Changes to Alberta’s labour and employment laws affecting the construction industry

December 15, 2020 | Stephen M. Torscher

Earlier this summer, the Government of Alberta made good on a campaign promise to introduce a host of changes to Alberta’s labour and employment laws. Bill 32, the Restoring Balances in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, received royal assent on July 29, 2020. Bill 32 amends various provisions in the Employment Standards Code affecting non-unionized workers and in the Labour Relations Code affecting unionized workplaces. Some of these changes took effect upon proclamation of Bill 32. Others came into effect on November 1, 2020. Still others will only come into effect upon proclamation. A number of these changes will be particularly noteworthy for the construction industry and are highlighted below. Where provisions are not yet in effect, this will be noted.

Several years ago, the Alberta Labour Relations Board (the “ALRB”) ruled that an employer and a union may not enter into overlapping collective agreements. Bill 32 will now allow an employer and a union to enter into an early renewal of a collective agreement, effectively overruling the ALRB’s prior decision. This will reduce open periods and make it harder for another union to conduct a raid of an already-unionized workplace. If, however, a union raid is successful, the new union will no longer be permitted to terminate the existing collective agreement. Bill 32 will now require the new union to continue under the existing collective agreement until its expiry. These changes have not yet taken effect.

In the past, the ALRB ruled against the efforts of alternative unions like the Christian Labour Association of Canada to organize on a broad basis and held that they must organize like most other industrial organizations on a trade-by-trade basis. Under Bill 32, “all employee” bargaining units similar to what are available in Saskatchewan and British Columbia will now be possible in Alberta. Building trades will continue to organize on a craft-by-craft basis. These changes have not yet taken effect.

As well, Bill 32 has introduced the concept of a Project Agreement. These will be negotiated by the Building Trades of Alberta and will be separate from existing unions. Existing unions may sign up to be part of a Project Agreement but the terms of any current collective agreement with the existing unions will not apply. Project Agreements will be temporary and usually last for the length of the project. Strikes and lockouts will be prohibited. Any disagreement over the terms of a Project Agreement will be settled via arbitration.  These changes have not yet taken effect.

Bill 32 also introduced some changes to Major Construction Projects. Approval will now come from the Minister (rather than cabinet) and should be provided within 120 days of application. Strikes and lockouts will be prohibited. Maintenance workers will now be permitted to be part of Major Construction Projects. Arbitration will be used to settle disputes over terms of a Major Construction Project and there will be new rules about who may negotiate on behalf of the employer. Other amendments under Bill 32 to the Labour Relations Code include changes to first contract arbitration, new rules for picketing and secondary picketing, limits on remedial certification, reversing some of the reverse onus rules respecting unfair labour practices, changes to the powers of the ALRB, and new rules regarding union financial disclosure.

Bill 32 also introduced changes to non-unionized workplaces. Going forward, there will now be one set of rules for group terminations when 50 or more employees are being terminated at once. Employers will also have more time to provide an employee with their final pay upon termination to allow these payments to coincide with their regular pay cycles. The rules for calculating general holiday pay have been simplified utilizing a clear formula for determining an employee’s average daily wage. New rules will allow deductions from employee earnings to account for accidental overpayments and to recover vacation paid to an employee in advance of earning it. Temporary layoffs for non-COVID-19 reasons have been extended from 60 days in a 120 day period to 90 days. Employers will now be able to impose averaging arrangements on employees in order to reduce the amount of overtime owed. Employers will also have greater flexibility under Bill 32 in scheduling rest times for employees.

Many other changes under Bill 32 which are not specific to the construction industry, but may nevertheless be of interest, have been described in greater detail in previous communiques by Miller Thomson’s Labour and Employment Team. For more information, please see the following links:

If you have any questions about these legislative changes and the impact that they could have upon your business, Miller Thomson’s Labour and Employment Team would be pleased to assist.

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