Good afternoon, everyone. I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 10 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room, and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the room of the committee.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation, and in light of the recommendations from health authorities as well as the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on November 19, 2021, to remain healthy you all know the protocol.
As the chair I will be enforcing these measures for the duration of the meeting, and I thank members in advance for their co-operation.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few of the rules. Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for the meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French. If interpretation is lost, please inform me immediately, and we will ensure it is restored before resuming proceedings. The “raise hand” feature at the bottom of the screen can be used at any time if you wish to speak or alert the chair.
For members participating in person, proceed as you usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person in a committee room, keeping in mind the Board of Internal Economy's guidelines. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. Those in the room, your microphone will be controlled as usual by the proceedings and verification officer. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you're not speaking, your mike should be on mute. All comments should be addressed through the chair. With regard to a speaking list, the committee clerk and I will do the best we can to maintain that. As we are in a set format, we already have that list.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, January 31, 2022, the committee will proceed to a briefing on the ministerial mandate letters.
I would like to welcome our witnesses to begin our discussion with five minutes of opening remarks followed by questions.
Appearing will be the Hon. Seamus O'Regan, Minister of Labour; Sandra Hassan, deputy minister, labour and associate deputy minister; Andrew Brown, assistant deputy minister, policy, dispute resolution and international affairs; Gary Robertson, assistant deputy minister, labour program, compliance, operations and program development directorate.
Minister O'Regan, you now have the floor for your opening comments.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are joining you from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, on the traditional territory of the Beothuk people.
Thank you for inviting me to join you today to discuss my mandate letter commitments and some of the important progress that’s been made so far by our government.
First and foremost, I’m proud to say that we have made incredible strides over the last few months to ensure workplaces are fair, safe, and healthy.
For example, this past December, Bill received royal assent. This important piece of legislation will provide a minimum of ten days of paid sick leave per year for employees working in the federally regulated private sector. This is huge.
Paid sick leave will protect workers and their families, protect their jobs, and protect their workplaces. This is an important step in the ongoing fight against COVID‑19 and a necessary addition to the social safety net that organized labour and the NDP have long been advocating for.
These changes to the Canada Labour Code are significant, and we recognize that workplaces need time to prepare.
That’s why we’re engaging with federally regulated employers to work with them on the implementation of these changes in advance of their coming into force. We’re also ensuring they have time to implement payroll changes and work with unions to adjust collective agreements as needed.
I’m also meeting with my counterparts at the provincial and territorial level to seek their views on developing an action plan to provide paid sick leave across the country, while respecting their jurisdiction and the unique needs of small business owners. This will be one of the topics for discussion when we meet later this month.
Now, we will build on all of this work, while supporting the fight against COVID‑19 and its variants. We will continue to build a strong middle class and work toward a better future where everyone has a real and fair chance at success.
Mental health is an important concern for Canadians and has become an even more prominent issue as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
As part of my mandate, we plan on amending the Canada Labour Code to include mental health as a specific element of occupational health and safety, and require federally regulated employers to take preventative steps to address workplace stress and injury.
The biggest battleground for mental health right now is the workplace. The line between work and home has become blurred by the pandemic, and boundaries are more important than ever.
With this in mind, we are also getting ready to move forward on my mandate commitment to develop a right-to-disconnect policy. Such a policy would help support better work-life balance and help do away with the informal expectation that so many workers face to remain connected—without compensation—well beyond normal working hours.
The Final Report of the Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee, which was published just last week, will help guide our next steps.
In addition, we will continue to advance the state of equity, diversity and inclusion in federally regulated workplaces. The Employment Equity Act Review Task Force has resumed its work, which is expected to conclude this summer.
I’ve also committed myself to doing everything I can to protect workers from violence and harassment.
To that end, I am continuing to work with my provincial and territorial counterparts to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190, which will help eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work.
I would also like to mention that I will be working collaboratively with some of my colleagues to eradicate forced labour from the supply chains of Canadian businesses. Through the development of legislation, we will continue to advance concrete action to ensure that companies operating abroad do not contribute to human rights abuses.
The list I’ve covered today isn’t exhaustive—work is ongoing on many other fronts to deliver on other important mandate commitments, such as continuing to advance implementation of the Pay Equity Act and working with my colleague, the , to maintain momentum on a just transition to a low carbon economy that leaves no one behind.
The progress being made on these and other key initiatives will help build strong, healthy workforces that are productive, innovative, and resilient.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak to what I— with the support of many—have been and will continue working on to make our workplaces better for everyone.
