Tuesday, December 7, 1993 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have some documents and legislative returns.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have the 16th annual report of the Yukon Liquor Corporation for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have for tabling a legislative return.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 63: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 63, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act and the Legislative Assembly Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 63, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act and the Legislative Assembly Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 63 agreed to.
Speaker: Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Statements by Ministers.
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Gambling
Ms. Commodore: Last week I asked some questions of the Minister of Justice in regard to gambling, and he was not able to answer any of them, so I now direct my questions to the Minister responsible for Economic Development.
The secret report on gambling that the Minister of Justice knew nothing about clearly shows that there are no economic spinoffs and that there are enormous negative social consequences associated with gambling. I would like to ask the Minister why the government is wasting taxpayers money conducting a public consultation on gambling, when a secret report shows, without a doubt, that gambling has no positive economic impact.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As it was the Executive Council Office that requested that the consultation process be conducted by the Council on the Economy and the Environment, I felt I would answer the question for the Member. It is important, on an issue such as gambling, to examine all the negatives and all the pluses. Yukon is one of the few jurisdictions left in Canada today that does not have legalized gambling and the pressure is upon governments all over to deal with the issue. I felt this would be the opportune time to go out and consult the public. Let us air this issue, and air it well, and let the people of the Yukon decide which direction they want their government to take with this issue.
Ms. Commodore: It does not matter which Minister answers the question. I still do not get any answers.
I would like to ask the Government Leader exactly how much money does the government plan to waste on this consultation when it already knows, through its own secret report, that increased gambling would hurt businesses and individuals.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: At this point I do not know how much it will cost. I am waiting for the Council on the Economy and the Environment to come back to us on that.
Ms. Commodore: The governments own bureaucrats say that it is likely that the hotel association will lobby against any charitable organization using VLTs to raise money. The report also says that VLTs will dry up other sources of funding for charitable organizations. How much money, then, does the government expect charitable organizations to lose?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This is why we are holding public hearings, so that every group and person in the Yukon, both those who are for and those who are against, can make their case. We will listen to the results that will come back from the hearings.
Question re: Gambling
Ms. Commodore: As the government predicted, there will be a job creation associated with gambling. The secret report says that a number of alcohol treatment, debt and gambling addiction counselors will be needed to deal with the new problems created. I would say that they would call this a false economy. Does the Minister consider it a legitimate way to stimulate the local economy by hiring all of these people to deal with the gambling problem?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If we went and made unilateral decisions we would be condemned for them, as we have been in other instances by the Members opposite, and when we do consult the public we get condemned bitterly for it, as well.
Ms. Commodore: The secret report clearly indicates that there are social consequences in a gambling proposal. I would like to ask the Minister why the Yukon Health and Social Services Council has been excluded from discussions to date. Why are they not part of this consultation process?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite keeps referring to a secret report. If she has a copy of it, it cannot be that secret.
Anything that has been done to this point has been very preliminary. All the information will be turned over to the Council on the Economy and the Environment and they will conduct the hearings and bring some recommendations back to this government to consider. Every organization in the Yukon will have the opportunity for input into those hearings.
Ms. Commodore: I am certainly glad the government has tons of money to spend on this. I would like to ask the Government Leader once again: why does he intend to proceed with the consultation on gambling when the report clearly indicates that there is no redeeming value in gambling?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is referring to some report that I do not even recall at this point - there has been so much information on this subject. Maybe she would like to table it so that the whole Legislature could have a look at this secret document she has. That is only the opinion of one paper. There are many opinions on this subject. That is why we have gone to public consultation on it.
Question re: Wolf control program
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions on the wolf conservation and management plan. Reviewing Hansard for yesterday, I noticed - to my surprise - that the Minister of Renewable Resources did not answer my question so I will put these questions to the Government Leader.
Information provided to this Assembly and public opinion clearly indicate that adoption of the Yukon wolf conservation and management plan as government policy is widely supported in the Yukon by the Department of Renewable Resources, the Council for Yukon Indians, the Champagne/Aishihik First Nation and numerous other groups.
Will the Government Leader please explain why Cabinet rejected the Department of Renewable Resources proposal when it was brought to Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I beg to differ with the Member opposite as to what the recommendations from Renewable Resources were. The copy that the Member opposite is putting so much weight on is clearly marked draft. The document has not been fully circulated through the department, let alone presented to Cabinet.
Mr. Cable: Has there been a final version of that draft policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The question may have been better directed to the Minister responsible for Renewable Resources. I am not sure whether or not there is a final version of that draft policy.
Mr. Cable: It appears that many dedicated people and organizations across the Yukon have spent a lot of time on this wolf management plan, and I would like to ask the Government Leader whose interests are served by not adopting this report?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There is an open line show going on right at this very moment. When I left to come down at 1:30, the show was halfway through. There had not been one call on this subject - not one call. The phone lines were open and after 30 minutes there was not a call on this topic.
We are using the wolf management plan as a guideline at this point. The department is going back and making a list of the things that are being followed in this plan, what is being worked on, what has been completed, and what cannot be worked on.
If the Member would have been listening to the open line program, he would have heard the deputy minister, and I believe that it would have answered many of the Members questions.
Question re: Opposition request for information
Mr. Penikett: Yesterday the Government Leader denied completely that Members on this side of the House were refused routine information, although I have in front of me six examples that have occurred in the last few days, including one where the statistics office informed our caucus staff that even questions of fact must be directed through the Government Leader.
Why did the Government Leader say yesterday, Factual information, and information that is available to citizens should be available to the Member opposite, when in fact nothing like that is occurring?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will again disagree with the Member opposite, because that is simply not true. Any information that is available anywhere else is certainly available to the Members opposite. When they are asking for documents that contain information that is not yet public information, then it has to be cleared through the Minister.
Mr. Penikett: Somebody is obviously not telling the full truth here. We have been told that there are specific instructions to the bureaucracy not to respond to our questions. For example, on November 10, our caucus staff were informed by a Health and Social Services employee, that any questions from the Official Opposition must be routed through the Ministers office. Can the Government Leader explain that policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is simply not the policy. Any information that Members can get through other sources, we are happy to give them. If they are asking for information that only Cabinet is privy to at this time, they are certainly not going to get it. There certainly is no directive from this government in respect to what the Member opposite has just said.
Mr. Penikett: I would like to remind the Government Leader that it is his Cabinet - the whole Cabinet - that made a decision to deny me information that would have been available to any legislator in any other legislature in the English speaking world. I am asking him to explain why, according to his policy, when our staff inquired of the Department of Education about obtaining a list of school principals and school council members, the researcher was told that we, the Official Opposition, had to put our question to an assistant deputy minister, the deputy minister or the Minister. Can the Government Leader explain that policy?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That particular question pertains to my department, and I do not know why the Member was refused that information. If the Member wants to give me any other questions of that nature that he asked and then was denied answers to, I would be more than happy to see that the department is quite clear on the directive about the information that they can provide. That type of information is public, and can be and should be provided to the Members. We will see that in the future it will be.
Question re: Opposition requests for information
Mr. Penikett: The Minister of Education has just said an astonishing thing. He has said that if a Member of the Official Opposition wants to find a list of school principals, we should have to direct the question to the Minister of Education. Why should we have to do that? Why should we have to inquire to the Minister of Education for such information that ought to be readily available to any citizen?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I did not think that I said that. To clarify it, if that information is available to the public - and that kind of information should be - I will make sure that my department understands that clearly, and that next time they ask for that type of information, it will be made available to them. That information does not have to be cleared through me at all. That is what I thought I was conveying to the Member.
Mr. Penikett: I would like to ask the Government Leader what policy objective is served by telling a researcher from my office when they enquire about an annual report and the existing budget of a government office, such as the extended care facility, that we must direct such a question through the Ministers office. What policy objective is served by that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have just stood here through one question and two supplementaries, and my colleague has just stood here through the question - we are saying that that is not a fact. If there is some problem, come to us and talk about it and we will see that we clarify it. There is not any policy of the sort, and I do not know what the Member opposite is trying to get at.
Mr. Penikett: This is not the first time we have raised this problem. This is not the first time we have asked what the governments policy is. Clearly, since the change of government, there has been a change in policy, from the days when Opposition Members used to phone anybody and ask them anything.
Will the Government Leader come forward to the House this week with a clear statement of government policy in respect of our right of access to publicly available information?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have just said it twice in the last chain of questions, and if the Member would like me to bring a written reply to it, I will certainly do that.
Question re: Opposition requests for information
Mrs. Firth: I want to follow up on this issue because my question today is related to policy - communications policy - as well.
I have received complaints from the public and from other MLAs who have raised issues in this House, and I have had complaints from some of the media who are unable to get information from government departments. There was an old policy on the books, which essentially said all the information MLAs requested had to go through the Clerk. That has been removed and has not been replaced with a new policy.
Since the Government Leader is talking about policy this afternoon, could he stand up and tell me today exactly what the governments policy is with respect to information being given to the public, to MLAs and to members of the media by the departments?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There certainly has not been any change in policy. There has been no new directive sent out by Cabinet. Any information that is not confidential information is certainly available for the Members opposite, the public or the media.
If the Member opposite is getting these complaints, and if she would be good enough to make me privy to them, I will follow up on them to see why the requests were not fulfilled and take immediate action.
Mrs. Firth: I am following up on it. I am asking the Government Leader what the policy is and he has not been able to tell us what the policy is - either the previous questioner or myself. All he has been able to say is that if it is not confidential information it can be obtained. What is confidential information? We have been denied access to public information, so what is confidential information?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would like the Member to tell me what she has been denied. If she does not know what confidential information is after having sat on this side of the House as a Cabinet Minister, there is a problem. She is certainly not going to be eligible for Cabinet documents, despite how much she would love that.
Mrs. Firth: The Government Leader has an opportunity to tell the public what his policy is. He cannot tell us about the confidential information, other than that they are Cabinet documents. He cannot even enunciate what the policy is. Obviously, there is no policy. Health and Social Services has one, Education has one, so obviously each Minister is giving their own directives.
I would like to ask the Minister if he would bring back to the House - since he does not know what it is yet - his policy on how requests for information by the media, MLAs and the public are going to be dealt with, and whether it is consistent and applies to each department or if each Minister can just make up their own as they go along. Will he bring that back to the House?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member wants me to stand here and list what I think is confidential information. I am not about to do that. When requests come in, they will be told if that information is available or not.
The policy has not changed since the previous administration. The requests come in for information. If people are not getting it, they can file a complaint and I will follow up on it. The policy is that, as government, we are supposed to be able to provide information, and we have been doing that. We have produced mounds and mounds of it in this House alone.
Question re: Education statistics
Ms. Moorcroft: In the face of the denials from the government that there is any problem with MLAs getting access to information, I have a specific question for the Minister of Education.
In September of this year, I wrote a letter to his department asking for some information on education statistics, such as numbers of teachers, numbers of students graduating from teacher education programs. It is written question number 34, so the Minister can take a look at it. I filed it as a written question on December 1. My understanding is that the department was not able to provide that information to me because it had to have the Ministers approval first.
These facts are needed for the department to be able to put together their budgets. Can the Minister tell me when that information will be forthcoming?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The type of information the Member asked for is quite extensive. I understand that it has been pulled together now. I have a copy of a legislative return that arrived on my desk this morning. That information is on it. I hope to be able to table it as soon as I can look at it, probably tomorrow or the next day.
Question re: Privatization of government services
Ms. Moorcroft: It is interesting that the Minister has to clear the factual information, and I am wondering if that had anything to do with taking so long for me to get it.
I would like to ask another question of the Government Leader.
While he was away, privatization or contracting out or out sourcing or rationalization - it seems his government has a lot of words for it - was discussed at some length. The governments well-known refusal at the bargaining table to continue the job security provisions now in the collective agreement certainly show us why it has its now well-known interest in privatizing significant chunks of the civil service. What does the Government Leader and his government have against job security for employees?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have told the Member opposite repeatedly that I was not going to engage in discussions pertaining to conciliation and I am not about to today either.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am asking the Government Leader a question of policy. I am not asking him to reveal the details of the negotiations. Business people are telling me that people are not out Christmas shopping. It seems that the Government Leader cannot see that his privatization plans are hurting the Yukons fragile economy. Why is the Government Leader deliberately hurting Yukon businesses at a time of year when they count on it for their financial success?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This government has been ready to resolve the outstanding issue with the public sector for many months. We have been ready to go since September. It is not our fault that it has not gotten there sooner than this. We would settle it any day; we would be happy to get it settled.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Government Leader still has not shared with us his reason for opposing job security. What reason does the Minister have for opposing job security, if he is not planning large scale privatization?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have said repeatedly in this House that large scale privatization was not one of the ways in which we were going to deal with our fiscal responsibilities in government.
Question re: Education review survey deadline
Mr. Harding: I have a question regarding education for the Minister of Education. Many parents have been calling our office to complain about the lack of time being given the parents to complete the education review survey. At one school, parents will be receiving the survey today and have to return it by Thursday. We would like to ask the Minister if he would give the parents more time and extend the review survey deadline?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: In the House last week I was asked a very similar question about the review. There was a time line imposed, because we would like to receive the information back as soon as we can. I believe that many of these surveys, about 6,000 of them, went home with students. To try and encourage the students to bring the surveys back, we said that they had to be back within a week, but if we get them back before Christmas, or during the month of December, they will be input into the computer at the statistics branch early in the new year.
I have no problem with parents taking a little bit of time to put down their complete thoughts. I mentioned that last week, and I am saying it again today - the surveys are not going to be thrown out if they arrive after the deadline next week. Every survey that is returned will be put into the computer.
Mr. Harding: I think that we are making a reasonable request and it is for two reasons.
One reason is that parents do not know about the Ministers unwritten rule. Parents are not going to be sure that if they fill these out that their input will be tabulated or counted.
The second reason is, the statisticians, or the people compiling the information, are certainly going to have to put less weight on the results if they arrive late, because they will already be tabulating the results to ensure some kind of statistical balance.
Speaker: Will the Member please ask his question.
