New amendments to the Canada Labour Code will exempt some employees from the legislation’s hours-of-work requirements.

“These amendments are a rare example of changes that employers in the federal sector will welcome and, in some respects, [will] align the CLC to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act,” says Landon Young, managing partner of Stringer LLP, a labour and employment law boutique.

The exemptions, which apply to certain classes of employees in the airline, banking, broadcasting, rail and telecommunications sectors, revise entitlements to meal breaks and rest periods for additional categories of workers. They come into effect for most of these sectors on Jan. 4, 2024 and for airlines on June 4, 2024.

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The hours-of-work rules date back to September 2019, when the government proclaimed Bill C-63 in force. The legislation required employers to provide employees with at least 96 hours of written notice of their work schedules; at least 24 hours of written notice of shift changes or additions; an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes during every period of five consecutive hours of work; and a rest period of at least eight consecutive hours between work periods or shifts.

On Feb. 1, 2022, the Exemptions from and Modifications to Hours of Work Provisions Regulations came into force, which exempted the courier, grain, marine, postal and road transportation sectors from Bill C-63’s provisions.

In its regulatory impact statement accompanying the publication of the most recent amendments to the exemptions, the federal government recognized the need for scheduling flexibility in sectors that operate on a round-the-clock basis. “The primary objective of the regulation is to support the implementation of hours-of-work provisions . . . in order to balance the operational realities of certain industries with the legislative goal of providing employees with work-life balance and more predictability in relation to their hours of work.”

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Andrew Monkhouse, founder and managing partner at Monkhouse Law Employment Lawyers, believes the new exemptions affect at least 50 per cent of federal sector employees covered by Bill C-63. “If you combine that with the original exemptions, you have to question just how many people will benefit from the hours-of-work legislation. And those employers that are still covered and may have been inclined to provide more generous notice may now decide to go with the minimum standards in the CLC.”

Enforcement of the rules may also pose a problem, he adds. “There’s not much incentive for employees to enforce their rights when, for example, the 30-minute break given to them is an unpaid break, so all they’ll likely recover is 30 minutes’ pay. From the employer’s perspective, the literature suggests that, to create a disincentive, the punishment has to be at least two- or three-times harsher than the cost of complying.”

Finally, the amendments also repeal administrative monetary penalties relating to breaches under the exemptions.

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