I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for having me. It's a treat to be here. I don't often get to come to this committee.
To the Minister, hello and welcome. It's good to see you, too. I don't know why I'm welcoming you. I'm not really part of the committee, but anyhow, thank you for your comments.
Minister, you did speak about a number of great things. I'm wondering if we could focus for a few minutes, though, particularly on skilled trades.
As you know, there's a desperate shortage of skilled tradespeople in this country, about 200,000 currently. For your provincial counterparts, particularly in Ontario—I know you'll be meeting with them soon to talk more about paid sick leave—I'm wondering if you might be working with them to help them in their work to eliminate the stigma about skilled trades. Oftentimes we talk about the importance of a university degree. We think that the way forward to help our provincial counterparts is to encourage more young people to consider the skilled trades, because there's a desperate shortage.
If you could quickly comment on that, I have a couple of more questions about that whole area.
I couldn't agree with you more. I think it was the day after or two days after I was sworn in, Mr. Aitchison, that I went to the Trades NL—which I was meant to speak at—annual general meeting of skilled trades unions here in Newfoundland and Labrador. It just so happened that I had the opportunity there to speak to them as the Minister of Labour. It was a treat.
I think the Canadian economy is showing a lot of signs of a strong recovery, but it's the boom in construction that's led to shortage in skilled workers, so we have to get a few things right. We're committed to doubling the union training and innovation program to $50 million a year. That's to support [Technical difficulty—Editor] training opportunities and partnerships in the Red Seal trades right across Canada. We're also working with unions to target more participation from women, indigenous peoples, newcomers, persons with disabilities and Black and racialized Canadians.
I've always said about inclusion that, if you don't include everybody, then you're excluding the best. I think you have a point about making sure that we broaden people's horizons about the need for skilled trades and the pride and dignity that comes from doing such good work.
We're moving forward on that, and we have our plan to establish a new apprenticeship service that will connect 55,000 first-year apprentices in Red Seal trades with opportunities in small and medium-sized businesses particularly.
I have, too, on both coasts. It's an issue here in the Port of St. John's for me as well.
To give a bit of background, this was all predicated on Canadian workers deserving more predictable schedules and fair rest and break periods between shifts. We spent three years working with federally regulated industries to put this new hours of work provision in place in the Canada Labour Code to better support Canadian workers.
In 2019, we amended the CLC to create new minimum rest and break periods for employees in, obviously, federally regulated industries. We had a lot of consultations and we had a lot of sector-appropriate amendments, particularly on docks, to allow some flexibility. The new standards are moving ahead.
Each sector is unique. I think the implementation of these changes is a significant undertaking for each one of these workplaces. We continue to work closely with employers to provide support and to monitor the impacts of these changes moving forward. The changes, I think, will ultimately create a better work-life balance and improve health and safety.
We are quite cognizant of the fact that—especially when we're talking about ports, for instance—this does not affect our supply chain nor does it gum up the works. We have to allow for that flexibility. We think that we have found that, but I've dealt with MPs on my side about this as well.
This isn't new to any of these workers, workplaces or employers. This is, like I said, coming down the pipeline. I think I'm the fourth Minister of Labour to be dealing with this.
It's coming into place now. We have to be respectful. We have to make sure it's implemented properly. I've said this at this committee before and I'll say it again: I am not a “government knows best” kind of guy nor am I particularly a one-size-fits-all kind of guy. I grew up in Labrador. I used to think that St. John's, the provincial capital, was the long arm of the law...let alone Ottawa.
We have done our best to make sure that these particular situations are mitigated in their particular workplaces to allow for that flexibility.
Does this microphone work better?
I will continue.
The pandemic has taken a significant toll on workers. Whether it be working at home, spending long hours at screens, stocking shelves at grocery stores, or, for health care professionals, working overtime to care for patients, workers are experiencing burnout and higher levels of stress and anxiety.
Minister, could you please explain why amendments to the Canada Labour Code should be made to include mental health as a specific element for occupational health and safety? As you're doing that, could you relate that to your initiative to initiate the right to disconnect?
Mr. Van Bynen, I could talk all day on mental health. I have to admit it's a particular joy and a privilege for me to be able to further mental health initiatives in my current portfolio.
Half a million Canadians miss work every week due to mental illness. This pandemic has taken a particular toll on people, I think, and, I would argue, particularly now. I think omicron and Christmas were a deadly combination for a lot of people and a lot of Canadians. Workers are people with complex lives. They have complex needs.