Mr. Harding: Will the Minister change his deadline?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am checking to see if my microphone is working - I think that I answered that question a few minutes ago. The Member asked me if I would extend the deadline, and I said that, as the surveys arrive in the month of December, we will put them into the process. Yes, I will extend the deadline, yes, yes, yes. We want to get the surveys back as soon as possible. I think it was important to put some kind of deadline on the survey.
When I was reading the debate on the Employment Standards Act, I found that it is not unusual for governments to extend deadlines. A Member extended her deadline for input into that act at that time, and we have extended this deadline, but some kind of time line has to be imposed so that answers are received within a reasonable time frame.
Speaker: Would the Minister please conclude his answer?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am, but I am trying to make it clear that I am saying yes, but that Member has been complaining for weeks that there has been a delay, and now he is complaining that-
Speaker: Would the Minister allow the Member to ask his final supplementary.
Mr. Harding: Any delay in the education review lies solely on the shoulders of the Minister, who botched this thing from the start.
If the Minister is going to extend the deadline - I am glad and shocked that a Minister actually answered a question - but will the Minister agree to do something to formally tell the schools and the parents, either by letters or advertisements in the paper, so that people know, rather than telling this House. I am not asking the Minister to extend the deadline for me; I am asking for the parents who are phoning my office.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I will look at doing something like that. I also want to tell the Member that I will check with my office, but I do not believe - the Member opposite may have had tons of phone calls about the deadline - that I have had any calls in my office, but I will be checking with the Department of Education, and with other MLAs to see if they have had calls and complaints from their constituents. I would be interested to know the number of calls that the Member opposite actually did receive.
Question re: Golden Age Society drop-in centre
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services relating to the Golden Age Societys drop-in centre. The Minister and his staff over the last few months have had various conversations with the seniors relating to new quarters for the Golden Age Society and the societys drop-in centre. The land on which the present drop-in centre is located is owned by the government. Just for the record, is the Minister prepared to turn over the centre to the Golden Age Society so that they can use either that land or the proceeds from the sale of that land for a new drop-in centre?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There have been discussions with members of that society - not only between myself, as Minister of Health and Social Services, and that society, but as the Minister of Government Services as well - and we have said to them that we would be quite prepared to take such a proposition forward to Cabinet and we would expect support to turn the building and land over to them if the purpose is to acquire new premises or build new premises where the current building is situated.
What we do want, though, is assurance as to the viability of whatever it is that they wish to get into, and that is the only thing that would delay such a move.
Mr. Cable: The City of Whitehorse has offered to lease a portion of the Sport Yukon building to the Golden Age Society under a long-term lease. My question to the Minister is, does he have any objection in principle to the society using the proceeds from the sale of the land for renovations to the Sport Yukon building?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The city has had various propositions put forward by members of that society. We have been seeking clarification as to the exact nature of the proposal. Whether or not it is a lease, for example, or ownership of a strata title, is one issue, as is what the real costs would be. Those talks are continuing because the parties do not seem to be ad idem, or of equal minds, on exactly what the proposal is. But that is only one proposal; I understand there are other options that the Golden Age Society is considering at this time as well.
Mr. Cable: This is lawyer talk, I guess. Say, for a moment, the parties do become ad idem on the Sport Yukon building. I understand the City of Whitehorse is talking about a $75,000 contribution to the new drop-in centre in that building. Is the Minister prepared to have his government provide a matching contribution?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No, as I have already said, the contribution we are prepared to make is the land and building they presently occupy, and then only when we are certain it is a viable proposition. Unfortunately, the proposition put forward by the city with respect to the Sport Yukon building, which is in heavy financial arrears, is one that has to be examined very carefully to make certain it is an appropriate investment and that all, or the majority of, the members of the Golden Age Society know exactly what they are getting into.
Question re: Wolf control program
Mr. Harding: Regardless of the Yukon Party phone-in results from today, I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources regarding the wolf management and conservation plan. That plan involved extensive consultation for months with First Nations, conservation groups, hunting organizations and all other concerned Yukoners. A compromise was reached, called the wolf conservation and management plan. As of yesterday, we learned that the Department of Renewable Resources has asked Cabinet to recommend the plan, at least in draft form, because the community at large will benefit.
Why does the Minister now want to put out more discussion papers on this, when a consensus has been reached on the plan and it has already been studied to death?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: If you want to talk about consultation, they had three public meetings. They tried to have a fourth, and it failed. They also had six meetings among themselves. If that is consultation in the Yukon, they left a lot of the Yukon out.
Mr. Harding: I invite the Minister to take his head out of the sand. There was a document tabled in the Legislature yesterday that outlines many meetings, many letters, many public opportunities for people to comment and be consulted. All different groups were involved, and we had further consultation with CYI on the matter.
Can the Minister give us a clear and concise answer why he will not now adopt the plan, when everybody is pointing out that that is the way to go?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: At the present moment, the plan is that it is going to stay the way it is, and it is a guideline.
Mr. Harding: A guideline is something the government can move in and out of with no real problem. A policy is something that clearly lays out the governments message on a particular subject, and where they are heading. There is a big difference.
For the consultation process, many submissions were made by the Yukon Outfitters Association, Yukon trappers, the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon Fish and Game Association. Can the Minister tell us why he will not accept this consultative process and the final product, and adopt the plan?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Many of the people who submitted briefs were critical of it. Even a member of the board admitted it was hastily done. Another one who appeared before the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, when interviewed, said it was controlled completely by one person.
Question re: Strategic plans of government departments
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Government Leader.
While the Government Leader was away on business, the House discussed the directions various departments were taking and discovered that some departments had strategic plans with competing objectives. In one example, the Department of Government Services seemed to promote decentralization and the Department of Community and Transportation Services seemed to discourage it. Can the Government Leader tell us why he has allowed the government and the departments to go off in different directions?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not believe that departments are running off in different directions. We have stated our policy on decentralization quite clearly in the House. We did not say there would be no decentralization, but we certainly have not embarked on the massive program of decentralization that the Members opposite were engaged in, because of the huge costs involved.
If there is an opportunity for the department to decentralize a position to a community and it will be of cost benefit to Yukoners and bring about a better delivery of services, we will look at it.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister quite clearly stated that the government had not developed a central decentralization plan. He said he would be working on it over the course of the next year and had not given directions to the departments. The question I was asking was why departments were taking differing views on the matter and why he was permitting that to happen?
The governments own four-year plan encourages decentralization to promote economic stability, as they put it. After a year of plummeting economic fortunes in some communities, does the Government Leader not believe that some of these communities could use a little economic stability?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There is no doubt that at this time probably every community in the Yukon could use some economic support. We are not going to give them the kind of support the previous administration embarked upon, where they decentralized the positions, but the people did not necessarily go with them.
Mr. McDonald: In one case of a decentralized position, the costs savings to the government was a negative $500 a year in the first year. It actually cost the government to recentralize.
The Auditor Generals report on human resource management suggests that morale has deteriorated as a result of the change in government direction and policies. When can we expect the Government Leader to do his job and express a clear policy that will be followed by all departments, so that perople will know, and people with jobs at stake and communities with economies at stake can then have a clearer sense of direction from the government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is raising the Auditor Generals human resources report. It is a report that was commissioned under the previous administration. He goes on to say that morale has deteriorated under this administration. The people were interviewed between January and April, just shortly after we took over office, before they had time to make any judgments yet. They were passing judgment on the previous administration.
Question re: Top of the World Highway
Ms. Moorcroft: My question to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services will show that maybe there have been some errors made over there. I would like to ask the Minister about some road work that was done on the Top of the World Highway. Nuway Crushing, on an add-on to a government contract, took 3,000 metres of pay dirt from a placer claim near Dawson City. Neither the contractor nor the government checked the ownership of the claim prior to taking the gravel, and the present owner has had no luck in receiving compensation from the government. Will the Minister please explain why his department let this kind of thing happen?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We all know that the road in and out of Dawson is paved with gold, so I guess that is what happened. I was not aware of this particular situation and I will certainly find out about it. I will bring a reply back to the House.
Ms. Moorcroft: When the placer miner bought this claim, he checked at the mining recorders office and found no claims or caveats registered against the claims he bought. As far as the law is concerned, it seems that the Yukon government had no right to remove gravel, let alone pay dirt, from this persons claim. Should the government not have done its paper work before taking a huge chunk of the mans claim? Can the Minister tell me why Community and Transportation Services would not register an agreement to take the gravel from the mining claim at the mining recorders office?
Speaker: I do not think the Member expects a legal opinion from the Minister.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure what the question is - or was. As I said before, I was certainly not aware of this particular situation. I will find out about it and bring whatever information I can back to the House.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Yukon Party government claims to support the placer mining industry, and it has indeed even created the position of mining facilitator. This position, at a salary range of $84,000, will, address obstacles to mining development. It is certainly an obstacle to mining development for a Dawson City placer miner to have his pay dirt spread across the Top of the World Highway. I know in the Land of Oz the streets are paved with gold, but the government should use their own gold. Does the Minister believe that the miner should be compensated for his loss of revenue?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I have said, I am not aware of this situation. I certainly want to hear what the department has to say about it before I make any judgments about whether or not there should be compensation.
Question re: Ombudsperson
Mrs. Firth: I want to follow up on a question I asked the Government Leader on November 23, regarding the office of the ombudsperson. At that time the Government Leader indicated to us that they had not done any work on legislation, that a job description had not been drafted and his Minister of Justice had indicated that there was going to be an office of the ombudsperson established within a year. The Minister did make reference to some cost analyses being done. I would like to ask the Minister if he can tell us what has been done with respect to opening the ombudspersons office?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The department is looking into the issue and will be coming forward with some policy options for government to look at in due course.
Mrs. Firth: They are looking into it like they are looking into the suggestion box. I am sure we will have a couple of prototypes started before we get to the final one. Back in February 1992, when the now Government Leader was sitting in this public gallery, he had made some comments about a lawyer in the department who had written a policy paper on an ombudsperson that had been delivered to the government in January of 1988, and they have done nothing with the report. I would like to ask him what he has done with that report.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the Minister of Justice has answered the Members question. His department is working on it and is going to bring some options back for Cabinet to look at. The office of the ombudsperson is an office that will take some financial resources that we will have to find from somewhere in order to implement it. It is another position, while there will be some use for it, for which we have to reconcile whether the justification is there to put that office into effect during a time of financial restraint. That is what the Department of Justice is looking at now, as well as the options that they are going to bring forward to see if there is some way that we can address the issue of the ombudsperson without having a full-blown office of the ombudsperson.
Mrs. Firth: This is so interesting. During the election campaign, we needed an office for an ombudsperson because people needed protection from the government. Now that these people are the government, when I think some of my constituents really need protection, it costs too much money. Is that not interesting.
I want to ask the Government Leader where, on his list of priorities, does the ombudspersons office come. Where is it? Way down, or way at the top - could he answer that question for us?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As the Member opposite says, it is addressed in the four-year plan. That was a four-year plan, not a one-year plan.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed.
Notice of Government Private Members Business
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that the Government Private Members do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, December 8, 1993, under the heading Government Private Members Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government Bills.
Bill No. 42: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 42, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phelps.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 42, entitled An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 42, entitled An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Some Hon. Members: Question.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Because there seems to be a sense of urgency to vote on second reading, I will be very brief in my comments, reserving the right to give a long speech at the end if it is necessary to sway any Members who seem to be unswayed at that point.
The substance matter to be repealed was a bill that was extremely controversial when it was being developed, during consultation. At one point, it went before the Council on the Economy and the Environment, which body made certain recommendations and at least one of the recommendations was not followed. Public meetings were called, at which neither the then Minister of Justice nor her officials appeared, although they were invited, and the bill remains controversial in the minds of many Yukoners.
The bill was passed through this House and given assent on June 2, 1992, and could have been taken to the Commissioners office for proclamation any time between then and the election that took place on October 19, more than four months later.
It is interesting that some legislation went over to the Commissioner during that time period for proclamation. I am thinking of one part of the Public Government Act, in particular. I suspect it went over to the Commissioner to enhance the chances of the NDP party in the election that took place.
In my mind, I am entirely convinced, and I know that I am not alone in this, that the only reason the amendments did not go over to the Commissioner and get passed into law prior to the election was for the political expediency of not having the act proclaimed before the election. The only reason that this did not become law was because it is controversial, and the NDP typically were more concerned about votes and their chances in the election, than whether or not this bill that they like to praise and go on in endless platitudes about, became law.
In the face of that, and given the fact that it is not law and we intend to appeal it, the stuff that we are bound to hear about principles and how the NDP stands for the workers, rings hollow to the ears of the public and to us on this side of the Legislature.
Political expediency outweighed by a huge margin any principles that they might speak to in second reading, which of course is a time to speak to principles. I want to stress that their noble sentiments are going to be undermined by the shallowness of their actions.
We on this side of the House know that the original act is some 10 years old now. We recognize that amendments will have to come forward to modernize the act and take into account changes that have ensued over the years. We believe that there has to be a safety net for those workers who are unprotected by unions and collective agreements. We share concern about that with other Yukoners.
It is our intention to bring our new bill in to amend the current act, and we will do that once we have repealed the old bill. We would say to the Members opposite that it is time to recognize that they are no longer the government. I remember their conveying the very same message to the newly formed Opposition back in 1985, in that case us, over and over again. I bring that message back; it is like ping pong.
We do intend to come forward with amendments when this bill is repealed. I will then bring a position paper to Cabinet and, at that time, we will determine which amendments will come forward. That will not occur until this bill is amended.
In the interest of modernizing the bill and bringing forward most of the concerns to be remedied by amendments, I would urge all Members of this House to give a speedy passage to the bill before us in second reading, so we can get on with a bill that will reflect the desires of the vast majority of Yukoners, protect the rights of workers, in an admirable way, who do not have protection from unions and collective agreements, a bill that we will fully support and that Yukoners can be proud of.
Ms. Commodore: I rise in opposition to this motion. If the Minister wanted a speedy passage, I believe the plan would have been to not bring it to the House. It was not necessary to do that. It could have sat on the shelf, along with other bills that have sat there for decades, and not been acted upon. In his own right as Minister of Justice, he could have brought forward his new amendments in the spring, as he has indicated.
