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Updating PEI's Employment Standards Act

PEI Working Group for a Livable Income calls for a Comprehensive Review

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Employment Standards Act sets minimum workplace standards for non-unionized workers. In the decade since its last review, there has been a rapid redefinition of work, affecting all aspects of Island life.

In a media conference held Tuesday, January 9th, the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income called on the Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning to start a process of meaningful public consultation as a first step in a comprehensive review of the Employment Standards Act, which, they say, is out of step with current realities. The Act sets minimum workplace standards for non-unionized workers.  In the decade since its last review, there has been a rapid redefinition of work, affecting all aspects of life for Islanders.

Jane Ledwell from the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women spoke about the need to review job protection for people who take maternity and parental leave. "Changed federal regulations for EI mean new parents are now able to spread EI benefits for maternity and parental leave over 18 months, but PEI employment standards only protect their jobs for 12," says Ledwell. "This is an obvious opportunity for updates to the Employment Standards Act to support parents." Ledwell also addressed the national trend towards providing leave for victims of domestic violence. "Manitoba has established domestic violence leave under its legislation, and Ontario is working towards the same. PEI could lead the Atlantic region by implementing this kind of leave."

Speaking on behalf of Women’s Network PEI, Jillian Kilfoil, Executive Director spoke of the need to strengthen provisions dealing with sexual harassment. She said, “Although the Employment Standards do require all employers to have a sexual harassment policy and communicate it to employees, there needs to be more work done on enforcement.” Kilfoil also talked about the challenges of balancing child and elder care responsibilities with employment. “ Most of the affected workers are women. We need employment standards that provide flexibility and adequate leave time for parents, guardians and caregivers.”

Workers with disabilities are in particular need of protection under the Act. Marcia Carroll, Executive Director of the PEI Council of People with Disabilities stated, “Our current Employment Standards Act does not protect or encompass the needs of workers with disabilities.  We know that Islanders living with disability are twice as likely to be unemployed in comparison with the general population. Which results in in long-term poverty and extreme hardship for very vulnerable people.”  Carroll also expressed the need for all levels of government to be leaders in the hiring of people with disabilities and, as well, to ensure that these employees experience pay equity and the same level of protection as other workers.  

Mary Cowper-Smith, representing the PEI Action Team for Migrant Worker Rights, noted that in 2017, over 1,000 migrant workers were in PEI, working mostly in agriculture and fish processing. “These workers face unique challenges and we need clear legislation to safeguard their rights.” Cowper-Smith stated that the Act should include regulation of recruitment agencies, and better protection of agricultural workers’ rights. “Several provinces have already taken steps to strengthen their legislation. Manitoba’s Worker Recruitment and Protection Act requires employers to register, forbids recruitment fees, and mandates investigations. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta have updated their Employment Standards Acts to include some of these provisions as well. It is time for PEI to follow suit.”

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