R.J. Simpson: Amendments to the Employment Standards Act

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — December 12, 2019

Mr. Speaker, our greatest Northern resource is our people and it is our responsibility to invest in and take steps to ensure their health and well-being.

On January 1, 2020, Northwest Territories residents will be able to access new and enhanced types of employment leave to protect their jobs when faced with important or challenging moments in life. 

These changes align with the Government of Canada’s amendments to the Employment Insurance program and the Canada Labour Code; and allow the Northwest Territories to remain competitive with other jurisdictions by offering employees the flexibility to balance personal responsibilities while maintaining their employment status.

Mr. Speaker, employers understand the complex needs of their employees and are increasingly looking for ways to support them and their responsibilities outside of work.

The birth or adoption of a child into a family is an exciting event and one that should be cherished. To better support parents and provide them with more flexibility, we have extended the length of time an eligible employee can take Parental Leave from 37 weeks of unpaid leave to up to 61 weeks. Two-parent families, including adoptive couples will also be able to access an additional eight weeks of unpaid leave for the second parent.

Families sometimes face challenging circumstances and one of the most difficult times in life is when a loved one is critically injured or ill. When faced with the added responsibilities of providing support for a family member, residents should be able to both care for their family and protect their job.

A new Family Caregiver Leave will provide up to 17 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees to provide care or support for an adult family member who is critically ill or injured, and up to 37 weeks for a child family member.

Compassionate Care Leave will also extend from eight to 27 weeks of unpaid leave each year to allow employees time to provide end-of-life care for a family member who is gravely ill or at risk of death.

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories has a domestic violence rate approximately eight times higher than the national average. Family violence is a serious issue that affects too many of our residents.

In addition to the work by other departments and partner organizations, this legislation is also introducing new Family Violence Leave to protect employees and allow them time to seek help.

This new leave will provide five days of paid and five days of unpaid annual emergency leave for employees experiencing domestic violence. Up to 15 additional unpaid weeks will also be available with prior written notice. This leave could be taken to seek medical attention, attend counselling or legal appointments, access victim services, and for a variety of other purposes.

Introducing family violence leave is an important part of protecting and supporting workers in times of need.

Mr. Speaker, the changes to the Employment Standards Act also include new definitions to recognize family-like relationships, and to clarify and better protect youth, those in the construction industry and domestic workers. Domestic workers, such as nannies or housekeepers, will now be included in the scope of the Employment Standards Act, providing them with an employment standards minimum and ensuring job protection.

Mr. Speaker, we know many employers are already supporting and encouraging their employees during important life events. It is our intention that these new and enhanced types of leave will provide recognized and consistent guidelines for employers to achieve their goals as they invest in their employees and the Northwest Territories. As well, we want to ensure that employers have the information they need to apply this new legislation to their workplace. We will be conducting an advertising blitz in the new year to inform and update employers throughout the Northwest Territories and ensure a successful transition.

By introducing and strengthening types of leave, the Government of the Northwest Territories is reinforcing worker protection, making it easier for Northern residents to take time off work to care for themselves and their families. At the same time we recognize the work that employers are already doing and will continue to do, with the support of this legislation, to make the Northwest Territories a competitive and attractive place to work.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.