He said he was not going to be long, and he was not. He stood in the House, was very condescending, and said exactly what he wanted to say, which is typical of the Minister. According to the news items on the radio, one of the comments he made was that he wanted the public to understand the rules of the workplace. It is very simple, if he wanted them to understand that.
We have an Employment Standards Act right now that is in place, and those are the rules of the workplace. All one has to do is to pick up a copy of that, or call labour services to find out what some of those rules and laws are.
The plan to introduce the bill at this time is a bit of grandstanding. The Minister is very good at that. If he wanted to get out before Christmas, all he had to do was to leave it on the shelf. It is as simple as that. However, he had to make a point. I do not know whether or not it is going to be as successful as his media experts upstairs tell him it is going to be.
The Minister also tried to tie this in with the government employees and unions. There is just no comparison between what was in the amendments to the Employment Standards Act and what is happening with the unions right now. Every single person who works for this government knows the anti-labour sentiment on the other side of the House. It is clear, and people are worried about what they are trying to do.
If he was trying to make a point about his anti-labour sentiments, he certainly did that by announcing that he was going to introduce this bill. I have no intention of standing here for a few minutes. I am going to be here for awhile. I am going to be telling the Minister, and anyone else who was not in the House at the time, exactly what we had to do and the reasons for it.
I am really concerned about where this government is going, and I am not the only one. We introduced the amendments in this House for a lot of good reasons. The amendments are not a bunch of socialist dogma, as the Minister indicated to CBC. It was arrogant of him to assume that about what we were doing, because there were a lot of good things included in those amendments. I will be listing them, amendment by amendment. If he can stand there and say that every single amendment is socialist dogma, he has a problem.
The Minister is in a wage category that most workers covered under this act can only dream about. He has no idea whatsoever what it is like to work from payday to payday, as many single mothers do. Many people living on social assistance or unemployment insurance know that feeling, too, but the Minister has no idea what those individuals have to go through to live from payday to payday. Those are the people we were trying to protect when we introduced the amendments to the Employment Standards Act. The Minister has no clue, and neither does anyone else on that side of the House. They do not have to live from payday to payday, or take their concerns to labour services.
The Minister has provided for me - and I thank him for it - a list of inquiries. He has given me some statistics in regard to some of the complaints that were brought forward to labour services. I will read them and compare them with what they were like two years ago.
The amendments we introduced were responsible amendments. There was a lot of consultation, and we heard from many people. Many responsible employers agreed with these amendments. Many employers said that they were already offering those kinds of benefits to their employees. They felt if there was one way to keep a good employee, they would continue to do that.
There was much opposition from the other side. There is no question that I, as the Minister at that time, had to do a lot of thinking, planning and hold meetings and discussions because it was necessary that that kind of action take place.
The amendments in the Employment Standards Act set out minimum terms and conditions of employment in the Yukon. It was designed to improve the workplace for non-unionized workers. For the Minister to try to tie unionized workers to this bill is hogwash, and he knows it. The two cannot be tied together.
People in this government are looking for job security. They are afraid, but the amendments to the act have nothing to do with unionized workers. They have their own agreement and they deal through that.
We brought in the amendments because we wanted to bring the act up to a national standard - it is now eight years old. It included things like vacation pay, notice of termination, parental leave, time off in lieu of overtime and the prohibition of unauthorized deductions from an employees wages. You could not expect anything less than that. That was what they were proposing. They were proposing a lot less than that.
I think they completely understood what we were trying to do, because from everything that I heard from the other side of the House, when they were in Opposition, I came to the conclusion that they did not think that they had any workers in their riding, that everyone in their riding was an employer. The Member for Watson Lake asked me for my resignation. That is fine; he has been asked to resign as well.
On behalf of the chambers of commerce and all of the employers in his riding he was asking me for my resignation. Never once did he stand up and speak on behalf of any workers - workers who had voted for him. There was not one person then on this side of the House who had the gumption to stand up here and to speak on behalf of workers: taxi drivers, chambermaids, servers and gas jockeys. Not one single person stood up on this side of the House when they were in Opposition and spoke on behalf of those people.
It was evident where they were coming from. We fought long and hard for the amendments. We, on this side, decided that we would seek information from the people of the Yukon and that we would try to find out exactly what it was in the Employment Standards Act that they would like to see changed. We had a plan to do that.
Before I get into that, I just want to talk about some questions I asked in this House of the Minister responsible for the Employment Standards Act. He was very condescending to the people who should have been protected under the Employment Standards Act. I asked him a question on December 15, 1992. I asked him about a situation where a child care worker was required to work overtime without notice. I was trying to find out at that time whether he agreed that a person in that situation should be given notice of 24 hours if required to work overtime, because that single mother might have a problem, for instance, with her child being in a day care that closes at 5:30 p.m. He did not know what I was talking about. He said that he was somewhat surprised by the question because everyone knew that the old act was still in place, and was in place the entire time the side opposite was sitting on this side of the House. The amendments would have had some protection for that person, but he did not know that they were included in there.
I also asked him whether or not he supported protection under the act for an aboriginal person to take part in a cultural event, such as a potlatch. Once again, he said he was taken aback. He said that issues like that had laid in abeyance for such a long period of time, and that they have come on to the immediate agenda of the critic on the side opposite. That was also included in the agenda. I asked him whether or not he agreed with that, and he could not answer me. He was surprised that I actually wanted an answer to that question.
The questions that I have asked since yesterday were in regard to section 50, which allows an employer to deduct a weeks wages from an employee if the required notice of termination is not given. I asked him if it was his opinion that someone who had to quit a job because of alleged sexual harassment should be deducted a weeks wages if the employer decided that that would be the case. Once again, he did not know whether that section should be repealed. I think he thought it was in Bill No. 13, which would have repealed it. I was asking him if that was going to be one of the amendments in the spring.
I still feel very strongly about that section, and I think that there are many situations where individuals - especially women - would have had to end their employment because of situations that they had no control over. According to law, some employer could have deducted a weeks wages from that person.
Again, the Minister could not answer me and that was getting to be a habit regarding any questions that I had. He said to me that he thought I was getting the hang of the process by now in regard to making amendments and repealing laws. I was asking him about whether or not section 50 in the existing act, which is now law, would be repealed. That was my question and I did not get an answer, although I might get an answer when he makes his closing speech on this motion.
When I was the Minister in the department, and after much discussion and thought, we chose to look at the Employment Standards Act to see what changes could be made. We had a process for doing that and it is unfortunate that the people who were in Opposition at that time felt that they did not have to speak on behalf of the employees, the workers, who lived in their ridings.
The Member for Riverdale North was one of the most outspoken critics in regard to protection for workers. I suggested at that time that the Member did not have - or he thought that he did not have - any workers in his riding. Certainly, when the Member chose to speak on the amendments to the act, not once did he talk about the workers - not once.
I did read the Members speech, and I think that there was one line, but as a result of much discussion and a large amount of input, we, in the department, chose to introduce a booklet called Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workplace, discussing some options for change.
We did that because we wanted to get from the public their views on the kinds of things that they wanted to see changed or things that they wanted to have taken out of the existing act, or something that they might have wanted added to it.
We distributed the options paper to familiarize Yukon employers and employees with the present act, to briefly list current legislation in other Canadian jurisdictions and to provide an overview of what issues might be discussed and to discuss some of the options for change. That is what was included in this book. We distributed 4,500 copies of the options paper. Included in that paper was a letter from me, and a copy of the present Employment Standards Act was mailed to approximately 70 organizations representing employers, employees, aboriginal people, municipal governments and womens groups. The package was delivered to libraries, outreach offices, First Nation offices and other public meeting places throughout the Yukon.
At the time, labour services officials personally visited and delivered options papers to employers and employees at work sites in Whitehorse, along the Yukon highways and in all other Yukon communities except Old Crow and Ross River, where special arrangements were made to deliver the option paper to employers and employees in those communities.
At the same time, a media campaign was conducted advertising the availability of the options paper and inviting contact. The labour services officials accepted responses and comments on the options paper by mail, by phone and in person. Labour services also had officials meet with every organization and individual requesting meetings, answering any questions about the options paper and providing additional information about the act, including other similar legislation in Canada.
That was the first phase of the options paper. We were asking the Yukon public and all of the individuals and organizations who received the paper, Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workplace, were told that the review would take place over the next few months.
The options paper went out on November 19. What I said in that paper was that the Employment Standards Act directly affects the working lives of thousands of private sector employees in the Yukon. The act sets out the basic ground rules that employers and employees must follow in the employment relationship. These rules provide the minimum standards on many workplace issues, including hours of work, minimum wage, holidays, maternity and other leave and annual vacations.
Since the Yukons act came into effect in January 1985, there have been many changes in employment standards across Canada. Many of those changes could be reflected in the Yukons Employment Standards Act. Other options for change that recognize the often unique nature of the Yukon workplace could also be considered.
The review was intended to give people the opportunity to respond to a number of options for change and, once the responses are reviewed, draft legislation will be prepared and circulated for comment. The input was central to the process and I waited for those comments to come back.
Seventy-three options were included in the options paper. They were listed in order and, on the back of the book, there were two sections that listed the number of options and asked people to check off agree, disagree or undecided, and the responses started to come in. Not only did they start to come in, there was, as everyone on the other side of the House knows, at that time, immediate reaction to it. We were accused of speaking on behalf of these workers in the workplace and trying to act as unionizers and many other things.
In the introduction to the document Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workplace, the introduction included the Employment Standards Act - what it is and whom it affects. As I said before, it set out the minimum standards for terms and conditions of employment in the Yukon.
Employers and employees, or their unions, are free to negotiate arrangements that are more beneficial to employers than the conditions set out in the act. Agreements between employers and employees that offer less than the standards set out in the act are not legal.
Most Yukon workplaces came under the act, except for federal and territorial government employees who are governed by separate legislation, and other workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Workplaces under federal jurisdiction include banks, radio and television stations and interprovincial trucking companies.
I asked why the input of many Yukoners, not just employers and employees, is vital to this review? The act provides the basic workplace ground rules for thousands of Yukon employees and their employers. Those who are affected by change, directly or indirectly, should be part of making the changes. Whether or not they are currently part of the workforce, such as students, homemakers, job hunters or retirees, their views on these options were vital. Even though ones workplace may come under federal or territorial jurisdiction and one is not directly affected by the act, there are likely family members, friends and neighbours who would be.
I asked why the Employment Standards Act is being reviewed. The act came into effect in 1985. People who were in the House at that time will remember that. Since then, only minor changes were made to the act. Meanwhile, new issues in employment standards have been constantly emerging and other Canadian jurisdictions have been reviewing and changing their employment standards legislation.
In this book, I included how to use the workbook. It was a workbook asking for input from those people who chose to take part in it.
The current act, as it stands right now - we are still using the act that was proclaimed in 1985 - has 13 parts. Each part covers an issue of employment law, such as hours of work, minimum wage or general holidays. The workbook contains a section on each part of the act. For example, the section on maternity leave provides a brief overview of the act as it is now, or the current provisions. Following this are the issues that have emerged in the administration of the act, a comparison with other places in Canada and, finally, some options for change. We really wanted to know.
I asked how people could make their views known on the proposed options for change. I mentioned that the workbook contained two postage paid mail-in cards, as I just identified a couple of minutes ago, that match the options in the book as presented. We asked people to simply check off agree, disagree or undecided. While we wanted to know how people felt about the options for change, partially completed cards were acceptable. If people wanted to suggest other options for change or had additional comments, they were asked to mail them to the Employment Standards Act review and we let everyone know that more copies were available.
Some of the issues at hand during that period of time, in part 1 of the act, were in regard to interpretation and application. Part 1 defined the key terms that were used throughout the act. Definitions of employer and employee, wages, standard hours of work, general holidays and terms related to the work week and pay period formed the bulk of this section.
On the definition of employee, the frequent problem in dealing with wage complaints is in determining whether the complainant is an employee or a contractor. The act states that an employee includes a person, including a deceased person, in receipt of or entitled to wages for employment or services performed for another.
One of the other issues was unauthorized work. There have been many situations where an employer has said an employee does not have to be paid because the employer did not personally authorize the complainant to work, even though the work performed by the employee was essential to the functioning of the employers business.
One of the other issues that kept emerging was Boxing Day. The definition of a general holiday does not currently include Boxing Day. Many businesses customarily close on December 26, and some employers already pay employees holiday pay, although not required by law. So, some people did and some did not.
On the definition of wages and travel allowance, the act currently exempts travel allowances, or expenses, from the definition of wages.
These issues are still here today, because we are still dealing with the old act. The Employment Standards Board and labour services take the position that an employee who drives the employers vehicle to a distant work site must be paid wages for the time spent driving. Any other employees in the vehicle are not considered to be working. If those employees not driving are given a travel allowance, that money should be considered as a more favourable benefit and should not be included in the calculation of wages earned and paid.
The wording of this section could be amended to reflect this interpretation of when a travel allowance is not wages. That was an issue.
On union members and employees families, problems were occurring including these groups in the act. Many collective agreements include terms and conditions superior to those in the act. Occasionally, a union has requested labour services to intervene and enforce a requirement of the act, which is not mentioned in a collective agreement. Despite the fact that collective agreements have arbitration processes, labour services has, on occasion, been asked to enforce terms of an agreement, when an employer refuses to comply.
Employers view labour services involvement as interfering in the collective bargaining process. While it is not labour services intention to take on either partys role in the bargaining relationship, the concern remains that some conditions negotiated in collective agreements are inferior to those in the act.
Employees families, while covered under the act, are excluded from parts 2 and 4 of the act, under hours of work and annual vacations. While wage disputes between family members do not occur frequently, the emotional ties that exist between family members can complicate the issues involved in the wage claim process. It may be preferable to allow family members to settle a wage dispute among themselves, rather than asking labour services to intervene.
