BC Legislative Updates: Minimum Wage Hike & Labour Relations Code Amendment Related To Picketing

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The current general minimum wage in B.C. is $16.75 per hour and will increase to $17.40 per hour on June 1, 2024. In the past, annual increases, if any, to the minimum wage were discretionary...
Canada Employment and HR
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BC minimum wage increases now fixed by legislation (Bill 2: Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2024):

The current general minimum wage in B.C. is $16.75 per hour and will increase to $17.40 per hour on June 1, 2024. In the past, annual increases, if any, to the minimum wage were discretionary decisions made through an Order in Council. Going forward, annual adjustments to the minimum wage will automatically increase every June 1, based on the average change in the consumer price index (CPI) for BC over the past year.

This change was expected and is in line with the majority of other provinces and the federal legislation, which fix annual minimum wage increases to the CPI. The BC NDP Government campaigned on a promise to increase the minimum wage, and tie increases to the CPI. Following election, the Government established the Fair Wages Commission, which was assigned three main tasks, including: "Task 1 – Develop recommendations for a path forward to raise the minimum wage to $15-an-hour, as well as a process for how the minimum wage should be regularly reviewed and increased once $15-an-hour is achieved" (Engage BC, Fair Wages Commission). Following consultation, the Fair Wages Commission, in its March 2023 Third Report, recommended "indexing future minimum wage increases to a clear measure (e.g., the Consumer Price Index)".

As a comparison, the minimum wages in other provinces are: Ontario – $16.55; Alberta – $15.00; and for federal workers increases to $17.30 on April 1.

Bill 2 received Royal Assent on March 14, 2024, and will come into force by regulation on a date to be determined.

BC Government uses miscellaneous statutes bill to allow for BC workers to not cross picket lines established by federally-regulated workers (Bill 9: Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2024):

On March 11, the BC Government introduced proposed changes to the definitions of 'strike' and 'person' in the Labour Relations Code ("LRC"). Currently, if a BC worker refuses to cross a picket line established by federally-regulated workers or by workers regulated by another province who are locked out or on strike, this may be considered an illegal strike. The change to the definition of 'strike' operates to allow BC workers to refuse to cross such picket lines without it being considered an illegal strike. When Bill 9 was introduced, the Attorney General Niki Sharma explained:

"Honouring the picket lines of other workers is a fundamental feature of B.C. labour relations. This change adheres to the core principles of labour solidarity, which are well established in this province. With this change, it won't matter whether workers are part of a federal or provincial sector. There will be consistency."

This proposed amendment faced much opposition at Second Reading by the Honorable Greg Kyllo, BC United MLA. MLA Kyllo called the proposed legislative change "grossly inappropriate" and "highly offensive" because the change was introduced by way of a miscellaneous bill, without public consultation, at a time when public feedback is being sought for changes to the LRC, through the newly-appointed Labour Relations Code Review Panel. In his debate, MLA Kyllo spoke of the December 2022 BC Labour Relations Board ("BCLRB") reconsideration decision of Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd. v Construction, Maintenance and Allied Workers Bargaining Council, Local Unit Number 506 of Marine & Shipbuilders, 2022 BCLRB 146, in which the BCLRB determined that when BC workers refused to cross a federal picket line, they engaged in an illegal strike.

While the amendments appear minor they will change the law in BC by allowing workers of provincially regulated businesses (who make up the large majority of employers in the province) to support a strike or lockout and resulting picketing occurring at a federally regulated workplace (such as business engaged in shipping, rail transportation, air travel, broadcasting or banking as examples). This will expand the scope of any federal labour dispute by affecting more businesses and putting added pressure on governments and potentially the employers affected by picketing to settle disputes by giving into union demands. There is no reciprocal exclusion allowing for workers of federally regulated employers to refuse to cross a picket line established by provincially regulated workers as federal picketing and picketers are regulated by the common law and the courts, and not the federal Canada Labour Code.

Of note is that the LRC Review Panel which we reported on in our previous post, has published a letter to the community on March 15, 2024 stating that it will accept submissions on the proposed changes despite the government having already proposed the amendment to the LRC.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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