There are two ways in which I, as Minister of Labour, want to try to close this gap for workers. Number one is by making mental health a component of workplace health and safety, as you said. Number two is by initiating the right to disconnect.
Mental health is health. We need to consider it as such. Injuries associated with it need to be covered by occupational health and safety requirements as much as physical injuries do, because mental health is physical health as well.
By our not addressing this, the Canadian economy is losing an estimated $6 billion per year in productivity. An estimated one in three workplace disability claims in Canada is related to mental illness.
I think it was just last month that the CAMH released a report surveying Canadians about their mental health during the pandemic. The survey found a decline in mental health amongst Canadians, obviously, due to anxiety, to loneliness, and to changes in the way they were able to access care and mental health services. Some 30% reported increased alcohol consumption. Forty per cent reported increased cannabis use. Five per cent were seriously considering suicide.
One of the things we think we can do is to look at the right to disconnect. What does it mean to be at work? Why has that changed so drastically? How many times in the last two years has your home, your kitchen table or your couch been a workplace?
As Canadians right now in this pandemic, we're continuing to work remotely from home, but that line between work and home has become very blurred, and the ability and sometimes the expectation to be constantly connected can really rub people's nerves raw, as we say in Newfoundland, and people's nerves are already rubbed raw.
We in politics know this better than most, given the 24-hour news cycle and the 24-hour Twitterverse. Last week our advisory committee, which is made up of unions, federally regulated employers and NGOs, released a report on the right to disconnect. They conducted a consultation, and they are making a series of recommendations to us and ensuring that perspectives from every angle are considered. We can't afford to be myopic on any part of this.
What is clear is that establishing a positive work-life balance is an important goal for both employers and workers. It's overdue, and we're moving on it now.
I'd like to have the benefit of your experience on this next matter, as well.
We have an ambitious plan to fight climate change, and get to net zero. While this is exciting and reassuring for many, others fear that tackling climate change could have a direct impact on their livelihood, especially those working in the energy sector.
In your past role as the minister of natural resources, what did you hear from energy workers, and will this inform the work on your mandate letter in the commitment to move forward with legislation, and an action plan to achieve a just transition?
Minister, thank you for being with us today to talk about the many issues addressed in your mandate letter.
I don't know if you will agree with me, but there is one thing we agree on: the Canada Labour Code needs some love. It needs to be modernized to adjust to the issues that affect the world of work today. There are many challenges. Integrating the mental health component into occupational health and safety seems to me to be a must. This is increasingly documented. It is not only the pandemic that has exacerbated the situation. Psychological trauma at work is a reality. We need to move forward fairly quickly.
My question is simple. When will the 10 days of paid sick leave be implemented?
I know you are having discussions with the provinces, but that is not what this is about. Bill was passed to implement 10 days of paid sick leave for all federally regulated employees. Many employees are wondering when they will be entitled to these 10 days, and rightly so. It would be nice if legislation was, in fact, implemented in the short term.
When can we expect this to be done for federally regulated employees?
Firstly, it will begin on February 25, when I'll sit down with my provincial and territorial colleagues to talk about a national action plan. I don't need to tell you, of course, that in terms of 10 days sick leave nationally, 95% of workers in the jurisdictions that they're in are provincial and territorial.... On the issue of the federal question, the consultations will begin next month. I expect they will last weeks, not months, and then we will be able to draft regulations for which we will have another consultation process, and it will proceed accordingly.
We're going as fast as we can, but it is incredibly important that we get it done right. We need to allow the time for employers to update their systems, which is important. We need to adjust collective agreements. These things do take time, and I guess what we're trying to do is balance, as we always do, making sure we get it done right, and get it done as expediently as we possibly can.
It was in that spirit, I acknowledge, that we voted on this unanimously in the House, because it is pressing. It is making sure that we get it done right, with urgency, and with the certainty that it's what workers and employers are looking for.
I'll move on to another question.
It is mentioned in your mandate letter that we need to move forward with legislation to prevent the hiring of replacement workers, thus scabs, in the event of a lockout.
It is 2022 and this demand has been brought to the government's attention for a very long time. The Bloc Québécois has tabled bills and this demand has always been one of the priorities of the major workers' unions. It is a matter of balance of power. The right to strike and the right to lock out are protected by fundamental rights. In return, these rights must not be undermined by the use of scabs in labour disputes.
Do you have a timeline in your mandate letter? Can we expect a proper bill or amendment to the Canada Labour Code to strengthen it and ban the use of scabs?
