Private members’ bills can affect payroll

While they rarely become law, legislative attempts can influence government policy
By Sheila Brawn
|Canadian Payroll Reporter|Last Updated: 04/16/2019

Bills proposing new statutory holidays, domestic violence leave, protections for volunteer firefighters, and minimum wage hikes.

These are just some of the private members’ bills put forward in the House of Commons and provincial legislatures over the last year.

Private members’ bills are pieces of legislation sponsored by members of Parliament or a provincial legislative assembly who are not cabinet ministers. The members may be part of the governing party or an opposition party.

The bills may be private or public. Private bills deal with matters specific to a certain individual or corporation, while public bills cover areas of policy within the legislature’s jurisdiction.

Like government bills, private members’ bills must follow a number of steps to become law. They include putting the bill on the legislature’s order paper, tabling the bill in the legislature (first reading), passing second reading, being studied by a legislative committee, passing third reading, and receiving royal assent. Federal legislation must also go through a similar process in the Senate.

Bills come into force on royal assent, on a date specified in the bill, or set by proclamation.

For payroll professionals, it can be challenging to stay abreast of the many laws and regulations that govern payroll in Canada without worrying about bills proposed by private members, which often do not make it beyond first reading.

However, it is important for payroll professionals to be aware of private members’ bills that may affect payroll-related laws. Sometimes the bills do pass all stages and become law.

Other times, they may fail, but the government may later adopt similar legislation of its own.

Even in cases where private members’ bills are unsuccessful, it may still be worth knowing about them to gain insight into the way a future government may handle a payroll-related issue.

Here is a look at some payroll-related private members’ bills tabled in Canadian legislatures over the last year:

Saskatchewan Bill 611:

The bill, tabled by Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili last November, proposes to gradually raise the provincial minimum wage rate to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022. The current minimum wage rate is $11.06.

“Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada where the minimum wage is less than half the median wage, which makes it especially hard for low-income workers in Saskatchewan to afford the basics,” said Meili when he introduced the bill.

While the bill is scheduled to come up for second reading, the Saskatchewan Party, which governs the province, has not indicated that it would be willing to pass it or table similar changes.

Saskatchewan Bill 614:

The bill would require employers to pay employees for up to five days of the 10 days of leave they may take each year if they, their child, or a person for whom they are a caregiver is a victim of interpersonal violence.

“We’ve seen other jurisdictions move towards having paid leave, and we’re hoping the government will do the right thing and finally pass this legislation,” said Nicole Sarauer, NDP justice critic, when she tabled the bill in December.

The bill is scheduled for second reading, but the government has not indicated its position. 

Nova Scotia Bill 83:

The bill would prohibit employers from withholding tips and other gratuities from employees, except where required by law or a court order, or where employers collect them and then redistribute them to other employees.

Employers would be allowed to share in tips or gratuities if they performed the same work as employees.

Tammy Martin, the NDP opposition member who tabled the bill last fall, said legislation was important because a study on tipping found that 33 per cent of N.S. employees said their employer took some or all of their tips.

“Employers shouldn’t be allowed to take tips and gratuities from their employees or use those tips for other business expenses,” said Martin.

The government has not indicated whether it will support the bill.

Alberta Bill 201:

The bill, tabled last year, would prohibit employers from preventing part-time, casual, or volunteer firefighters from taking time off work to fight fires.

The bill is before the legislature for second reading, but it is unlikely to pass, given that the legislative committee that studied it does not support it and now neither does the member (MLA) who originally introduced it.

United Conservative Party MLA Wayne Anderson said he tabled the legislation in response to a call from a former volunteer firefighter who had to give up the part-time position because his full-time employer refused to accommodate him, telling him to choose between the two jobs.

However, Anderson and the committee studying the bill decided not to support it after hearing from business owners and those in the fire-fighting community that the legislation could create an adversarial relationship between fire departments and local businesses and discourage employers from hiring individuals who are volunteer firefighters.

P.E.I. Bill 116:

The bill, which would add domestic violence leave to the province’s Employment Standards Act, is one private member’s bill that has succeeded in passing all of the legislative stages.

Tabled last May by Steven Myers, a member of the opposition Progressive Conservative Party, the bill would allow employees with at least three months of service with their employer to take up to 10 days off each year for domestic, intimate partner, or sexual violence leave. Employers would have to pay employees for three days of the leave.

Bill 116 passed third reading and received royal assent in less than a month; however, it is not yet in force. A government spokesperson said the bill would be implemented once regulations for the leave are finalized.

Federal Bill C-369:

The bill, sponsored by NDP opposition member Georgina Jolibois, would make Sept. 30 a statutory holiday under the Bills of Exchange Act, Canada Labour Code, and Interpretation Act.

The holiday would recognize a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for Canada’s First Nation, Inuit, and Metis people.

So far, the bill has passed second reading and study by a legislative committee. It amended the bill (including selecting Sept. 30 as the date and changing the name of the holiday from National Indigenous Peoples Day) and reported it to the House of Commons for third reading in February.

While studying the bill, committee members heard from Indigenous groups and labour unions in support of a holiday, as well as employer groups with concerns about it.

The Federally Regulated Employers — Transportation and Communications (FETCO), which represents large employers in the transportation and communications sectors, said while it supported the goal behind the holiday, adding another paid day off could be costly for employers.

“Currently, the code provides nine statutory holidays. Most FETCO members, as a result of previous negotiations with employees and unions, exceed this minimum number. FETCO employers typically provide between 10 and 13 paid holidays throughout the year,” said FETCO.

“Adding an additional paid holiday to the Canada Labour Code represents substantial productivity losses and business cost increases for Canadian businesses,” it said.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) also expressed concern.

“New statutory holidays are incredibly expensive,” said the CFIB, adding that its estimates show that one extra holiday could cost Canadian businesses up to $3.6 billion in lost productivity.

Union representatives, such as those with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada disagreed, noting some employers have already shown support for a holiday by giving employees paid time off on June 21 for National Indigenous Peoples Day.

While Bill C-369 has gone further in the legislative process than many private members’ bills do, it still needs to pass third reading and receive royal assent before it can be implemented.

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