In other jurisdictions, as I mentioned, other issues would be included in here. The definition of employer and employee is much the same in other jurisdictions. British Columbia legislation also states that an employee includes a person an employer allows, directly or indirectly, to perform work or a service normally performed by an employee.
B.C. legislation also includes a definition of employer as a person who has control or direction of, or is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the employment of an employee. Ontario and New Brunswick are the only jurisdictions that include Boxing Day in the list of general holidays.
Travel allowances are generally excluded from the definition of wages. No other jurisdiction completely exempts employees covered by a collective agreement, or subject to collective bargaining, from application of employment standards legislation. As in the Yukon, unionized employees are often exempt from specific sections of the legislation. Family members may be exempt from some parts of employment standards legislation, but in no jurisdiction are they completely exempt.
In the options for change paper, we asked those people who wanted to to let us know how they felt about every single option in this book. As I mentioned, there were 73 options. We asked them to identify whether or not they agreed or disagreed, or whether they were undecided. Some of the options we listed for change were minor changes that could occur. Some of them, as we found out and knew would be controversial, were. However, we felt we had to get the opinion of those people who we felt wanted to see changes, or not, in the amendments.
The first option was the definition of employee and employer, because that was a big issue in some cases where family members ran a business themselves.
The definition of employee should include wording that states an employee includes a person an employer allows, directly or indirectly, to perform work or a service normally performed by an employee. Secondly, the definition of an employer should include wording that states that an employer includes a person who has control or direction of, or is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the employment of an employee.
The third option was to include Boxing Day on the list of general holidays.
I want to say that we were not proposing that these be the changes. We were asking people whether they disagreed with this or not, or whether they were undecided. Unfortunately, because people believed that we were proposing every one of these changes, the controversy was quite wide.
Number four was travel allowance, and we asked to make it clear when payment for travel is considered wages and when it is not. That was a very important issue.
The exclusions from the act in number five, exclude members of an employers family from application of the act. Number six excludes union members from application of those sections of the act where their collective agreement offers terms superior to those set out in the act. Those six options were included in the workbook in part 1 of the Employment Standards Act.
There were some other issues in regard to hours of work. The current provisions in the act - and they are still current today, as they were two years ago - include that employees required or permitted to work more than standard hours of work must be paid an overtime rate of one and one-half times their regular wages for all hours worked over eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.
No other jurisdiction in Canada has less than an eight-hour day as standard. Some require weekly hours up to 48 hours before overtime must be paid. Part 2 of the act does not apply to members of an employers family, travelling sales people, supervisors and managers, students of designated professions and persons listed in the general exemption regulation.
Employees whose collective agreements provide for overtime at time and one-half are exempt from most of part 2. Part 2 also contains provisions for averaging of hours worked and compress work weeks, which allow for greater flexibility in scheduling hours of work. There are no maximum hours of work specified in the act. Provisions exist for days of rest, eating and rest periods. Employees who work split shifts are not permitted to have more than a 12 hour working day.
The director of employment standards may order hours of work be limited in cases where these hours are considered excessive or detrimental to an employees health. The issues in this part include exclusion of supervisory managerial employees from part 2. This exclusion has led to questions about whether this means supervisory managerial employees are not entitled to extra wages for overtime hours worked, or whether it implies that these employees are still entitled to straight time rates for excessive hours. There is still some confusion on that.
Time off in lieu of wages is also another big issue. Some employees have expressed dissatisfaction with the acts provisions and say that employees should be allowed paid time off in lieu of overtime wages. Informal lieu time arrangements, while not permitted by the act, are frequently used by employers. Such arrangements mean that employees are not paid all of their wages within seven days of a pay period, as required by the act.
The other issue was in regard to split shifts. Exemptions have been requested to this section, which limits the number of hours a split shift can cover to 12 hours. There is now only one exemption to this section - employees of highway lodges who provide meal service to tour bus passengers. In regard to maximum hours of work, some employees want the act to specify maximum hours of work to prevent employees from working excessive hours.
The Yukons labour market has a strong seasonal component, and the construction, placer mining and mineral exploration industries want employees to be able to work long hours in the short summer season. It has also been suggested that employees should be allowed to refuse unreasonable overtime and should be notified in advance of the requirement to work overtime.
In other jurisdictions, four set the overtime rate at one and one-half times the minimum wage. All others require that employees be paid one and one-half times their regular rate of pay. British Columbia is the only jurisdiction that requires that all hours worked over 11 per day and 48 per week be paid at twice the regular rate. Quebecs act provides for lieu time; Albertas allows employers and employees to make written agreements on lieu time.
In other jurisdictions, few address split shifts, and those that do generally make the same provision as the Yukons legislation. Some jurisdictions set maximum hours of work, varying from 40 to 60 hours per week, 10 to 16 hours per day. Other have set no maximum hours.
The options paper, in regard to supervisory and management employees, wages for all hours worked and, number seven, changes wording so that the hours of work part of the act does not exclude all managerial and supervisory employers, just those whose only duties are managerial or supervisory.
Number eight, includes supervisory, managerial personnel in the hours of work part of the act.
In regard to overtime notice and refusal, option number nine required that employers give employees at least 24 hours notice when they are requested to work overtime hours or shifts, unless the overtime is required as the result of an emergency.
Number 10 allowed employees to refuse overtime hours once they have worked 10 hours per day, or 60 hours per week.
Number 11 was overtime pay and lieu time, which was a big issue, and allowed paid time off in lieu of overtime at regular rates of pay. The payment is to be made within a specified period following the pay period in which the work is performed.
Number 12 would allow for paying in lieu of overtime at time and one-half. The payment is to be made within a specified time following the pay period in which the work is performed.
Number 13 included a provision for payment for double time rates after 12 hours per day and 72 hours per week.
In regard to a short work week, the number 14 option made it clear in the act that, although compressed work week arrangements can be made for three 12-hour shifts per week, overtime is paid after 40 hours per week.
Number 15, regarding the days of rest, added a subsection that states that employees who regularly work in excess of standard hours of work, and who are not employed in remote areas nor on special projects that will be completed within five weeks, shall not be required to work longer than two consecutive weeks without receiving two consecutive days off.
I say, once again, that we were asking for opinions. We were not telling the people that this is what we were going to do.
Number 16 would have the consecutive days of rest apply to all employees, not just those who regularly work in excess of standard hours of work.
Split shifts were a big issue, and I know this because I used to have people coming to me as the Minister responsible for labour at that time. Number 17 would permit the director of employment standards to vary split shifts upon written application from employers and employees.
Minimum wage has always been a big issue in the Yukon. I understand that the present government is not considering looking at increasing the minimum wage. We know that a lot of individuals who work at minimum wage have to be subsidized by Health and Social Services, because they cannot afford to live from payday to payday. That is something that people on the other side of the House cannot even imagine.
Current provisions in the act - and this still applies, because there is no intention on the other side to do anything with the minimum wage - part 3 gives the Employment Standards Board the authority to set a minimum wage rate. Employers must pay employees 17 years of age or over, not less than the minimum wage for hours worked. There is no minimum wage set for employees under the age of 17. The Employment Standards Board may also set room and board charges that may be levied against employees.
The director of employment standards, employers, employees and labour unions may apply to the board to set amounts for the following: reporting pay; maximum prices for room and board; charges for furnishing uniforms and charges for tools or equipment. Upon application, the board may specify the occupations, conditions of employment and minimum wage that apply to persons under 17 years old. The board also has the authority to fix the minimum wage for employees whose wages are computed and paid on a basis other than time, or on a combination of time and some other basis.
The board passed regulations pertaining to minimum wage for domestics, farm workers, guides, taxi drivers, piece workers, and employees in receipt of room and board.
The issues are the minimum wage for children under 17. The international labour organization, in article 32 of its convention on the rights of the child, states, that children under the age of 18 should be protected from economic exploitation and from performing hazardous work. According to the comments made by the Minister today, somebody who believes in that is just talking hogwash.
Article 32 states that there should also be provision for a minimum age or ages for admission to employment, the regulation of hours and conditions of employment of children and penalties or sanctions to enforce the article.
A concern has been raised that the Yukon has neither minimum wage nor a minimum age for employment for children under age 17. While this is inconsistent with the ILO convention, there have been no major problems with the employment of children under the current legislation. The act does allow the Employment Standards Board to set minimum wages for employees under 17, but no such regulations have been made.
The current rate of pay, and this is still the case, for children under the age of 17 seems to be governed by market forces. If employers do not pay enough, young employees will quit and go to work for someone else.
The Education Act requires that children under 16 attend school. This effectively limits the hours that children can work. The only legislation that expressly prohibits people under the age of 18 from working is the mine and safety regulations.
Unlike other jurisdictions in Canada, there are not limits placed on the hours of work of children, other than those imposed by the Education Act. Other jurisdictions all provide for a minimum wage. The federal government, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island all set minimum wages for young people that vary from 50 cents less per hour to the same rate as that set out for adult workers.
The remaining jurisdictions have not set minimum wages for children so we looked to the options for change paper regarding the minimum age and the minimum wage for children under 17. Number 18 of the options for change is to have the Employment Standards Board set a minimum wage for children under age 17. Number 19 would set a minimum age of employment for the variety of different occupational groups. Number 20 would require employees under age 17 to provide employers with written permission from parents or guardians before they can be legally employed. Employers would be required to keep this note on an employees personal file. And number 21 would limit the employment of children to specified hours of the day.
That is a very serious issue because we know that in a lot of cases school children were working for far less than the minimum wage, and that is not fair. It is still the case.
The Employment Standards Act, part 4, is concerned with annual vacations. The current provisions in part 4 of the act say that employees are entitled to at least two weeks of vacation with pay for each completed year of employment. Vacation pay is four percent of the wages earned by the employee during a completed year of employment. Annual vacations must be taken within 10 months of the end of the year of employment and vacation pay must be paid at least one day before the beginning of vacation leave. Employees who have been employed at least 14 days and less than one year are entitled to four percent vacation pay on termination. Members of an employees family are exempt from part 4.
When a general holiday occurs during an employees vacation, the vacation period must be extended by one day and the employee must be paid general holiday pay in addition to vacation pay. Employers and employees may agree in writing that the employee will not take an annual vacation. The employee in this case must be paid four percent vacation pay within 10 months after the date on which he or she became entitled to the vacation.
An individuals employment is deemed continuous when a business is transferred to another employer. The issues in the case of annual vacations were the length of vacation period and amount of vacation pay. Employees have suggested that the length of the vacation period and amount of vacation pay should increase with the length of employment.
Some employees have expressed the view that giving all employees two weeks vacation and four percent vacation pay fails to recognize the value of the employer having longstanding employees.
The other issue was the requirement to pay vacation pay on termination. Some employees in the construction industry have complained that the requirement to pay vacation pay on termination delays their unemployment insurance claims without creating additional insurable earnings.
In other jurisdictions, all require employees to receive at least two weeks vacation with four percent vacation pay. Some provisions exist for three weeks vacation with six percent vacation pay after completion of five, six or 10 years of employment.
It would provide four weeks vacation with pay. In some jurisdictions, vacation pay is calculated on regular wages and does not include overtime, general holiday or other pay in the calculation. There is a requirement that an employee work a certain number of hours to be eligible for vacation pay. Legislation may stipulate that employees may take their vacation pay in blocks of one or more weeks at a time. Legislation states that the employer decides when an employee may take a vacation and how much change must be given to the employee.
The options for change - and I repeat that these are just options - include increasing vacation pay according to length of service. Number 22(a) changes the definition of vacation pay to read four percent of wages for employees who have completed one to four years of continuous employment. Number 22(b) reads six percent of wages for employees who have completed five to nine years of continuous employment and number 22(c) reads eight percent of wages for employees who have completed 10 or more continuous years of continuous employment.
Increasing vacation period according to length of service is number 23. Number 23 changes part 4. Number 23(a) reads two weeks of vacation for employees who have completed one to four years of continuous employment, three weeks for employees who have completed five to nine years and four weeks vacation for those who have completed 10 or more years.
Number 24 changes the requirement to pay vacation pay on termination. It changes it so that, at the request of employees, employers shall pay vacation pay in each pay period instead of on termination.
The next provision is part 5 of the Employment Standards Act. It is in regard to general holiday pay. In the current act, employees are entitled to a holiday with pay for general holidays. Currently, under the act, these include: New Years Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Discovery Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day. General holiday pay is a normal days pay for daily or hourly paid employees who work standard hours of work. General holiday pay for employees who work fewer than standard hours or irregular hours is 10 percent of the wages earned, excluding vacation pay for hours worked in the two-week period immediately preceding the week of the holiday.
An employee who works on a holiday must be paid, in addition to general holiday pay, overtime rates for hours worked on the holiday. Employees in custodial work, essential services or continuous operations can be paid in this manner or they can be paid their regular rate for hours worked on a holiday. They must also be given a day off with pay to be added to their vacation or be taken at a time convenient to them.
Where employees are on their normally scheduled days off when a holiday occurs, the first day they are due back at work becomes a holiday for them. General holiday rules apply to that day. Arrangements can be made between an employer or a trade union or the majority of non-unionized employees to designate, in writing, a specific working day to be taken in lieu of a holiday. None of the above provisions apply to employees who are in the first three days of employment when the holiday occurs, or who do not report to work on a holiday after having been called to work on that day, or who, without the consent of the employer, do not report to work on the last working day preceding the holiday by the first working day following the holiday.
The issues are the acts inconsistent treatment of employers immediate family members. Family members are exempt from part 4 of the act, such as hours of work, but not from the requirement to be paid general holiday pay.
On the interpretation of general holiday pay, the general holiday pay requirements of the act generate a lot of questions from employers attempting to interpret part 5 correctly. It is very confusing. Labour services receives many inquiries as to whether Boxing Day is a general holiday. Currently, it is not, and whether or not employees who are absent with the employers consent during the holiday season are entitled to a normal days pay for Christmas and New Years Day, the employment standards branch have been advising employers to pay general holiday pay as a normal days pay when employees are absent with employers permission during the Christmas season.
