Jason Kenney’s overtime plan would kick working Albertans when they’re down

Jason Kenney wants to pick your pocket by making it possible for employers to avoid paying time-and-a-half for overtime.

Here’s the central issue: The newly unveiled UCP platform says a Kenney government would allow “banked hours to be paid out at regular pay instead of time-and-a-half.”

The UCP defends this outrageous policy by saying it doesn’t actually eliminate time-and-a-half and that it’s just returns to the way things were under the old PC government.

This is the latest example of Kenney and the UCP using slippery language to hide their true intent.

As amended by the NDP, the Employment Standards Code currently says that time-and-a-half must be paid after an employee works either more than 8 hours in a day or more than 44 hours in a week. (Division 4, Sections 21 and 22)

It also says that employers and workers can enter into “overtime agreements” (Division 4, Section 23) that allow for overtime hours to be banked and paid out either in cash (on a time-and-a-half basis) or in time-off-in-lieu of overtime, also calculated on a time-and-a-half basis.

The point of overtime premiums is to compensate workers for the extra time they spend away from their lives and families AND to act as an incentive for employers to hire more workers when they have more work to be done (as opposed to simply working their existing employees to death).

The UCP plan thumbs its nose at these notions.

It would leave Sections 21 and 22 (Overtime and Overtime Pay) in place, but it would amend Section 23 (Overtime Agreements) to allow banked overtime to be paid out at straight time for both time-off-in-lieu and cash payouts. In the process, the UCP would essentially provide a mechanism for employers to get around the provisions in the Code that have traditionally required them to pay a premium for overtime work.

There are three big problems with this.

First, it introduces a big financial incentive for employers to use overtime agreements (banked overtime) to deal with overtime rather than just paying it out. Employers that don’t currently have banked overtime policies in place would almost certainly introduce them in order to avoid paying time-and-a-half.

So, while a Kenney government would not technically eliminate time-and-a-half in the Employment Standards Code (under Division 4, Section 22) they would give employers a mechanism in the section on Overtime Agreements (Division 4, Section 23) to get around it. Call it the “Kenney Overtime Loophole.”

Second, the impact of this change would fall most heavily on non-union workers in the private sector. In unionized workplaces, any overtime agreement for banked overtime would have to be negotiated with the union: and no union would ever agree to give up time-and-a-half for overtime.

But, in non-union workplaces there is usually no negotiation on overtime agreements; they’re just imposed as employer policy. So, if the government gives employers the ability to use banked overtime as a way to get around paying time-and-a-half, you can be sure they’ll use it.

Third, it is simply not true that what the UCP is proposing is a “return to the pre-NDP status quo.”

Under the old PC system, banked overtime taken in the form of time off was, indeed, calculated on a straight time basis (which was unfair); BUT banked overtime that was paid out was calculated on a time-and-a-half basis. The UCP approach would result in all banked overtime being paid out in straight time, whether it was taken in the form time off or a cash pay-out. This is much worse than the old PC approach.

What all of this means is that if you’re an Alberta worker who works overtime – especially a non-union worker in the private sector – Jason Kenney is going to screw you royally if he becomes Premier.

How many people would be affected by the UCP’s proposed change? Unfortunately, the current legislation doesn’t require employers to register their overtime agreements with the government. So, we don’t really know how many are out there or how many Albertans are covered by them.

However, an easy way to tell if you, personally, would be impacted is to answer this question: does your employer have an overtime banking policy or a policy of time-off-in-lieu of overtime? If you answered “yes,” then you’re working under an overtime agreement and you could face losing time-and-a-half if the Kenney UCP wins the next election.

Anecdotally, we think that most Albertans are currently covered by overtime agreements. But, even if you’re not, the incentive to avoid time-and-a-half would probably encourage your employer to adopt one if Kenney wins.

This kind of change would be a big deal in any province, but it’s particularly serious here in Alberta because Albertans work longer hours and amass more overtime than workers in any other province. This has been true for so long that many Albertans count on getting paid time-and-a-half for overtime to pay their month-to-month bills.

If anything positive can be taken from the UCP platform policy on overtime, it’s that it finally answers the questions about who Jason Kenney is really working for. If you’re an ordinary working stiff, it’s not you.

 

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