Friday, November 29, 2013

Bill 46 attacks nursing moms, new dads, the sick and the injured

Bill 46 sets out what the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will be for public servants from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2017. In this way, the Tory government has displaced arbitration as the way to resolve collective bargaining impasse in the public sector with employer fiat via legislation (which is likely a violation of the Charter protections associated with the freedom to associate, but let’s move on for the moment).

The COLA set out in the legislation are:
  • 0% in 2013
  • 0% in 2014
  • 1% in 2015, and
  • 1% in 2016

To “sweeten” the deal, the government will also make a one-time payment of $875 to each employee on April 1, 2014 in lieu of a COLA. Unions and workers generally don’t like one-time payments because they (naturally) don’t carry forward into future years and thus the inflation that an actual COLA is supposed to offset erodes the purchasing power of the employees’ wages. Employers, conversely, love one-time payments because they are much less expensive (in the long-term) than a percentage increase in salary.

One of the interesting features of Bill 46 is that not every employee is eligible for this one-time payment. Section 3(3) of Bill 46 says:
3(3) An employee is not eligible to receive a lump sum payment under section 2(d) if, on April 1, 2014, the employee is
 (a) on a leave of absence and receiving workers’ compensation benefits,(b) on a leave of absence and receiving payments under the Government Long Term Disability Plan referred to in Article 33A of the Master Agreement,(c) on parental or adoption leave as described in Article 40 of the Master Agreement,(d) on maternity leave as described in Article 40A of the Master Agreement, or(e) on a leave of absence as described in Article 46 of the Master Agreement, and that leave began before April 1, 2013.
Basically, if you are a nursing mom on mat leave, or a dad at home with a new baby on parental leave, or you have MS and you’re on a medical leave, or you lost a hand on the job and are on workers’ comp, you don’t get the $875, even when you return.

Now, if the 2014 payment had been a proper COLA, you likely would receive it on your return to work. This is because a COLA isn’t about performance, it is just to ensure inflation doesn’t erode your wages.

Indeed, if you didn’t receive it, the employer would be violating s.7 of Alberta’s human rights legislation. For those Tory MLAs who didn’t read the law they passed, it says:
7(1) No employer shall... 
(b) discriminate against any person with regard toemployment or any term or condition of employment,because of … gender, physical disability, mental disability, … family status… .
And, of course, there is that awkward s.15(1) of the Charter that prohibits governments from discriminating:
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Yet refusing to pay the $875 to people on leaves which reflect underlying protected grounds (disability family status and gender) also violates both Alberta’s human rights legislation and the Charter. Oops. So these provisions of Bill 46 should be easy to strike down. (Oops, I said “strike”—hope I don’t get fined under Bill 45!)

What is surprising is that the Premier and the Minister of Human Services (both lawyers) would somehow fail to grasp this fairly basic legal problem with Bill 46.

Vastly more troubling is that Alison Redford and Dave Hancock seem to have missed the moral issue here. As a society, we don’t discriminate against the sick and the injured. And we don’t discriminate against nursing moms and new dads.

Unless they’re union members, I guess.

-- Bob Barnetson

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