It has also been pointed out that, in some jurisdictions, employees who are not entitled to general holiday pay receive overtime rates for working on general holidays. It had been suggested that the Yukon legislation be amended to include similar provisions. Employers and employees have both remarked that it may be desirable to permit employees in operations that are not continuous, custodial or essential in nature to be paid regular hours of work on a holiday and to take another day off with pay in lieu of the holiday.
In other jurisdictions, general holiday pay legislation is similar to the Yukons. Specific holidays vary. All require holiday pay plus a premium rate for working on a holiday. Most require a minimum of 30 days of employment to qualify for holiday pay. Legislation in four jurisdictions states that employees are entitled to overtime rates for working on holidays, regardless of whether they are entitled to general holiday pay.
The options for changes listed under part 5, number 25, to make the act consistent with its treatment of members of an employers immediate family in part 4, exempt them from part 5(2). Number 26 adds a section that states that employers who have granted employees time off, other than vacation, for all or part of the two-week period prior to the week of the holiday must pay employees a regular days pay for the holiday. Employees who have similarly been absent for longer than two weeks prior to the week of the holiday would not be entitled to any payment.
Calculation of wages for working on a holiday change, so that an employee who is entitled to a holiday with pay, and who works on the holiday, is entitled to be paid the amount required in part 5, plus number 27, one and one-half times regular wages for the hours worked on that day, or number 28, be paid the regular rate of pay for the hours worked on that day and be given a day off with pay. The day off may be added to annual vacation or granted as a day off at a time convenient to the employee.
Number 29 adds a section that states that an employee who is not entitled to general holiday pay, and who works on a holiday, is entitled to be paid at a rate at least equal to one and one-half times regular wages for hours worked on a holiday.
Those were the options for part 5, on general holiday pay.
The next part includes maternity leave, and that is a very important issue and has been for a long time.
The current provisions for maternity leave were included in the 1985 Employment Standards Act and have not changed since that time. The act presently provides for female workers who have completed 12 continuous months of employment to be granted an unpaid leave of absence of up to 17 weeks. A written request for leave must be provided, as well as a medical certificate that confirms pregnancy and estimates the probable date of birth. At the employers request, the employee may be required to begin leave at any time within the six-week period preceding the probable date of birth. If an employee cannot reasonably perform her work duties, the employer, with the consent of the director of employment standards, may require her to begin a leave of absence at any time.
The act also requires that an employee be reinstated in her former position, or a comparable one, when she returns to work from maternity leave. The employee must receive increments to wages and benefits that may have occurred during her maternity leave. An employer is not permitted to terminate an employee, or change conditions of employment, without the employees written consent, unless the employees absence exceeds 17 weeks.
The issues in this act are in regard to adoption or parental leave. The present act currently makes no provision for adoption or parental leave, which could be taken by either parent. This may be in contravention of human rights legislation. The current maternity leave provisions are out-paced by the Unemployment Insurance Act. Recently - and this is two years old - the federal government revised the Unemployment Insurance Act to increase the flexibility and duration of benefits and to meet the requirements of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As the leave period in the current part 6 of the Employment Standards Act was fashioned to allow employees to take advantage of the former unemployment insurance benefits, the new UI provisions out-pace the acts provision for job protection while employees are on maternity leave, and that is still the case.
The amendments to the unemployment insurance legislation include the addition of 10 weeks of parental benefits to the existing 17 weeks of maternity benefits. These benefits are available to natural or adoptive parents of either sex, or they can be shared between both parents as they request; and number two states a further extension of adoption benefits by an extra five weeks where a medical doctor or placement agency certifies that the child suffers from a physical, psychological or emotional condition that requires additional care.
Number three gives increased flexibility in scheduling benefit periods for women whose infants are hospitalized for an extended period of time after birth.
Those three are listed under the unemployment insurance legislation. The notice of return to work is another issue.
Another issue that the act should address is the situation where an employee works long enough - 20 weeks - to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, but not long enough - one year - to fall under the job protection provisions of the Employment Standards Act. While the act requires employees to give four weeks notice of an impending maternity leave, there is currently no requirement for employees to notify employers about when they intend to return to work. Current provisions regarding the termination of employment call for employers to give one weeks notice in writing, or one weeks pay in lieu of notice to employees who have worked for six months or longer.
If maternity provisions were changed to allow an employee 27 or 34 weeks of combined maternity and paternal leave, or if the period of employment before notice of termination come into effect were shortened to three months, an employer could be faced with a difficult situation if an employee returns from maternity leave without notice. The employer would not have enough time to meet the acts legal requirements for notice to the replacement employee. Requiring an employee to give notice before returning to work would solve this problem.
Another issue was in regard to wages and benefits on reinstatement. The act provides for reinstatement of employees on termination of maternity leave. It currently states that employers must pay employees all increments to wages and the benefits to which the employee would have been entitled to had the leave not been taken. This could imply that employees accumulate sick leave while on maternity leave.
The intent of this section of the act was to preserve an employees benefits, not to accrue them while on leave.
At least half of the other jurisdictions in Canada have amended their legislation to provide employees with long enough leave to take full advantage of the new unemployment insurance maternity leave.
Quebecs leave is most generous, providing unpaid parental leave - up to 34 weeks - and virtually all other jurisdictions in Canada are considering amendments to maternity leave provisions to give employees sufficient time off to take advantage of the new unemployment insurance provisions.
All jurisdictions prohibit termination of employment of employees on maternity leave. Legislation requires reinstatement after leaving the same position, or comparable one at not less than the wages and benefits earned prior to the leave. We list the options for change and, as I mentioned before, this was not something that we were trying to enforce, rather it was ideas that we were trying to get.
The options for changes in regard to entitlement to maternity leave were, number 30, to modify this part of the act to either reduce the period of continuous employment required to qualify for maternity leave from 12 months to 20 weeks in the year prior to the date that the employee commences maternity leave, or number 31, eliminate the requirement for a qualifying period.
Number 32 reads to change the title of part 6 to read maternity and parental leave and add new sections to deal with the topic of parental leave by proposing that a period of parental leave be added to the existing provisions for maternity leave.
This leave could be taken either by a parent or a combination of both parents to a maximum of 17 weeks and would apply to both natural and adoptive parents.
Parental leave for a natural mother would follow immediately after her maternity leave, and employees could opt for shorter periods of time, or shorten their leave with written notice, or the act could provide for a 17 week parental leave with no restrictions as to what parent must take the leave.
The act could include a provision that permits adoptive parents to take their leave in one block at any time during the 52-week period following placement of the child in the home.
Number 34 is in regard to the reinstatement on termination of leave. It states clearly which benefits are preserved during maternity leave, and changes the section of the act on notice to either include a requirement for employees to inform the employer of the date of the return to work, no later than two weeks prior to the return date, or include a requirement for employees to provide advance notice of the return to work, no later than four weeks prior to the return date.
Number 37 includes a statement to the effect that employees who fail to return to work or to give notice of their return may be presumed to have resigned.
Part 7 is in regard to equal pay. The act does not allow employers to pay different wages to female and male employees doing similar work in the same establishment under similar working conditions and whose jobs require similar skills, effort and responsibility. I remember the controversy when this was introduced by the former government. Differences in pay due to a seniority system, a merit system, or a system that ensures earnings by quality or quantity of production or a differential based on any factor other than sex do not constitute discrimination. Employers cannot reduce the rate of pay of employees to comply with the requirement of equal pay.
The act does not contain provisions for equal pay for work of equal value, or pay equity. The Human Rights Act provides for equal pay for work of equal value for employees of the Yukon government and municipalities and their corporations, boards and commissions.
The issue here is equal pay for equal work. There has been little public reaction to this part of the act from either employers or employees filing equal pay complaints. This part of the legislation is either considered self-evident or else employees are not aware of how its provisions affect them.
Yukon legislation on equal pay for work of equal value, or pay equity, has lagged in comparison with laws passed in most other jurisdictions in Canada. The current issue seems to be a legislative heading such legislation should fall under - the Employment Standards Act, the Human Rights Act or a separate piece of legislation, such as a pay equity act. The legislation on equal pay in most other jurisdictions is similar to that of the Yukons. Four provincial jurisdictions contain those provisions in their human rights legislation.
The federal and Quebec governments provide for equal pay for work of equal value. Their provisions apply to male and female employees performing different work of equal value in the same establishment.
The criteria for assessing the value of work are the composite of the skill, effort and responsibility required in the performance of the work and the conditions under which the work is performed.
Except for Ontario, where it applies to the public sector and private enterprises employing more than 10 people, pay equity legislation generally applies to the public sector. This is the case in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. In addition to making public servants and Crown corporations subject to pay equity, Nova Scotia universities, municipalities and municipal enterprises also come under the legislation.
In options for change in equal pay for work of equal value, number 38 states to make no change to equal pay for equal work legislation under the Employment Standards Act. Equal pay for work of equal value legislation would remain as part of the Human Rights Act. Number 39 states to make no change to the content of equal work and equal value legislation, but to place both under the Employment Standards Act. Number 40 states to change equal value legislation to apply to both private and public sectors and include both under the Employment Standards Act. Number 41 states to develop pay equity legislation to be a stand-alone act, administered by labour services.
Speaker: Order please. Before the Member gets on to the next page, I would remind her of Standing Order 19(1)(d), which states that a Member will be called to order by the Speaker if that Member, in the opinion of the Speaker, refers at length to debates from current sessions, or reads unnecessarily from Hansard or any other document.
In the Speakers opinion, the Member has made her point, reading from the document entitled Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workplace: The Employment Standards Act, Some Options for Change. In the opinion of the Speaker, she has made her point. I would ask her to refrain from reading verbatim, or in total, the whole booklet for the Members. She is certainly free to refer to it at length, but to simply read the provisions, in the opinion of the Speaker, is contrary to our Standing Orders and should not be done.
Ms. Commodore: There are sections of the Employment Standards Act where we were looking at a number of changes that we wished to see happen. What we were doing at the time was pointing out to the general public some of the things that existed in the current act, and those were mentioned in the workbook, Reviewing the Ground Rules in the Workplace. I provided, up until now, verbatim, a list of what was included in the current provisions and the options for change.
What I was trying to do was to point out to this House the kind of things that employees were suffering from as a result of outdated legislation. We are dealing with the Employment Standards Act that has been in existence since 1985 with little change to it.
We all know the problem that we have had to face. The problem is evident in that many enquiries have gone before the labour services branch and the Minister has provided me with information, today, letting me know the amount of money that has been collected in unpaid wages to those employees. That has gone up. In 1991-92, labour services had 2,400 enquiries in regard to the Employment Standards Act.
That tells me and almost everyone else who has ever had a problem with the Employment Standards Act that there are problems and that many changes have to be made.
There are many instances where people have come to me or other Members on this side of the House to complain about wages not being paid, about money, holiday pay, general pay, and who complained that the employer chose to deduct a weeks wages from their pay. We believe, and we always have, that anyone who works an hour should be paid an hour; anyone who works a day should be paid a day. Under no circumstances should that person have any pay deducted from them.
We are looking at complaints in the next section of this act and that is the termination of employment. It listed a number of options, including the pay in lieu, deduction of employers wages in lieu of notice by employer and termination of groups of employees.
We talked about the current provisions in the act and, as mentioned before, if one wants to know the ground rules of the workforce, one only has to look at the Employment Standards Act in its entirety. In many cases, it is difficult to understand what the act is saying.
When we sent 4,100 copies of this booklet out to individuals and groups, we were asking for a response to all these options, which included many of the things I had previously mentioned. One of the things that was included was provision for aboriginal people to attend a potlatch because, as everybody in this House knows, potlatches are a very important part of the First Nations culture in the Yukon. I would not consider that as being socialist dogma. I would consider it a benefit and entitlement to the aboriginal people, because it is very close to their culture. I have attended many of them myself, over the years. When changes are going to be made to the act, it is very important that we consider section 50, which allows an employer to deduct a weeks wages. We should take a serious look at repealing that section. That was one of the recommendations we did not agree with when the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment suggested we leave it in. Morally, we just could not do that. There was just no way we would consider it, because we knew of circumstances where people have had to terminate a position without notice for something for which they were not at all responsible. Those conditions continue to exist.
The complaints that continue to come in tell us that we have to seriously look at the Employment Standards Act and how it has to be changed. In this day and age, there are many problems in the workforce, and we all know the state of the economy in the Yukon. It is not good. Despite the laughter from the other side, the economy is in a very bad situation. Some people who hold steady jobs and make good wages can continue to buy things in stores. They can buy expensive Christmas gifts, but there are certain people out there who will not spend even a penny, including government workers, because they are not sure of their future, either. I do not really believe this should be ignored.
The information I received today from the Minister of Justice tells me that, in 1992, almost $276,000 was collected by labour services for wages not paid. That tells me that we are in a very serious situation. We are told that $34,000 has not been collected - and that is not including the $2.4 million for Curragh. Somehow or other, there has to be some kind of agreement that we have to look at the changes we had proposed. I seriously disagree with the Minister when he tells us that we were doing something that was not acceptable to Yukoners. It may not have been acceptable to Yukoners at some point in time, nor to many groups, but I remember the problems I faced as the Minister trying to introduce amendments to legislation that would benefit those workers in the workplace - workers who people on the other side do not give a hang about.
The review of the ground rules for the Yukon workforce was sent out, and we received many responses. As a matter of fact, as the situation progressed, there was a lot of work in the community opposing the legislation - and a lot of the legislation, and a lot of the options I had already listed, were good changes. I am sure at least some people on this side of the House would agree that a lot of the things would have benefited those workers on whose behalf we were trying to speak, because they were simple things that included maternity leave and leave for adoptive parents. They also included vacation pay, notice of termination, general holiday pay, and many other things. In my own mind, I cannot accept that they should not have the kind of protection they need.
We received the results of the survey - the responses that we were waiting for - regarding the number of options. After a lot of consideration and going over the options in draft form, where they listed the number of people who agreed, disagreed and were undecided, we agreed in the end that there were many things that would not be included in changes to the Employment Standards Act. As the Members opposite know, one of those changes included the Boxing Day as a holiday; we chose not to introduce that. We chose not to include equal pay for work of equal value because it was included in the Human Rights Act. We decided not to include binding the government to the act, but that was changed by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. We chose not to include pay equity. We chose not to include severance pay, and that it should be geared to larger employers. There are many things that we looked at that we had included in the options page.
