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Advocates call for more protection for B.C. employees

Last Updated Jun 26, 2020 at 10:38 pm PST

Four Points Sheraton Vancouver, where hotel workers have lost their jobs
Summary

Unite Here 40 wants the government to put an end to job terminations

The province is extending lay-off provisions, after businesses said paying out severances would be devastating

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. businesses are getting what they wanted – an extension of temporary layoff provisions.

The province is extending the program to the end of August.

“This extension will provide even more certainty and flexibility,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour in a news release. “This will also give additional time to ensure that employers and workers are able to craft agreements if there is a need to further extend temporary layoffs, while still protecting workers’ rights to compensation for length of service.”

Earlier this week, a letter from chambers of commerce and boards of trade was sent to the provincial government, suggesting an end to the program could devastate many companies because they would have to start issuing severance packages.

“We also know it is important to ensure that workers know that they have to be involved in the agreement with the employer to extend the temporary layoff and have a right to decline the layoff and accept the compensation for length of service which they are entitled to,” says Bains in the release.

Two groups, however, say workers need more job protection.

The B.C. Federation of Labour says laid-off workers need the right to return to their jobs, once layoffs end. That way employers are prevented from replacing them with other workers.

“We believe there were better options than a blanket extension of the temporary layoff period. But now that the decision’s been made, we need to make sure workers affected by the extension have a right to go back to their jobs,” says President Laird Cronk in a news release.

The labour organization is using the Four Points by Sheraton Vancouver Airport hotel as an example of where it says employers are not treating employees fairly. Employees who were let go from the hotel in Richmond were told they were not going to be receiving any severance pay.

“We have every level of government working to create programs to keep workers in their jobs and employees being asked to give up some rights so they can eventually get back to work. And now we have an employer firing workers without compensation,” Cronk goes on to say.

Meantime, Unite Here 40, which represents hotel workers, says legislation needs to protect workers from terminations.

Unite’s Michelle Travis also points to the situation at the Sheraton.

“They’ve terminated workers from the hotel, and have used the pandemic as an excuse to terminate them and deny them severance. Some of them were in the middle of their layoff period. So there are no protections from being terminated,” she says.

“Employees can be fired at any time. What we would like to see the government legislate is protection to prevent workers who are laid-off due to COVID from being fired,” says Travis.

Bains says he can’t comment on the specifics of what has happened at the Sheraton, but says “businesses should be aware that they could be ordered to pay penalties on top of compensation for length of service if they are found to have illegally denied benefits.”

It’s estimated 50,000 BC hotel employees have been laid off, with the majority making due on the federal government’s CERB program.

Travis says it might be a long time before the industry is in the position to bring back all the employees, but people who’ve spent years in the field should be entitled to return to their original jobs.

“We want to make sure workers have up to 24 months of protection because we know it’s going to take that long for the industry to recover, based on what the industry is saying,” says Travis.

Unite Here 40 organized a rally in front of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia Thursday to call for a stop to job losses.