Where there's overtime work, there's usually overtime pay. However, an adjustment in the Harper Conservatives' omnibus budget bill may just change that for a number of contract workers.
It's a law known as the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. Its mandate? To ensures that contractors working on federal government construction projects must pay their workers the prevailing wage in the province plus overtime pay.
The law originated in the Great Depression but could now disappear thanks to 10 words buried in the 425-page budget: “The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act is repealed." That's it. No context, no further explanation, no justification to be found in the budget.
The move, according to critics, means that certain workers on federal construction projects will no longer be entitled to the provincial prevailing wage, which ranges anywhere from $20 to $30 an hour. Instead, these construction workers could be paid as little as the provincial minimum wage, according to the Toronto Star. The law also says that no construction worker has to work more than 48 hours per week without time-and-a-half overtime pay.
It's a move that has members of the opposition party fuming, particularly NDP MP Pat Martin who discovered the change among 70 or so other proposed changes in the bill. The former journeyman carpenter said the drop in wages would deter Canadians from entering the construction industry during a debate in the Commons early May:
"Contractors who bid a job by pricing out labour at 20% and 30% and 40% lower than their competitors will win every job, every time. They will drive down the prevailing wage, because those other contractors will now have to start bidding lower if they are to ever win a job.
"To whose benefit is it to drive down the fair wages of Canadian workers? Let me point out a secondary problem this raises. How are we going to attract bright, young men and women into the building trades if the normal wage is now going to be $8, $9 or $10 an hour instead of the $20 or $30 that it is now? Try feeding a family on $8, $9 or $10 an hour. Nobody in his or her right mind is going to go into that industry."
The Tories, on the other hand, say the bill is out sync with the Canada's construction industry. It's "unnecessary red tape for employers,” said Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on CBC Radio’s As It Happens. The law was created back when federal construction projects constituted a large part of non-residential construction.
Proponents of axing the law say it would also be beneficial for the majority of Canadians whose bottom line benefits from having to pay less in taxes for the maintenance of public buildings. Essentially, if the Canadian government pays less for construction projects then it means fewer costs for Canadians according to the Edmonton Journal.
Here's a look at some of the measures in the bill's 400-plus pages. It's not an exhaustive list, so be warned: there will be another budget bill in the fall.<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em>. (CP)
The government wants a "one project, one review" environmental assessment system, so it is repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and replacing it with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. It allows the federal government to designate an assessment to another jurisdiction, such as a province, and for another jurisdiction's assessment to substitute for a federal one. It sets out time limits for the completion of reviews and the minister will have the power to shut down a review panel if he thinks it won't finish on time.
E-I, E-I - OH? 'SUITABLE WORK?'
Employment insurance claimants are required to demonstrate they are actively seeking "suitable work" in order to receive payments. C-38 removes definitions of "suitable work" from the Employment Insurance Act and gives the federal cabinet the power to create new regulations about what constitutes suitable work and reasonable efforts to find work. The budget bill gives no details about what the new criteria will be. It also makes changes to how payments are calculated, to pay claimants based on their "best 14 weeks" of employment.
LIGHTER LOAD FOR AUDITOR GENERAL
Auditor General Michael Ferguson will no longer be required to annually audit several agencies, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Northern Pipeline Agency and the Canadian Polar Commission. The agencies must submit annual financial reports to the minister instead. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says this move was made at the request of the auditor general.
CHARITY RULE CHANGES
C-38 proposes amendments to the Income Tax Act's rules around political activities of charities. Charities aren't supposed to spend more than 10 per cent of their budgets on political advocacy. Under C-38, donating to a charity could be considered a political activity if the donation can "reasonably be considered" to be for the sole purpose of supporting political activities. So, if one charity gives money to another charity for political purposes, it would count toward the donor's 10 per cent limit, not just the recipient's total. It also gives the minister of national revenue the power to withhold tax receipts from a charity or association if it devotes resources to political activities in excess of the limits.
BACKLOGGED IMMIGRATION APPLICATIONS ELIMINATED
Among the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is a move to wipe out a backlog of 280,000 applications under the Federal Skilled Worker Program. Applications made before 2008 would be deleted and the application fee refunded.
Legislation currently protects fish habitats that are defined as "spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes." Bill C-38 would instead protect fish based on their use: bodies of water that support commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries or fish that support such fisheries. It rewrites the Fisheries Act's rules against work that can cause the destruction of a fish habitat. The bill also would allow the federal government to transfer Fisheries Act responsibilities to a province with equivalent laws.
MINI TAX BREAKS
There is some good tax news in the budget bill. It expands the list of goods and services free of GST and HST, adding some prescription drugs and more medical devices to currently exempt items like false teeth and hearing aids. The bill would also allow literacy organizations to claim a GST rebate or the federal component of HST paid on books they give away for free.
GG GETS RAISE, TAX RETURN
The bill increases Gov. Gen. David Johnston's salary from $137,500 to $270,602 starting on Jan.1, 2013 -- but he's no longer exempt from paying income tax. His salary was hiked to offset the taxman's bite.
NEW CROSS-BORDER LAW
The budget bill creates a new law to implement the Framework Agreement on Integrated Cross-Border Law Enforcement Operations that was signed between Canada and the United States in 2009. It applies to joint operations between authorities in both countries on the seas.
BYE-BYE AT SPY AGENCY
The budget bill scraps the office of the inspector general at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The office is meant to be the public safety minister's eyes and ears overseeing CSIS. It also makes other changes on how CSIS reports to the minister.
Bill C-38 shuts down several government-funded groups and agencies, including the National Council of Welfare, the Public Appointments Commission, Rights and Democracy, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal and Assisted Human Reproduction Canada.
It creates a new Social Security Tribunal to hear appeals of decisions made on Old Age Security, employment insurance and other benefit programs, and creates the new Shared Services Canada Department.
NOT A PENNY MORE
The government is phasing out the penny but is changing the law so pennies can still be used as legal tender even though they are being removed from circulation. The current law says a coin that's been "called in" is not legal tender.
SEE YA SIN CARDS
The government wants to phase out the plastic card that displays your social insurance number, and Bill C-38 makes the necessary changes to existing laws so it is no longer required. Canadians will still have SINs, they just won't be carried on a plastic card.
OLD AGE SECURITY
The age of eligibility for OAS will rise gradually to 67 from 65 starting in 2023. C-38 lays out a complicated chart showing how that change will be phased in.