I think that the general response out there was that it was pretty controversial, and it was considered controversial because there were individuals out there who chose to make an issue of it - and they did that very successfully. The Member for Riverdale North, of course, was the number one person opposing this act, along with a member of the Chamber of Commerce. He did invite me to a meeting that he had chosen to plan and I did not go. I chose not to go because I knew what he was going to do. He was trying to set me up but it did not matter in any case, because at the meeting that we called, the same thing happened. I stood on the floor for two hours responding to all of the negative comments coming from the people there. I did not ignore the negative comments that were made to me that night. I answered the questions. They were not the only people in the Yukon concerned about the Employment Standards Act. As I said before, it always amazes me that people on the other side of this House do not take into consideration a lot of these things that are in the current provisions that do not benefit many of the people in the workforce.
Every time that an issue is dealt with there is no response, there is nothing positive said about people in the workforce. That is exactly what we were trying to achieve in the changes to the Employment Standards Act. There were many things in the act that were not controversial. There were sections that would have brought us up to national standards, standards that were already law in other jurisdictions of the country. We may live in the far north, but we still deserve all of the rights and benefits that workers should be entitled to.
I was very encouraged by the response that I got from many people. An advisory committee was set up to deal with the results that came back from the 73 options that were listed. We had two representatives from labour and two representatives from the business sector and, as we all know, two people walked out because they felt that the people representing labour would not budge on some issues, and can you blame them, when we consider some of the conditions that they had to work under.
One way of ignoring a situation is by walking out; two people did walk out, but the results did not change. We chose to go ahead with the amendments that were included in the act. I have to tell this House that it was not easy, and we still believe that the amendments have to be made. I know that the Minister who is responsible for this legislation is not going to be seriously looking at the concerns of the low-paid and underpaid workers. He said that he was not going to listen to the working people, and it is in Hansard, as he calls it, toadying to unions. He will toady to the business people, the Chamber of Mines and the Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, that will not include the people who should really be affected by the changes in here.
As a result of the walkout by the two business people, we were left in a situation where we had to look at other ways of dealing with the legislation that we were proposing at that time. It was agreed that the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment would study the results and recommend to us the kinds of things that there was consensus on, and what should be included in the amendments to the act.
I felt that when we received that information back from the council, there was a lot of discussion, good and bad, on the proposed changes. We felt that we were moving forward in regard to the workforce in the Yukon and what they were entitled to.
I am not sure if the Minister intends to look at some of those amendments. He has made no reference to what he intends to include. At this time, I will continue to support the philosophy behind those amendments, because I still believe they were changes that had to take place in a progressive society.
I do not think that a step backwards is going to be good for Yukoners. We are known to lag behind the rest of Canada in many legislative issues. In the past, we have dealt with legislation that has brought us up to par with the rest of the country. In regard to the Employment Standards Act in the Yukon, I believe that will not happen if new amendments are brought forward in this House.
Again, if I had the chance, I would do the same as I did before. I really believe that the kinds of changes we were going to make to the Employment Standards Act were changes that were progressive. In the Yukon, it has been said that one was not a real Yukoner unless one did certain things, and that only real Yukoners were entitled to certain benefits. I believe that anyone who comes here and works here is a Yukoner - real or otherwise, because I am not sure I really know what the definition of a real Yukoner is.
The act that was introduced at the time covered a number of things. The amendments to the act that were proposed at that time covered paid time off in lieu of overtime, it increased vacation pay and vacation time, it increased parental leave time for parents of either sex so that they could care for natural or adopted newborns, it increased notice of terminations to employees and it increased unpaid leave for illness and bereavement. Many people had been fired because they took time off to deal with personal tragedies in their home - that is a fact.
A person may have a tragedy in their home, they cannot work and there are emotional reasons why they cannot; people have been known to lose their jobs. To make a change to allow them to have unpaid leave, we felt was just a small part of making that change. No one was going to be losing any money. A lot of the leave that we were proposing at that time was unpaid, so the business people were not going broke, as they said they were, in most cases.
Something else that was included in the act was prohibiting set offs and unauthorized deductions from wages. I mentioned that.
I have mentioned the many reasons why people have had to leave employment without giving the required notice of termination. I keep going back to family situations. When I was a part of government, we used to hear many complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace - not only in government but in other workplaces in the Yukon. That is a very serious thing. For people to scoff at that idea is degrading because we know it happens time and time again.
When I was the Minister responsible for the Womens Directorate, it was a regular thing to receive complaints from individuals. I remember an aboriginal person coming to me, who was having a great deal of difficulty with her employment because there are people in the workforce who are prejudiced. They do not like anyone unless they are the right colour.
I did have one person who came to me, who was having a great deal of difficulty because she was being treated very badly. Her biggest complaint was that she had gone out of the office and found out that the person who worked next to her had sprayed her desk and chair with Lysol because he did not want to be contaminated by an aboriginal person. Those kinds of things happen an awful lot.
If people in the workforce, whether it is government or the private sector, leave employment for those reasons, they can choose not to pay. They can choose to deduct a weeks wages from the employee. A lot of those people cannot afford to have a weeks wages deducted from them. I really believe that when the Minister chooses to introduce new amendments in the spring that that will be one of the sections he will repeal in the Employment Standards Act because it is not fair. It is fair to the employer who gets to keep a weeks wages. If there is a complaint of sexual harassment included in the resignation without notice, then how is it proven? The employer can choose to withhold one weeks pay from that person, and the person may have to go on social assistance. That happens very often.
Something else that was included in the amendments to the Employment Standards Act at that time was to encourage employers to settle wage claims.
I mentioned before that many enquiries go through the Department of Justice to labour services because there are many situations where people are not able to get what is rightfully theirs under the Employment Standards Act. As I mentioned before, they include wages, they include vacation time, they include final pay. Some people are not even getting paid minimum wage, and that is a fact. If employees do not get what is rightfully theirs in a workforce, then there has to be some kind of protection. If one looks at the statistics right now, in 1990-91 there were 2,400 enquiries. That is an awful lot of enquiries. I do not know how many there are in the last 12 months, because that was not included. There was some information in here, and I compared it with the information I had from the year 1990-91. There is an increase in enquiries that are being made to labour services branch in the Department of Justice. In 1987-88, they indicated that there were 1,300. In 1988-89, there were 1,800 enquiries, and in 1989-90 there were 2,100 enquiries. In 1990-91, there were 2,400.
I do not have a list of the enquiries that have been made. They could include many questions, such as what am I entitled to under the act for maternity leave? As I have stated in the House, our act does not comply with the Unemployment Insurance Act so, in that case, our act is outdated and I hope that is one of the amendments that will be made when the Minister chooses to introduce the amendments in the spring.
I would really like some kind of warning about what is going to be included. The Minister has already reviewed the amendments to the act that were tabled in this House and he has chosen to bring it to the House to repeal it. As I said before, he did not have to do that. He did not have to do that and I would not be standing here discussing it right now. We could have been getting on with other business. We could have been dealing with the other acts he introduced that had to be dealt with. We could have been here dealing with the supplementaries. We could have been dealing with the capital budget. But we are not doing that. We are dealing with an act that had no business coming to the House at all; it could have sat on the shelf, as I said before.
Labour services branch is a very busy place, and I know from experience that the people who work there are hard working people. They have to deal with many, many complaints that come to them and their jobs are not easy. When one is dealing with an act that is so outdated, those kind of enquiries are going to continue. They are not going to stop coming in because a lot of those people have come from other parts of the country. They have come from other parts of the country where their labour laws are superior to ours. I know we live in the far north - I have mentioned that - and I know that people consider us to be out in the boondocks, but a lot of people are surprised that some of the provisions in our act are so outdated. If they do not comply with other acts that are federal law, then that certainly poses a problem.
One of the other things that was included in the act as amended was clarifying the powers and the duties of the Employment Standards Board. I do not know what the board has done in the last month. Someday, maybe in budget debate, I am going to be asking the Minister if he can tell me what is happening in regard to the minimum wage and in regard to the fair wage schedule, because I really want to know and so do workers out there - those individuals who are having to work for the minimum wage. It is not a heck of a lot of money in one day.
If you are looking at a wage of $6 or so per hour, and multiplied by eight, that is not a heck of a lot. I do not know what the pages in the Legislature get paid, but they probably get more than minimum wage, and I hope they do. They really should get paid a lot more than that to listen to us.
I would like to know what is happening with the Employment Standards Board. I have not inquired. I do not know if the Ministers policy has changed, as it has in Education and the Executive Council Office. However, I know that people in the Department of Justice have been very good in providing me with information. I would not ask for information that I am not allowed to have, and they know it. I would like to find out what the real powers and duties of that board are. If they are proposing an increase in the fair wage schedule, which is fair to those employees, I would like to know that is going to be done.
I asked the Minister about the minimum wage and whether or not his department was working on it, or whether they were going to be increasing it. I think that the Minister said no, but he might not have even said that because he does not answer my questions in Question Period. The Minister might have said maybe, but I do not remember.
One of the other things that was included in the amendments to the act was binding the Government of the Yukon and its employees. That was controversial. It was one of the sections that the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment recommended that we do, and we did. There were parts of the proposed amendments that were accepted by the Council on the Economy and the Environment, and they recommended those changes. There were things that were not included in the options that they chose to recommend to us.
There has been much controversy about the one section that they had recommended we leave in, and that is section 50. I keep going back to that, because we find it very unfair. We chose to repeal that section from the act at that time. I keep going back to that, because I know that it is very unfair not to pay someone for a days work. It is not fair, and it does not matter what the circumstances are. If you work for an hour, you get paid for an hour.
I do not know how long or to what depth the Minister reviewed the act. He said that he was reviewing it and that he would decide what he was going to do with it, whether it would be proclaimed or not. I think that my opening comments were probably right on, where I mentioned that they were grandstanding and that they chose to do it because they wanted to make a point to the general public. However, I think that the point has already been made, and that is that the economy is in a very bad situation, they have no real consideration for the worker, and they are an anti-worker group of people.
They may deny it, but people in the public know it. If a government cannot give security to its people in government, then that government has a problem and so do their employees, because they are asking for job security and they are not getting it.
The amendments that were included in the act were included for many reasons. I could start to read every single thing that was included in the act and give an explanation for it but I accept the ruling of the Speaker.
The things that were included in the act - the definitions and interpretations as I mentioned in the options paper - included the definition of an employer, the definition of a spouse and a definition of wages.
The explanations for the changes were good and sound. For the Minister to ignore the kind of amendments that we were including - many of these were good amendments - he might very well have agreed to make some changes. What is the problem with agreeing to change the definition of an employer? There is still confusion out there, especially in a family business. There was no provision in the existing legislation for spouse. What was the matter with including a definition for spouse in an act? That was not included. We looked at changing the definition of wages.
Some of the things in here were not at all controversial. For instance, one of the other definitions was week. The old act said that a week was the period between midnight on Saturday and midnight on the following Saturday, so that a week was very specific. It meant from one day of the week, to that day the following week, and we were going to change it so that seven consecutive days - whether it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday - would constitute a week. If a person started on a Wednesday, the following Wednesday he would have worked for a week. That was a simple change that we were looking at.
As I have said before, binding the government was included in this act, because we have been criticized in the past for not including that in the act.
A lot of changes are in regard to work in excess of standard hours and overtime pay - there are long explanations for that which I am not going to read, although I may read the odd sentence from time to time as I go through this.
A lot of the changes were not controversial.
The Minister and his happy coalition chose to bring this into the House because they wanted to sit longer. I know they enjoy sitting in the House, answering questions and telling us what a great bunch of guys they are, but if he wants to debate this in the House, we have every opportunity to do that.
One of the provisions in the amendments was time off with pay in lieu of overtime. There is no provision whatsoever in the existing Employment Standards Act to deal with that. I would not have thought that that would be controversial. I think it is a given right that that should be included in an Employment Standards Act. I am curious as to why they would object to something like that. I wonder why he would call time off with pay in lieu of overtime socialist dogma. I do not understand. If that is the only explanation he has for not proclaiming a lot of the good things in this act, I do not understand, and I am sure that Yukoners, real or otherwise, do not understand, and neither do the underpaid or subsidized worker. What was so controversial about days of rest? Everyone is entitled to that. If we are going to change it to make it easier to read, I could not see a problem with that.
In the existing act, the days of rest may require the employee to work 28 continuous days without a day of rest. People would make good money, but we have to think about the danger of someone being overworked to that extent. They may want to work, but he or she could be a danger to people who are working with them or to themselves if they are running equipment.
One of the other provisions we were going to include, as I mentioned when I was going through the options, was the split shift. I would say that I had at least four people - this does not sound like a lot in the entire time I was Minister - come to me in my office because they were having problems at their place of work because the existing act could not accommodate them.
There were provisions made in some cases, but some of them did not understand it. Those are some of the inquiries that would go to the labour services branch. I mentioned there were 2,400 inquiries. There may be more now, but there may even be fewer, because there are fewer people in the workforce.
Included in the amendments was the entitlement to vacation pay. There is nothing the matter with that. There is also the calculation of wages for working on holidays. That does not sound too complicated to me, or like socialist dogma. We talked about exceptions to that in the changes to the act. There were people who were not entitled to be paid for a general holiday, and there were other problems that workers had.
The section on maternal and parental leave refers to a very important part of the workforce in my mind, and in the minds of people I work with on a daily basis. There was a day when there were no provisions for maternity or parental leave. If a mother wanted to stay home to be with her newborn child, she would not have the security of her job when she chose to go back. If we are looking at trying to change legislation to comply with the federal law, which has not been done yet, there is no reason why it should not be done. We have to be able to comply with most other federal laws we have to live under.
For instance, we all have to live under the Criminal Code and the territorial laws. We cannot ignore them. Not allowing the same provisions under our acts that are included under the Unemployment Insurance Act is a very easy thing to change.
