B.C. Labour Minister and Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains working at home. (Submitted photo)

B.C. Labour Minister and Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains working at home. (Submitted photo)

Labour minister stands ground as B.C. business leaders demand temporary layoff extension

Temporary layoff time limits must be extended now, businesses tell Harry Bains

Provincial Minister of Labour Harry Bains says there will be no ministerial order – at least “not right now” – to extend the temporary layoff time limits beyond 16 weeks as there are already provisions under the Employment Standards for employers and workers to apply for extensions beyond that time.

But business organizations throughout the province say that’s not good enough as “time is of the essence,” and they are calling on him to extend the temporary layoff limits to Aug. 31 and tack on six weeks more once emergency orders are lifted, in “the interests of doing what is right for workers and employers in British Columbia.”

Bains told the Now-Leader his government is listening, “and after listening, if we need to extend, and if we’re convinced that extension is needed to protect jobs, but at the same to protect workers rights and their benefits, we will be open to that.”

“We believe the extension variance process will work well,” he said. “We are also prepared to improve that system if need be. If it’s not sufficient, we need to extend further than 16 weeks, we’re open to that because we want to make sure we support the employer and protect those jobs, at the same time the workers’ rights and benefits are also protected.”

In a joint June 22 letter to the Surrey-Newton MLA – from the Surrey Board of Trade, BC Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, BC Built.BC Strong, the Business Council of British Columbia, Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada, British Columbia Hotel Association, the Tourism Industry Association of BC, the BC Trucking Association and ABLE BC For A Responsible Liquor Industry – these organizations claim Bains’ approach is “perplexing and is unacceptable.

“It also unnecessarily places at risk thousands of jobs for youth, women, and vulnerable people in our society,” they charge. “The business community is extremely disappointed with your response and, respectfully, calls upon you to immediately revisit your decision and issue an extension to the temporary layoff time limits as we have requested without delay.”

READ ALSO: Labour Minister says B.C. in ‘relatively good position’ to rebound from pandemic

Bains said Monday the NDP government “fully” understands that the pandemic has put many workers and businesses “under significant strain,” but it has already extended the temporary layoff provisions in the Employment Standards Act to 16 weeks from 13 and employers and workers together can also apply for further extensions.

“We have a flexibility in our Employment Standards Act, compared to other jurisdictions, where if the employer feels they need a few more days, and a little more time, to extend the temporary layoff from 16 weeks even, then they can actually talk to their impacted workers and if the majority of those workers agree, they can apply to Employment Standards for the extension beyond 16 weeks. So that provision is available to them right now,” Bains told the Now-Leader.

He said the government needs to take a “balanced” approach that supports employers and protects workers’ rights as well.

“I’m encouraging them, that they should talk to each other, workers and employers, and they can actually reach out to Employment Standards if they need more time beyond 16 weeks.”

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, says businesses across the province have been calling on Bains to act urgently in an effort to prevent more job losses and small businesses from going bankrupt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She says at issue is the spectre of bankruptcy and insolvency for thousands of small and medium sized businesses and not-for-profits being forced to pay out severance because of unforeseen circumstances brought on by the pandemic.

“Minister Bains has it within his power to provide a ministerial order to extend the temporary lay-off time limits under the Employment Standards Act to provide employers with the breathing room needed to survive, recover and facilitate return-to-work for laid-off employees,” Huberman said.

She said the Surrey Board of Trade “demands that the BC Ministry of Labour revisit their recent negative response to the business community. Take action. Extend the temporary layoff provision for at least a further 13-week period through to August 31, 2020 to provide employers with certainty during this tenuous economic recovery period.”

To this, Bains replies, “That’s what I’m saying, that the employer has that option right now under Employment Standard that they can talk to workers and get their agreement and then they can approach to the Employment Standard and get that extension.

“For example,” he said, “if an employer has 50 employees and they are bringing back say 40 of them, but the 10 of them still have to wait beyond 16 weeks that they already have, then they could go to those 10, and if the majority of those 10 agree to postpone or extend the 16 week temporary layoff they can go to Employment Standard and apply for the extension.”

There will be no ministerial order, he said. “Not right now. I’ve already spoken to Employment Standard Branch, through my ministry, and they’re ready to take those applications and are working diligently to help employers and workers and listen to those applications.”

The organizations that signed the June 22 letter, however, say Bains’ suggestion that employers apply under the ESA for a variance to extend temporary layoff time limits is a “hollow offering” and “frankly Minister, insulting to the many businesses struggling to recover or simply keep their doors open as a result of COVID-19.

“You are aware, or ought to be aware, of the substantial back logs within the Employment Standards Branch,” they told Bains. “If businesses are required to use this ‘pathway,’ it will be several weeks or months before extensions to statutory layoff provisions that are urgently required now are granted. The result will be widespread bankruptcies and insolvencies that you, as Minister of Labour, caused through your inaction.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Tom on Twitter

BusinessCoronavirusSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP is seeking information about a collision involving a car and a bicycle on Six Mile Road, near the Island Highway, at 11:30 a.m. on April 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore RCMP seeks information about collision between bike, car

Collision occured on Six Mile Road on April 7 and a bystander got the blue car’s plate number

West Shore RCMP arrested a 42-year-old man April 11 following numerous reports of someone firing a rifle in a Malahat campground. (Courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP arrest man after shots fired at Malahat campground

Police received numerous reports of a man firing a rifle outside his camper trailer

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Driver who crashed into Uptown Walmart likely suffering mental health crisis, police say

Man in his early 20s drove through a parkade wall, no serious injuries reported

A portion of West Coast Road in Sooke is closed as emergency services are currently responding to a “serious incident.” Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
West Coast Road is closed between Grant Road West and Otter Point Road

A portion of West Coast Road in Sooke is closed as emergency services are currently on scene

Oak Bay Police. (Black Press File Photo)
Driver caught accelerating to twice the speed limit through Oak Bay school zone

Officers also responded to impaired drivers and multiple thefts last week

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

John Albert Buchanan was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar. Pictured here, Buchanan walking to the court in Nanaimo last year. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Six years including time served for Nanaimo man in bludgeoning death

John Albert Buchanan sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo for death of Richard Sitar

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
100+ international travellers who landed in B.C. refused to quarantine

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it issued $3,000 violation tickets to each

Most Read