January 1, 2018, marks the first time in nearly 40 years that the Alberta Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code are being updated. Alberta hasn’t updated these critical pieces of legislation since the 1980s, which meant we were falling far behind other provinces and the rest of the world in modernizing the laws that govern employment and collective bargaining.
The Act carries changes to overtime, statutory holiday pay and the minimum age of employment, all of which offer some benefit or protection to part-time employees. Additionally, the Act introduced a number of compassionate job-protected leaves, unfortunately unpaid, for things like illness, spousal abuse and other family emergencies. It also makes it illegal for a business to continue the practice of having employees pay for dine-and-dashes and gas-and-dashes which provides a greater deal of protection for employees who are often part-time and making minimum wage.
The Act also finally prohibits the practice of paying workers with disabilities less than other employees because of their disability.
Of special consideration for us here at YW, was the creation of a new domestic violence leave of up to 10 days per year. Every year, several thousand Albertans will be unsafe in workplaces because of violent personal relationships. A job-protected domestic violence leave helps chip away at some of the many, many barriers which trap women in cycles of abuse and poverty. When women know that they can take time to deal with the courts, access support services or move into a new, safe home without losing their job, it can ease a lot of the uncertainty and fear they have when considering leaving.
Providing a job-protected domestic violence leave demonstrates compassion and validation for women’s experience with domestic abuse. It creates more stability for women who are gaining control of their lives again after living in situations where they had little to no control. We know abuse is not about anger, it’s about control and abusers are very skilled at gaining control over time, so breaking away from that control takes time, compassion and understanding.
Changes in the Act like moving from hour-for-four overtime to time and a half overtime for women struggling with poverty and low incomes will provide some much needed financial relief while extended maternity and paternity leave will give new parents comfort in spending more time with their newborn. These changes provide more opportunities for women to participate at all levels in society. We know that women’s equity changes everything and that safe communities, healthy families and personal autonomy for all women improve economic and social conditions for everyone.
We all have a role to play, as friends, family and coworkers, in creating communities where domestic abuse and violence against women is not tolerated.