I do not see why, if the Minister studied this act really well, he would have had a problem with it. I do not see why he would have had a problem with this. For him to stand up in the House and make the kind of comments he did in regard to people on this side of the House and their philosophy on workers was very immature, in my mind. I think there should be some provision for entitlement to leave for both parents - parental leave and maternity leave, are a very important part of the workforce today. I find it very difficult to try to understand where the Minister is coming from because the things I have mentioned so far are not controversial. They are changes to an act that sometimes needed clarification. New things were added to bring us up to national standards and there is nothing the matter with that, but in regard to parental and maternity leave I do not think the Minister thought very clearly when he chose to repeal the whole bill. It would have been very easy for him to look at some of the amendments that were included in the act that passed this House, to look at some of the changes that had to be made. It would have cut down on the time for the lawyers in Justice - a lot of work went into making these changes, and a lot of research.
The act itself had to be reviewed over and over and over again by the legislative review committee. There were a lot of things that people had concerns about and they brought those concerns to us. We chose to make the act more readable. We chose to include things that were easier to live under, I suppose, if one wants to put it that way, because there were certain sections of this act that were, as I said before, outdated.
The act that he is repealing included a lot of things. It included sick leave. Right now an employer can dismiss or lay off an employee because of absence due to illness or injury. The consequences of that provision of the act are great. If a person is laid off because of illness, that is not fair. It is not fair to an individual who could be at home with pneumonia or could be in the hospital because of an injury of some kind or any other circumstance that would keep him away from his employment.
If the Minister thinks that should not be changed, I do not know where he is coming from. How fair is it? I would think, knowing him, that he would think that was an unfair practice. If he was sick - I guess he does not have to worry about it. If a server from a local hotel ended up in the hospital because of a car accident and was in the hospital for a period of time and they lost their job because of it, then that would be the end of their job security. When that person was well enough to go to work, the job would be gone if the employer chose to let that happen, and I think that some employers do that.
I remember one time that a relative of mine missed her flight back to Whitehorse, through no fault of her own, and lost her job because she did not come back on that plane. Although she had a good working record up to that time she got fired because she was not back to work in time.
There are many situations like that in the workforce and throughout the Yukon. It does not just happen in Whitehorse, it happens in Watson Lake, Dawson, Mayo and Ross River - I do not know about Old Crow. Everyone who represents a riding here I am sure knows of cases where someone lost a job because of unfair practices.
The act does not protect them, so that was another amendment to the act. I do not think it was asking too much to change the act so that something like that would not occur. To provide for entitlement of unpaid sick leave is something that should not have been controversial, but it is something that the Minister does not appear to believe in.
We talk about bereavement leave and which members of the family are entitled to bereavement leave. We know for a fact that the First Nations people of the Yukon are a family in themselves, and that, because of the history, they are all related somehow, even though it may not be by blood, but through cultural beliefs. For instance, a member from Dawson may be closely connected to others, and the Member for Old Crow may consider that person to be a member of his family. We looked at the act and we tried to identify who was a member of the immediate family in the case of bereavement leave. When we talk about bereavement leave, we talk about any member of the family. I know for a fact that if I had a tragedy occur in my family, I would have to travel outside of the territory to be with them. I know there are some circumstances where business has to be taken care of in some situations. As I mentioned before, we are looking at certain provisions for First Nations people to be allowed to attend a potlatch, which is a very important part of their culture.
Whether or not you are related by blood, I do not think that it means anything. There were some people who complained to us at the time that that was not a good amendment and that people would be taking too much time off because there were too many people who are related in the Yukon and that they would have to hire other people to come in to do their work for them.
You have to be able to act responsibly in any situation like that. If we were to talk about who the immediate family members are, the lists are many. There are many people who are a part of some immediate family and how much time off do you give them for bereavement leave? For some people it would be necessary that they take more than a day or two, because they have to travel clear across the country or clear across the world. We have many families in the Yukon who have relatives living in other countries. It sometimes take two days to get there, even by flying.
In this act we included changes that would clarify immediate family and who those people would be. I do not think that was a controversial section. I think that the people who were sitting on the Council on the Economy and the Environment were people who considered a lot of things when they chose to recommend that we include these changes.
The section amends bereavement leave to allow First Nations people to attend a funeral and a potlatch. Right now, if a person chose to attend a potlatch out in White River or Beaver Creek, because they happen to be a member of that family, they could get fired. There is no provision in here for that kind of leave. I certainly know that there are a lot of people who accept the First Nations culture and they allow that to happen, but there is no provision for that in the existing act. There is none and we were looking at including a subsection to cover bereavement leave.
I believe that the Minister understands that culture because he has grown up in the Yukon. The Minister called this act socialist dogma.
He might have picked that up out of the blue without thinking of all the things that were included in the amendments to the Employment Standards Act. I have a hard time understanding how someone who grew up in the Yukon - the barefoot boy from Carcross - could even suggest that the provision in here to attend a potlatch is socialist dogma. It is a cultural activity that every single First Nations person in the Yukon believes in. It is a very important part of their culture. The barefoot boy from Carcross has to think back on many of the amendments that are in here and consider what should be included when he chooses to introduce amendments in the spring.
I wish that he would have taken those amendments more seriously, but he did not. I know that he is propping up the government right now. Sometimes, he has to agree with some of the things they are saying and doing. I do not know if he believes in all of the things they are doing. Sometimes, one wonders. However, to consider that nothing in the act that was introduced on May 13 was meaningful is odd.
I do not understand why a lot more thought was not put into dealing with the amendments to the Employment Standards Act. These amendments were passed by everyone. I know there was opposition to it and the Members felt that, if they repealed it, they would be victorious, but by being victorious and repealing the act, they will give up a lot of rights that people would have been entitled to under the amendments to the act.
They can go to the employers who live in their riding and celebrate with them on how they were successful and repealed the act and got rid of all that socialist dogma. They will tell them how there is no more of this and no more of that and that they love the employers and the employers love them. They can do that, but there is no question that, when one looks at the act and the amendments, which were considered so long and hard by so many people, they will see that there were a lot of good things in this act.
The other provision that is in here is for family responsibility leave. There was no provision for that, that I can see. When I go over this, I would really like to hear from the Minister what parts of the amendments that were introduced were offensive to him. I have listed many sections of the act that were introduced in this House and, if I had been allowed, I would have given a brief explanation as to why all of those amendments were included in the act. There are still things that I am curious about, and I will continue to be curious until I find out exactly where the Minister is coming from when he chooses to table his act in the House in the spring.
I do not like to believe that all of the work that went into this act prior to its tabling in the House was for naught. I believe that the people who looked at the act, the people who were consulted and who brought these concerns to us had legitimate concerns. I am still going to be very concerned about those people in the workforce who are waiting on tables, who are working in service stations or driving taxis. There are people doing many other jobs for which they have no protection under the act.
I have mentioned things that are not provided for in the existing Employment Standard Act - I have only listed a few of them. If one studied the act as it exists right now - I do not know if the Minister knows it inside out, as it appeared yesterday, because he did not know that section 50 was in the act when I asked if it would be repealed. So I do not think that he knew that part existed in the act, but it does.
The amendments that we were proposing were not done overnight. They were not done without a lot of thought, and without a lot of consideration. They were done as a result of concerns, of complaints and of inquiries that people had made over the years. It was nothing unusual for someone to come to me - even before I was an MLA - and say, I was fired because I was very sick with the flu or I was very sick with measles or whatever. That is a common occurrence.
I would like to believe that, in the Yukon, there is consideration for something like that. For the Minister to take a whole year to come to this House and say that it is a crazy act, they are grandstanding, there is nothing in it that is any good, it is socialist dogma, he has not given it a lot of thought. If he had given it a lot of thought, we would not be in this House listening to my speech, which I am sure everybody is just overly enthused about and are hearing every word I am saying. We would not be doing that, but he chose to bring it into the House and he chose to condemn it. He chose to completely ignore the stuff in it.
When he makes his closing remarks, I would really like him to tell me the sections of the act that he did not like. I would really like him to tell me whether or not he believes in bereavement leave and the members of the family who would be provided for. I would really like him to tell me whether or not he agrees that a single parent who has a child in day care should get notice of overtime or should not be fired because he or she could not work overtime. I believe in that. I do not know if he does. It appears that he does not, because it was part of the act that was introduced. I really have a hard time understanding why he has completely ignored the stuff that is in here, but I would like him to tell me what he disagrees with. I would like him to tell me even if he agrees with some of the things that are in here - because I am very curious.
A lot of changes were included in this act just to make the act more readable, so that people could better understand what was said. There was some confusion in two sections of the act because people could not interpret them and sometimes the people responsible for the act could not interpret them, so a lot of those changes were made. The act was introduced so that it would be more readable and so that there would not be so much legalese. That was one of the things that we, when we were in government, chose to do because everyone knows that no one can understand many of the acts, especially old ones that have not been changed in decades.
Under the direction of the Minister of Justice at that time, Roger Kimmerly, we chose to look at our acts to make them more readable so that people could understand them. There are a lot of sections in the act that ordinary people cannot understand. Maybe Mr. Speaker can understand them, because he is a lawyer, or the Minister of Justice may be able to understand them because he is a lawyer, but there are many sections of all acts that ordinary people cannot understand. The act was also introduced and was gone over very carefully, word by word, and if a sentence did not appear to make sense then it was changed so that it did make sense. I remember sitting around that table, at legislative review, going over every section of the act. If there was a word that did not make sense, we changed it. That is how carefully we looked at it.
In addition to putting together amendments to the act, we also wanted people to understand what it was saying. We spent a lot of hours doing that. I can say that it was not the easiest thing that I ever did. I spent a lot of time, a lot of hours trying to decided what was going to be included in the amendments to the Employment Standards Act.
I spent a lot of hours sitting down with individuals. I spent a lot of hours with people in the department so that we could better understand what it was people were saying. We withstood the controversy. There was a lot of it. There was a lot of media, a lot of people out there who were telling us that the act itself was a bunch of nonsense and that the whole economy in the Yukon was going to take a turn for the worse. Well it did, despite the fact that we did not proclaim the act.
The economy right now is in a very bad situation and you cannot blame it on anything that might have been included in the act. It has done that due to the lack of responsibility on the other side of the House.
As a government, we had sit down to try and decide how this was going to affect all Yukoners, including the business people. We did not ignore the concerns of the business people. I have business people in my riding and I did not ignore the things that were being said to me. I walked around. I talked to people in my riding. I talked to people on the phone. I talked to many responsible people who own businesses, who allowed more provisions for their employees than were included in the existing act and still do that today.
If they were good employees, if they had been working in their business for 10 years or so, they took it upon themselves to give them the benefits they felt they were entitled to. That is how they kept those employees. I remember a business person coming up to me on the street once and telling me they did not know what all the fuss was about. They had been a business person for years, and anything we proposed, this person would not deny any of their employees. There was more than one person who did this.
There were some individuals who were violently opposed to any amendments to this act, because they felt that the economy was going to be in a bad situation if that occurred. Like anything one believes in, they wanted to fight for it. I have done the same thing for different causes. I am not saying they did the wrong thing. They believed in something, and they chose to go out and publicly condemn the act, condemn me and ask for my resignation, as the Member for Watson Lake did. They fought hard for something they felt strongly about.
So did we. As a Cabinet, we understood that the workforce, because that is part of the NDP philosophy, plays a very important role in our country. We wanted to make changes to the act, because it was so outdated. Minor changes had been made when we were in Opposition.
I remember the controversy when we tried to incorporate the concept of equal pay for work of equal value. The government at the time was so opposed to it. I remember it. I remember the Member for Mayo standing up as a very young man, just out of the mines, and speaking very strongly, trying to get some legislation in place that was good and would affect equally those people who had to live under the act. I remember those days. I was very new to the job at that time. It was 1982. I was not terribly young, but I was new to the job.
I was trying to read the Leader of the Oppositions writing, but it is obvious that I cannot understand his writing.
I remember those days well. I learned from them and certainly in my working experience, sometimes the working conditions were good. I worked for the federal government for many years and other times I worked for aboriginal groups. I do not think that I ever had to suffer as a result of any employment that I ever had, but certainly by sitting here and going over the act, as I remember it, and learning from people like the Member, who was very young at the time, about the workforce and what those people are entitled to, was a Ilearning experience for me.
I have been with this government long enough and I have worked with my colleagues long enough to know and understand that I will never change my views. I will not, because I believe in what we were doing, I believe in what the workers of the Yukon are entitled to and I believe what the workers of the world should be entitled to, and many of the amendments we proposed were going to make provision for that.
I hope that the Minister goes through the existing act. There is a lack of provision for many things for many workers. I think that the workers should be entitled to an act that they understand, an act that is fair and an act that is equal for all workers. I would not want anything less. I do not know about Members on the other side, but I am sure that there are some Members on the other side who would agree with me, although they have not spoken publicly.
There were many amendments to the act that we had introduced at that time. They included a lot of things, as I mentioned, and it is very difficult for me to try to understand why the government - which appears to be living in a dream world, and is believing things that are not true about the economy - would propose to bring this to the House right now.
I am really concerned about the reaction in the public. The kind of things that were mentioned by the Member in his opening statements were, of course, a concern to me, and it behooves me to try to understand what they were trying to say. Are they looking to make a political issue out of this? Are they looking for some kind of a win, because they know the economy is in such a bad situation? Are they trying to tell us that hard working Yukoners are not important to this territory? I think they are important, and every member in my party feels the same way.
I know for a fact that many employers out there do not object to changes, at least so that they can understand what their obligations are for sure. I know a lot of employers make enquiries of labour services because they do not understand certain things. New people who come up here to open a business may have been business people in other jurisdictions that have different laws, sometimes much more progressive laws, and they have to find out exactly what is in our bill. If I had not been the Minister, and if I had not had to deal with this bill, there would be a lot of things in the act that I did not understand, and still do not understand, because I am not a lawyer.
