OTTAWA — The Trudeau government plans to give about 900,000 Canadian workers more paid personal-leave days, in a proposal that seems designed to goad the Ontario government into an argument over workers' rights in the modern economy.
The change is part of a sweeping set of proposed Canada Labour Code amendments put forward this week by the federal Liberals in their 850-page budget bill.
The federal legislation, if passed, would let workers take up to five days off each calendar year for reasons such as the care of relatives, children's educations, or to attend their own citizenship ceremonies. Three of the days off would be with pay for workers who have had their jobs at least three straight months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have already battled over carbon taxes and immigration and refugee settlement programs. The new federal bill arrives while the Ontario legislature is working through a bill to repeal similar reforms brought in by the Liberals Ford defeated last spring.
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Besides giving workers the right to personal days off, the federal government is also proposing that workers become eligible for general holiday pay, sick leave, maternity leave and parental leave from Day 1 on the job.
In addition, the changes would provide five days of paid leave for victims of family violence, unpaid leave for court or jury duty and a fourth week of annual vacation for employees who have at least 10 consecutive years of employment. The changes would also require an employer to provide a worker's schedule in writing at least 96 hours before the start of the employee's first shift on that schedule.
The federally regulated sector includes public servants and employers in major industries such as banking and railways, in which many workers already have better terms. But Ottawa hopes the full suite of labour changes will set a precedent and lead to similar amendments in the rest of the country. Most Canadian workers are under provincial, not federal, jurisdiction.
A spokeswoman for federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said the approach is meant to improve Canadians' work-life balance. She also argued it's not only good for workers' well-being, but for their productivity and the broader economy.
'We're hoping we'll set the example for provinces'
"What we're doing, definitely, is we're hoping we'll set the example for provinces," Veronique Simard said Wednesday. "Smart employers know that when you take care of your workers that it's good for business."
Attempts to establish national standards like these will likely be met with resistance from some premiers and business leaders.
In announcing plans to repeal the Ontario legislation, known as Bill 148, Ontario Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson said Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government "brought in a tsunami of new burdens and regulations that have imposed significant unnecessary costs on businesses and stifled economic growth."
The Ontario government's labour bill, if passed, would remove a guarantee of two paid personal leave days for workers, bringing the provincial total down to eight — all of which are unpaid.
Dan Kelly, chief executive of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, opposed Bill 148. He warned the federal proposals bring back some of what he considers its worst provisions and then go even further.
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"This is a really, really unhelpful series of choices and I think they're trying to turn back the clock to the 1970s by implementing a union-boss wish list of policies," Kelly said. "This is another giant step left for the (federal) government to try to hang on to some of Kathleen Wynne's unfortunate legacy in labour policy."
Kelly, who represents small- and medium-sized businesses, said the vast majority of smaller firms wouldn't be directly affected by the federal changes. But he insisted they could suffer a big hit if unions are successful in getting provinces to adopt similar standards as those laid out in an updated Canada Labour Code.
The federal proposals also attracted support. The Canadian Labour Congress said they are "heralded by Canada's unions as an important modernization of federal labour standards."
"The Canada Labour Code used to be upheld as the gold standard across the country, but federal labour standards were significantly eroded over a decade by the Harper government," the union's president Hassan Yussuff said in a statement.