Ontario, Alberta consider reducing overtime threshold to 40 hours a week

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Some provinces are considering employment standards changes that may include amendments to overtime rules.

In Ontario, the provincial government recently launched public consultations on ways to amend the province’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 to reflect changes in the way people work.

The consultations are looking at workplace trends such as an increase in temporary jobs, part-time work and self-employment, as well as technological change and the rising prominence of the service sector. The consultations began in mid-June and will last until mid-September.

One area in which workers’ rights advocates would like to see employment standards reforms are in overtime requirements. In a preliminary submission to the consultations, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) said employees should be entitled to overtime pay or time off in lieu after working 40 hours a week.

Currently, overtime pay is required after 44 hours a week.

The Workers’ Action Centre, a worker-based organization in Toronto that provides information and rights advice to people in low-wage and unstable employment, is also calling for the ESA to require overtime pay or time off in lieu after 40 hours of work per week.

In a recently released report called Still Working on the Edge: Building Decent Jobs from the Ground Up, the organization said, "Ontario lags behind other jurisdictions in Canada that have established a shorter workweek of 40 hours per week with overtime thereafter."

Both the Workers’ Action Centre and the OFL also want the government to eliminate exemptions and special rules under the ESA, some of which affect who is entitled to be paid overtime.

"Exemptions to overtime rules over the past five decades have resulted in just three out of five Ontario workers (62 per cent) having full coverage under the ESA overtime pay provisions," the Centre’s report says. It adds that this affects low-income workers even more, with only 29 per cent fully covered by the Act’s overtime rules, compared with 69 per cent of middle-income and 71 per cent of higher-income employees.

"Low-income workers such as residential care workers, farm workers, swimming pool installers, and landscapers are just some of the workers fully excluded from overtime premium pay," the report notes.

It also calls on the government to eliminate overtime averaging provisions in the ESA. Averaging allows employers and employees to enter into written agreements to average hours of work over periods of two or more weeks to calculate overtime pay.

"Workers have little bargaining power to negotiate overtime agreements," the report says. "Averaging overtime over an extended period enables employers to not only schedule workers for excessive overtime, but to do so without paying them time and a half after working 44 hours in a week."

Alberta changes

Alberta is also considering employment standards changes. Last year, the Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour launched a review of the province’s Employment Standards Code. It asked for public feedback on a number of issues, including paying overtime after eight hours of work per day or 44 hours of work per week, special overtime rules for certain industries and overtime agreements that allow employees paid time off in lieu of overtime pay.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) recommended changes to overtime rules. In its submission to the review, the AFL advocated for overtime pay after 40 hours of work per week instead of 44. It also called for employers to pay double time when employees work more than 12 hours a day, as required in British Columbia.

The organization also spoke out against any plans to allow employers to average hours over a period of weeks. "The demand for averaging overtime hours over a period of weeks allows the employer to cover busy times by balancing with slower weeks and avoid overtime premium pay," it said in the submission.

"What it accomplishes is to ensure the worker receives fewer wages over the time period than if weekly or daily overtime provisions were in place. The worker does not receive premium for the busy week, when the extra work may create home life burdens such as child-care arrangements, missing activities, and a lack of rest and sleep," it said.

With a change in government in Alberta, it is too early to know if or when there will be any overtime changes, says Jay Fisher, a public affairs officer with the ministry.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Canadian Payroll Reporter
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