However, I had the opportunity to go through the bill, section by section. I had the opportunity to look at the act and find out what was missing in it, and to find out what some of the problems were. I found out that many employees out there were missing out on some of the things they should be entitled to and, if an individual comes to the territory from some other jurisdiction where there is provision under their act for family leave of some kind - whether it be maternity or parental leave - and the same thing does not apply here, then they are confused.
They would assume that the same laws apply right across the country, but they do not. I have mentioned some of the current provisions in the existing act, and I have also mentioned what the acts were in other jurisdictions. There are many changes in those jurisdictions, they are not all the same - nor should they be, because each jurisdiction has different responsibilities and different kinds of employment. It is very confusing for someone who has just moved to the north - a business person who may not understand our provisions for maternity or parental leave, or some person who has come to work in the Yukon who finds out that they do not have the same kind of protection under our act as they might have in the jurisdiction they came from.
It has been over a year since this act was passed in the House. I believe it was passed on June 2, as the Minister mentioned. After months of trying to bring this to the House and defend it, it was with much happiness that I left the House on that day. This was something we were doing that we believed in. We felt it would be accommodating to the workers, who we felt deserved better legislation, but it was not to be.
I have to be concerned because, as I mentioned, when I was the Minister I had asked for information regarding the problems that we had. These are simple things that are not quite clear in the act. Simple things like work breaks, deductions and off sets, final pay and general holiday pay, things that should not be a problem - things that workers should not have to waste time inquiring about. There were many complaints about money owed. I find it unbelievably hard to understand why an employer would not pay a person who was entitled to wages. We find out that for the last 12 months, $276,000 had to be collected from those employers because they did not pay wages owed to individuals.
There are still thousands of dollars owing. I wonder about those people who have not had the information they needed to come forward to the Department of Justice, go to labour services, and find out about why certain situations occurred.
For instance, if they worked long enough and they felt they were entitled to some kind of leave, or some kind of vacation pay, and their employer said they were not going to give it to them, many of those people would not understand that they had an option of some kind, which was to go to labour services and find out if they were entitled to that.
In addition to the information that I got from the Minister today regarding all the statistics that he gave me, I wonder how many other people out there have not sought the information they needed in order for them to collect any kind of wages owing, or to find out about such things as bereavement leave, or things like attending cultural events, such as potlatches.
Although I have figures from him and figures from when I was Minister, which tell me that there were over 2,000 inquiries - and, probably over the last 12 months, there may be even more than 2,400 inquiries - how many other people out there do not understand that there are acts in place to provide for them, and to let them know whether or not they should be entitled to some of the things that they are not getting.
The statistics show that the total amount for wages not being paid is increasing each year. The understanding that I have right now is that the number of people who are working has gone down, but the amount of money owed has gone up. I do not know what you blame that on because, if someone is entitled to wages for work, then they should get it. If someone is missing out on wages because they do not understand the act, they may be told that they are not entitled to something and they believe it, when in fact, under the act, they could be entitled to it. If they do not follow through on any kind of inquiry or complaint, then that is an entitlement loss of some kind.
I know that, if anyone comes to me, I tell them what they have to do, I tell them where to get the proper information and, in most cases, they get the information.
I also know that there are people who are seasonal workers, who have worked for a certain period of time and, for some reason or other, they do not end up getting pay that is entitled to them, whether it is vacation pay or whatever. They leave the territory and never make a complaint, nor do they receive what they are entitled to. I think we have to make sure that, when the Minister introduces new amendments, a lot of things are taken into consideration.
I do not know what the Minister is going to do. I know for sure that the Minister is not going to do things the same way that we did, because he does not agree with it.
They should put out an options paper with 73 different options and ask if people agree, disagree or are undecided. I suspect that because of their policy on not seeking advice from workers or taking them into consideration, there may be very little provision in the act to protect those people. I want to make it very clear to the Minister that there are thousands of workers out there who should be consulted in regard to what it is that he wants to do. I know that he will be following the happy coalitions philosophy.
I think the Member behind me is not getting bored. They may not be bored, but I do not think they are listening either.
The problems we face as politicians are many. We have to decide what it is we are going to do and how to go about it. I know that when the amendments are introduced in the House, there will be a lot of people out there who disagree with some of the amendments. I also know, from listening to the gentleman on the side opposite, that there are many individuals out there who will not be heard. I do not believe there will be much protection for them. I and the Members on this side of the House have to concern ourselves about the person who is underpaid. We must be concerned about people who are missing out on benefits because they do not understand the act.
The Minister has mentioned that we are grandstanding and that we should try to remember that we are not the government any longer. Well, we know that.
We know that, because we understood what happened in the last election. We lost the election, and we are sitting on this side of the House. We are the Official Opposition. Whether we are in government or not, we still carry our beliefs with us, from that side of the House to this.
What we believe in, for the workers in the world, was included in those amendments that we introduced in this House. They were included with a lot of hard work. The meetings were many. The Cabinet Members had to sit down to go over the act to find out which sections were going to be included in the bill.
With great difficulty, we had to decide whether or not we were going to follow the recommendations from the Council on the Economy and the Environment. As the process moved on, there were many people who were violently opposed to the amendments, but who came around in the end. They were able to see that there were two sides to what we were trying to do, that we were trying to change the act so that it was acceptable to employers and to employees. That was very important.
Members on that side of the House do not appear to understand that, whenever you do something, there is more than one side involved. In this case, the people for whom we were trying to provide protection in the act were the people who were not as verbal as those people who were opposed to it, and we knew it.
We knew that the taxi drivers, the servers in restaurants, the chambermaids and the gas jockeys were not going to organize, and they were not going to come out and speak loudly about the act, but we knew what we were doing. We knew that, when we put this bill together, the people who were not part of a large organization were not going to speak out. So, we were here to speak for them, but we did not do it without consulting with the employer first.
That was very important. When we were in government, because we were getting a lot of publicity from the media and from the business sector, we put together the events that took place - I am not going to read them, because I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
Starting on November 19, we introduced, as I said, Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workforce, with 73 options. I mentioned phase one of that process, which was comprised of sending out the workbook to as many people as could be reached. On February 27, after much controversy, the draft amendments were presented, as we said they would be. We said that reviewing the ground rules was not what we were proposing; we were just asking for peoples opinions, and we got opinions back.
One of the things that happened, and I think I mentioned it before, is that in the middle of all of the controversy, we were telling the people that we were hearing back from the people out there. They were getting this book and were filling out the little questionnaires in the back, and because we were saying that not everyone was opposed to the changes we were making and that the results varied, some of the people in the business sector were saying that that was not true. They said they knew everybody was opposed to it, but all of a sudden we got about 60 of the forms all filled in identically - every single one of them was identical; there was no change - and they were all negative. So I can only assume that a group of people got together and decided to put disagree on them all.
As I mentioned before, we got the results back - the analysis of the responses. As I said, we put a lot of work into this act. There were things like do not change, do not include, include, see revisions, so we got a pretty good idea about what people were saying as a result of the 73 options in the workbook.
We had responses from the employee and the employer, because we wanted to know who was saying these things.
As a result of going over every part of the Employment Standards Act, and going through all the options that were included in this workbook, we put together draft amendments. As we told the general public at that time, we were going to let them see the results of the survey and what people were saying. We put together a draft act of the things that we felt should be included as a result of the survey, and we made that available to anybody who wanted a copy of it.
As I mentioned before, on February 27, the draft amendments were released, and we asked for nominations from different organizations for people to sit on the advisory committee. We received four names. We had two people from labour and two people from the business sector, and we had one person from the Department of Justice, a person who knew the process and the act very well.
The advisory committee reported to us on a daily basis on the sections of the draft amendments that had to go. As a government and a Cabinet, we had to decide whether or not we agreed with those decisions. In most cases we did, but it still was not good enough.
Then, on April 3, after the controversy and the walkouts, and after looking at the list of all the sections that were proposed to be withdrawn, they still were not satisfied, and they walked out.
I know for a fact that one of the members of the business community probably would not have walked out, because he still felt there was a lot more that they could have discussed, but he felt obligated to leave because the other person had.
We met as a Cabinet and decided that someone had to look at the draft amendments to the act. We chose the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. It was to study the draft and make recommendations to us, which it did. It made those recommendations and presented me with a report of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment on proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act.
There was an introduction to the report, and then there were some general comments in regard to the proposed amendments. There were many things that they had to consider regarding some of the proposals. I think that they were very fair, in the end, because there were a number of different groups represented on that council, and so we got a wider perspective.
I have been here for so long, I cannot think very well any more.
We had a wider perspective because of the people who were sitting on the committee, including people from the business sector, people from the Conservation Society, someone representing the First Nations and womens groups. There was a wide variety of people sitting on that committee. I was really pleased when I got the report back.
During that time, there were a number of individuals who were very involved in the process. They had many concerns about the bill, one way or the other. A lot of people were coming to me, or writing letters, to say that they approved of the Council on the Economy and the Environment taking over the responsibility of going through the report and making recommendations. They felt it was a fairer way of doing it because there was so much representation on the council from various organizations. The tide was turning.
You are a lawyer, Mr. Speaker, so you perhaps know what it is like to stand up and try to defend something that a room full of people oppose. However, if one believes in something strongly enough, one can defend it.
I did that. Not only that, but I learned from the experience. It will be an experience that I will never forget because, in the end, it helped me to do my job. But what was more encouraging in the end was that people who were not coming forward and who were not giving verbal support were finally coming forward and saying that what we were doing was going to be of benefit and that they were pleased with the process because of the way that it went to the council. They appreciated that it went to the council and that we were getting back meaningful recommendations that people from all walks of life agreed to.
There are a number of comments in the document. They include a lot of comments on different sections of the act and then they make recommendations about what they would like us to leave in or take out. Some of the recommendations were to leave certain sections out, and not to repeal section 50.
Even things like the definition of a week did not make a heck of a lot of sense to some people because it did not fit in with the work week as some people were working it. Not everybody starts work on Monday and quits on Friday.
They made comments that were acceptable to them. Some of the things that were acceptable were the right to refuse overtime, that there should be a definition for an emergency - and I agreed with that. If there is an emergency and something has to be done, then I believe it should be done but there also has to be some consideration, as I said, for certain things that could occur or certain situations a worker might be in.
They made recommendations with regard to lieu time for overtime - that it should be extended. They made recommendations in regard to the compressed work week, the days of rest, and, as a matter of fact, they made a recommendation on all of the amendments that were included in the draft, and we followed those recommendations, as I said, except for one.
On May 12, I tabled the final draft in this House, Bill No. 13. We made a joke about giving it the number 13, because I did not think that I was a very superstitious person. Who knows. If it had been Bill No. 14, it might be law now, but I tend to tell myself that I am not a superstitious person. So, we sort of joked about it being Bill No. 13, and doing second reading on May 13, and stuff like that but, on May 12, I introduced the bill in the House, and we took a lot of flack. Mr. Speaker, you were here and you remember, and you probably spoke on the bill.
There were a lot of nasty things said. We all do it. We went over every section, everybody who wanted to spoke on the act, and Members in our party were supporting the amendments.
I was going over the Hansard, and I was reading the speeches that were made. You have to have a really thick skin to be a politician, and I think they are learning that now. You also have to have a thick skin to be in government.
Members on that side of the House are probably learning that. I thought to myself, as I was reading the Hansard, and the speeches that were made by the Member for Porter Creek East, the Member for Riverdale South, and the Member for Riverdale North, that some horribly nasty things were said. We would never think of doing that. I thought that might wake the Government Leader up, and it did.
Anyway, I read the speeches over again, and I had to actually give myself a pat on the back. At that time, I realized that I had weathered a very bad storm. Both myself and my party felt so strongly that those changes had to be made on behalf of the workers of the Yukon. I felt good about what we did - I really did.
In his speech, the Minister talked about why the act was not proclaimed. He mentioned that we did not proclaim the act because it was going to be controversial. Well, we had already weathered the controversy.
We had people who were supporting us in the end - even workers who were not taking part in the debate, but who understood that the amendments to this act were going to be positive changes for them. It was unfortunate, in the end, that the act was not proclaimed. However, it was not for the reasons that the Minister of Justice stated. He is dead wrong in that interpretation.
We were not setting a precedent. It had been done before, when governments had changed, that acts had been proclaimed. It was unfortunate that the Commissioner, in his wisdom or lack thereof, chose to do things the way he did.
The Members on the other side of the House can sniff and snort all they want. The amendments to the act would have benefited the workers in their ridings. I want to tell them again that they do have workers in their ridings.
Every single one of the Members have workers in their ridings and if they do not care about them, who the heck is going to? It is obvious that not one single person on that side of the House gives a darn about the workers in their ridings who are underpaid and living on minimum wage, and who are being supported by Health and Social Services because they cannot get by from day to day.
Those are the people whom we are trying to protect and I have to continue to remind them - it does not seem to do any good - that they do have workers in their riding and it is those workers that need a lot of consideration when the Minister brings those amendments forward. I hope that before the Minister does that, because we are still having to comply with an act that needs a lot of changes, he is going to put some process in place where the actual workers will be heard and not just toady to the chambers of commerce across the territory, because that is exactly what is happening.
I really do want to know what the plans are, because he said he is going to introduce amendments in the spring - we could still be sitting here in the spring. The Minister may not have the time to do the kind of work that he needs to do in order to prepare new legislation for the Employment Standards Act, that has to be brought forward. I know the work that his department has to do. In order to prepare legislation it is going to be completely different than Bill No. 13.
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., this House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 7, 1993:
Government Leader: report dated December 6, 1993, summarizing the outcome of three intergovernmental meetings and meetings with the Prime Minister of Canada, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Finance (Ostashek)
Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment: letter to Tim Preston, Chair, dated November 5, 1993, from the Government Leader re organizing a Yukon Economic Conference (terms of reference attached) and consultation re gambling and casinos (Ostashek)
Yukon Liquor Corporation Annual Report for the year ended March 31, 1993 (Brewster)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled December 7, 1993:
Security Check Policy for designated positions in government (Ostashek)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1537 and 1538
Kaushees Place operational review: committee established to draw up the terms of reference; tendering (for the evaluation) to be let in December, 1993; findings will be made public (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1490