent of an employee’s salary.
Employers would also be prevented from charging gas station and restaurant workers if customers left without paying.
The changes would allow for a union to be certified without a secret ballot if more than 65 per cent of employees had verified membership cards. Less than 66 per cent would still require a vote.
The proposed labour law update comes after decades of the NDP calling for better rules when the Progressive Conservatives were in power. The New Democrats toppled the Alberta Tory dynasty in the 2015 election.
Andy Sims, an expert on Alberta and federal workplace laws, helped draft the new legislation. He said it balances the interests of employees and employers, and takes into account the province’s recovering economy.
“This is not cutting-edge, lead-the-country reform,” Sims said. “In most respects it brings the best experiences from elsewhere to Alberta.”
Amanda Jensen, a mother who says she was fired from her job for requesting unpaid leave to look after her seven-year-old son Jake, who has cancer, applauded the proposed leave provisions.
“I didn’t qualify for job-protected leave and it has made this difficult time much harder for me and my family,” the woman from Lethbridge, Alta., said at a government event.
Opposition party leaders and some business groups have said the government has moved too quickly and they are worried the proposed changes are too union-friendly.
The Alberta Federation of Labour was concerned the government wouldn’t go far enough. It called for employees to be able to form a union by simply signing a card or a petition without holding a formal vote. The group also wanted a ban on replacement workers during a strike or lockout.
Gray said the government wants to have the legislation pass in time for it to go into effect in the new year.
The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce sent a news release on Thursday, saying the labour law changes are too rushed to be fair or friendly to business.