The Canada Labour Code, as you know, has a provision that prevents the use of replacement workers. We were elected on the commitment to restore fair and balanced labour relations in Canada. We've delivered on that commitment.
We have respect and faith in the collective bargaining process. Ninety-seven per cent of all collective bargaining disputes under the Labour Code that were referred to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service were resolved without a work stoppage. The best deals are certainly done at the table.
We respect and we have faith in the collective bargaining process. The Canada Labour Code, as I said, has that provision to prevent the use of replacement workers where their presence is in the workplace and it's intended to undermine a union's representational capacity. We firmly believe in the critical relationship between government, employer and workers. Right now, that's where things stand.
Thank you, Minister, but the current provisions of the Canada Labour Code do not provide sufficient protection, hence your mandate to move the issue forward.
So we hope that the government will come in and strengthen the legislation so that the provisions in this regard are clear. Since 1977, we have had such provisions in Quebec.
My last question will be short. It concerns federally regulated workplaces, such as Canada Post, Crown corporations, transportation companies, as well as federal employees, covered by the mandatory vaccination policy.
To your knowledge, how many workers have been affected in their employment relationship by this policy and are on leave without pay or have been terminated?
Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
I want to start by saying that my comments are coming from a space of being a woman who has worked for over 40 years in the workforce in Canada in five provinces. My network over those years has obviously been a lot of women. It's important for me to share with you that my perspective is coming from that space.
I'm disappointed today to hear that the consultation for the bill for 10 days of paid sick leave for federal workers was not done before that bill came.... I remind the minister that the NDP amendments were adopted to improve workers' accessibility, and it's still not accessible to workers.
The government has chosen to delay this. I just want to understand on a gender lens. You say that we're months away.... Will there also be disaggregated data and some analysis of the demographics of the workers who have been most affected by this?
There are hundreds of thousands of workers who are relying on this 10 days of paid sick leave.
I also wanted to talk about another gender equity issue. I'm sure you know that there's a history of unpaid labour in this country and that the underpinnings of where we are in a developed economy rest greatly on the backs of unpaid labour and gender discrimination. It's been a very slow journey to equity and we aren't there yet: in pay equity, in access to affordable child care and in an end to discriminatory access to paid work.
Today, I wanted to talk about one small piece of the mandate letter: to take the lead on the efforts to provide free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces. I wanted to speak to that small part of it just to ask about this. We know that at work people need to use the toilet during the workday and toilet paper is supplied as a necessary supply for a biological function. As part of the occupational health and safety regulations, there are lines about providing toilet paper, but only one line that speaks to disposal of menstrual products and nothing in regard to providing menstrual products in the workplace. Menstrual products are no different from others for biological functions that happen at work.
For my ask—I think the Conservative member asked you earlier to work with him—I'd like to ask if you would be open to working with me, the FCM and other gender advocates to update the occupational health and safety regulations, to modernize them and to point out how important it is to have access to menstrual products for women in the workplace.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
I want to thank you, Minister, for your passion when you spoke earlier about mental health. I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about the cost. Have you thought about the cost? Mental health is something that I think could be quite expensive in terms of how we deal with it.
First of all, have you thought about the cost in that sense and who's going to bear that cost? Is this a cost that's going to be picked up by the taxpayer or by the government? Will it be put onto the businesses? Or is there going to be some combination of that?
This gets back to gig economy workers. It's something that, I think, a lot of other countries much like ours are also dealing with as well.
We've made changes to the Canada Labour Code to prevent employers from misclassifying their employees as independent contractors by shifting the burden to the employer. We've been focused a lot on education and awareness. We're working with stakeholders to address this. Any employer who knowingly misclassifies an employee in order to avoid their obligations is breaking the Canada Labour Code and will face consequences.
In the meantime, I know this is work that has been taking charge of. I'm working with her on that.
I think it begins with how you make sure you have labour protections for people who are, name it, frankly in things that a lot of us use and that are very convenient, whether it be Uber, Instacart or whatever. Some of these, particularly Instacart and DoorDash, became very popular during the pandemic as people were inside.
How do you make sure that the people who are involved in that work, good people who are doing it to make some money and to have a wage...? How do you make sure that labour protections are there for them? How do you make sure the benefits are there for them, EI and such? This is something that, like I said, a lot of other countries in the world are grappling with and dealing with. It is a huge, changing part of our economy. It's growing because it's so convenient. It makes so much sense; so many of us have one of these, but how do you make sure people are protected? That's where we're arriving right now.
