Should Canadian workers have the ‘right to disconnect’? Question studied as Liberals plan labour code rewrite

The question of whether Canadian workers should have the right to disconnect from their work phones at home was among those studied as the Liberals prepare to unveil a rewrite of federal labour laws to address concerns over precarious work and work-life balance. Getty Images

Restoring a work-life balance and better protections for part-time and temporary workers will be among the key focuses of a planned rewrite of Canada’s federal labour rules which are to be updated by the time Labour Day rolls around next year, Canada’s employment minister says.

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said legislation will be introduced this fall to update the decades-old federal labour standards that haven’t been revamped in a substantive way since they were first written.

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Hajdu said changes to the labour code would reflect key themes that emerged from consultations Ottawa held over the last year, and that the lack of a work-life balance was raised a lot.

“People were saying things have to be fairer, things have to be more predictable and we need time…to spend with our families,” Hajdu said.

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Any change to provide more work-life balance or new job protections will target the most precarious workers in federally-regulated fields, she said.

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“Ultimately, at the end of the day, the code is there to protect the most vulnerable in the workplace,” Hajdu said.

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Standards enshrined in the Canada Labour Code were originally drafted in the 1960s in an era when the average worker had a full-time, permanent job with benefits.

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But the code is feeling the strain under a shifting labour force that since the 1970s has been increasingly marked by what is described as non-standard work – usually part-time, temporary or contract work.

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Federal officials wrote in a consultation paper last year that some of the labour code’s provisions are basically out of date.

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A summary report of the consultations was released last week and showed a tension between labour groups that wanted more stringent rules, and employer groups that wanted more flexibility to adapt to changing labour market dynamics.

Experts also felt the right set of rules could unlock economic potential, but also cautioned about a one-size-fits-all approach.

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The summary report also listed changes to federal minimum wage rules as an area for further review, as well as a proposal to give workers the “right to disconnect” and turn off their work-related devices while at home.

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Hajdu said the goal is to have legislative changes passed by next summer, after which there would be a need for consultations with employers and labour groups on the necessarily regulatory texts.

The labour code affects more than 900,000 federal workers in Canada, representing about six per cent of the national workforce.

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