Unions, employers split on ‘right to disconnect’ legislation: advisory committee
By Tara Deschamps
An advisory group tasked with recommending how Canada should handle the right to disconnect after work hours was split on whether the country should adopt a legislative requirement for workplaces.
A final report released Thursday by the Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee said unions and non-governmental organizations that were consulted want the country to use legislation to force workplaces to establish a right to disconnect.
Advocates say a voluntary approach will not work because without legislation, workers may be penalized for exercising their right to disconnect and non-unionized workers will have no effective way to push for such a policy.
However, employers consulted by the government favoured a voluntary approach because they felt the Canada Labour Code already has clear guidelines around hours of work and appropriate compensation for after-work tasks.
The right to disconnect, which involves letting workers ignore electronic communications related to their job when they’re not on the clock, has been a hot topic since the federal government promised to tackle the issue in 2018.
It formed its advisory committee in 2020 and the group met 10 times before releasing its report on Thursday, which Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan will use to guide any policy he brings forward.
The committee was in part prompted by a right to disconnect law in France, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the issue in the spotlight once more as Canadians found themselves working longer hours from home.
Ontario has chosen not to wait for a federal policy and received royal assent for new “right to disconnect” legislation on Dec. 2. It forces employers with at least 25 staff to develop policies on disconnecting from work in the next six months, but doesn’t specify which scenarios businesses have to address.
Some of those consulted through the federal advisory committee want the countrywide approach to right-to-disconnect to be more specific.
Some committee members highlighted that the government will have to decide “the extent to which, due to operational realities and flexible work arrangements, certain employees cannot be subject to barriers to communication.”
While the committee was split on whether a legislative approach is needed, it agreed any right to disconnect policy should ensure employers retain the ability to contact workers in emergency situations and to communicate critical health and safety information.
The committee also agreed that employees should be paid for work performed and have a positive work-life balance and flexibility.
In formulating any right to disconnect policy, they said there is a need to recognize existing arrangements, such as collective agreements, and understand that absolute limits like shutting down email servers or network access may not be realistic in some situations.
The employer members of the committee include several federally-regulated employers in the transportation and communications industry, the Canadian Bankers Association, the Canadian Trucking Alliance, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Railway Association of Canada and the National Airlines Council of Canada.
The consulted unions include the Canadian Labour Congress, Unifor, Confederation des syndicats nationaux, Federation des travailleurs et travailleuses du Quebec, Canadian Union of Public Employees and International Brotherhood of Teamsters Canada.
Non-Governmental Organisations involved are the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and the Atkinson Foundation.
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