Thank you very much, Terry.
Women obviously make up half of Canada's workforce and many were frontline workers through this pandemic, but the reality remains that they face a lot of challenges in the workforce, socially, financially, physically. How do you reduce barriers for women in the workforce? How do you create a more equal and equitable space?
Child care is huge and $10-a-day child care, affordable, high-quality child care, has the potential to add, says, 243,000 workers to the Canadian workforce. Every dollar invested in early childhood education can generate up to $3 in economic return. That is very real, and that's why it's such a big priority for the government.
Through Bill we amended the Canada Labour Code to provide five new paid leave days for federally regulated employees who experience a miscarriage or a stillbirth. That was work this House did together.
Under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act, employees are protected against discrimination and termination on the basis of pregnancy.
We are strengthening provisions to better support working women. Especially, I think of those who need to be reassigned during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. We're tackling [Technical difficulty—Editor] As I just mentioned earlier, in 2015 the House passed legislation to remove the federal tax on menstrual products and our government now is leading the efforts to provide free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces.
On pay equity, we will continue to advance the implementation of the Pay Equity Act right across federally regulated workplaces. That's very important work.
Excellent. Let's keep on Bill then.
Mr. Chair, you'll be interested in this. Prince Edward Island has one day of paid sick leave, Quebec has two, recently British Columbia legislated five days each year for both full- and part-time employees. This was an important piece of your mandate, and congratulations to everyone, including yourself, on getting this passed unanimously in December. This would provide federally regulated private sectors with ten paid days of sick leave.
Minister, could you please explain again why it was so critical to move swiftly on Bill and what you are going to do to get sick leave implemented? You touched on it a bit. If you could just drill down on that, it would be great.
We have to get stakeholders together, which we are doing. As I said, we're convening that next month. It's complicated. It's a bit tangly, as we say here, dealing with collective agreements and dealing with operational systems that employers have.
They know it's coming. We all know it's coming. It passed unanimously.
Look, I think it passed unanimously because everybody in the House....
It's not the first time that a piece of legislation that I think makes a lot of common sense was split up amongst the parties for various other reasons. I don't know whether we got lightning in a bottle with this or not, but I am very grateful to my colleagues from all sides of the House. I think Mr. Aitchison and I dealt with it, and the NDP, the Bloc and all parties. We understood instinctively that this was incredibly important.
The reason we arrived on 10 days particularly was because we knew, after two years of COVID, that for a lot of people, if they were quarantining, it was generally for two weeks. We want to make sure that people are covered.
You know, we didn't know what omicron was a few months ago, and it has changed our lives. It ruined our Christmases, for the most part. I got it. We don't know what might come next.
I'll say this, and I don't say it flippantly, because it's a very real thing: We have weather and seasons on our side. We're still in the middle of the worst part of the year, but we're getting through it—the long dark days of winter, particularly the months of December, January and February. In this country, it is when we spend the most time inside. I think that's why omicron really hit hard, because you can't leave your house. These are the hardest months.
As the days get longer, the weather gets better and more people spend time outside, and the virus, in whatever form it seems to take, abates. We know that now because we've been living with it for two years.
It does not take away from the urgency. Do not get me wrong. It just gives us a bit of breathing room to make sure that when we implement this, we do it right, we do it properly, we get it done correctly.
Minister, with respect to Bill , there is something I understand less well. The 10 days of sick leave were adopted so that federally regulated workers would be entitled to them. I understand that, if you wanted to apply this across Canada, given the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces in labour matters, it would not be possible.
So I don't understand why you couldn't change the Canada Labour Code to guarantee those 10 days of sick leave, at least for federally regulated employees, as you did with labour standards. You raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour on December 29, and that applies regardless of the minimum wage rates in other provinces. So an amendment to the Canada Labour Code to provide 10 days of sick leave would at least include federally regulated workers.
You could then continue your consultations in the provinces.
I want to thank the Minister for his commitment to mental health.
I'm concerned about the construction industry. I'm sure you know that in British Columbia, the average age of death for men has actually declined over the years. We're talking about opioid overdoses. We know that it over-indexes in the construction industry.
With aggressive housing targets, and what we know will be federally funded infrastructure coming forward, I'm wondering if there is an opportunity.... As part of your mandate letter you talk about amendments to the Labour Code as they relate to mental health, workplace stress and injury.
Could we consider or is there an opportunity to consider tradespeople to work on federally funded housing and federally funded infrastructure projects?