Five Labour Standards You Should Know and How to Use Them

toolkit.jpg

By Laura Kneale

Summer is here and what are most people doing? Although it might be tempting to be out there tanning on the Lachine canal shore, most of us must work. Even though being an active part of the workforce comports some small pleasures – getting up really early, bringing your lunch box every day to avoid spending all your money in the vending machines, commuting to town with all those other poor half asleep souls… working isn’t always rosy. In fact, when taking a part-time or seasonal job, you can expose yourself to many potential cracks in Quebec labour standards. Faced with this, it’s better to know your rights than to plead ignorance. Here are five Quebec labour standards you may want to know for your future in a seasonal or non-seasonal job.

1) INSIDE MINIMUM WAGE

On May 1st 2007, the Quebec government set the new minimum wage at $8 an hour. However, minimum wage can vary according to the context you work in. The minimum for employees who make tips is $ 7.25, whereas for employees working in the clothing manufacturing industry it’s of $ 8.25.

If you’ve ever wondered what are your rights regarding your tips, Éducaloi, a Quebec rights education organization, has detailed answers to a large range of work related questions. On their website, they specify that when making tips, it is ones choice whether or not to pool their tips with the other employees. This is important because the tips you earn are essentially yours. This is why you must also declare them accordingly to your employer so they can calculate your vacation and statutory pay. It will also be an official declaration of your income.

Another question that often arises is the infamous “trial periods”. Employers can ask you to try out for the job, but they also need to guarantee they will pay you at least minimum wage for your training and work even if you do not stay very long. In the same way, if they ask you to wear a uniform, travel or live in a particular location, they must provide for you or offer monetary compensation for all your expenses.

2) OVERTIME

Workers must be aware of the overworking phenomenon. Although we have lots of energy & good will, that doesn’t mean your job must become your life, with or without monetary compensation.

Nevertheless, overtime should be paid at your usual rate but with a 50% premium. What qualifies as overtime is different depending on your job. For a majority of workers it’s more than the normal work week; that is, over forty hours a week. Some workers, for example, cannot receive monetary compensation for their overtime - a complete list of these types of workers can be found on the Éducaloi website- among those included are; folks working in a summer camp or a non-profit organization with a social or community mission.

The tricky thing about overtime is that in principle the worker cannot refuse it. Fortunately, some limits are applied to the employer. For example, they cannot keep an employee if the time period exceeds the maximum daily work load regulated by the Commission des normes du travail. Also, an employer cannot keep an employee from any responsibilities linked to the care and education of family members.

For every 5 hours of work, one can claim a half-hour break. Employers don’t have to pay these breaks unless they make you stay at your work station during the “break”. If your employer chooses to give you a coffee break – though they are not mandatory – he must provide pay for it.

3) ANNUAL LEAVE

As a young or seasonal worker, one doesn’t usually have ideal working conditions. However, you may be eligible for compensation if you quit the job, or on an annual basis if you stay on. Your annual leave starts at 4% and will increase to 6% after 5 years of uninterrupted service. After at least one year in a job, you get a minimum of two weeks leave and possibly a third unpaid. This can give you a chance to travel or do things you don’t normally have time to do. You are entitled to plan this at least 4 weeks in advance but your employer has the privilege of setting the dates.

4) ABSENCES

When you work really hard, it’s always rewarding to get some time off. Nonetheless, legally there are only particular occasions for which you can get time off. In brief, while certain exceptions apply, allowances are usually made for exceptional events. For example, if you happen to lose someone in your family and need to take some time off, the paid and unpaid days are allocated in respect to your proximity to the person deceased.

5) HARASSMENT

Psychological harassment can be as obvious, in the form of rude and offensive remarks, or as subtle as spreading rumors about an employee or co-worker. Obvious or subtle, psychological harassment in the workplace is more frequent than you would like to imagine. If you think you are a victim of abusive behavior, express the problem to others. You can start by telling someone you trust, and look into the procedure to report it but it is ultimately important to inform your employer about it. They are legally responsible to fix the problem. It is important that the abuser – whether a co-worker or your employer - be informed that their behaviour is unacceptable. If the problem is not fixed within your workplace, then you should report the incident(s). The Commission des normes du travail has a recourse that you may opt to use if so make sure you don’t wait more than 90 days after an incident.

To see all the particular ramifications of psychological harassment, or other precisions on the labour standards you can surf to http://www.cnt.gouv.qc.ca/en/index.asp

Knowing your rights is a stepping stone to having them respected. Given the severity of most workplace problems, being informed of Quebec labour standards is important. Although many people fall through the cracks, when it comes to having their rights respected, the best way to work around these downfalls is to know in advance what you can expect. Preventing problems in the workplace is better than having to spend time and resources on fighting them once they arise. Although the Commission is there for these cases, when resorting to, for example, negotiating with your boss about unpaid overtime, you should consider that you, in turn, may have a price to pay. Losing your job may not be worth the monetary compensation of unpaid overtime.

Furthermore, some work standards cannot even be enforced when there is no formal structure to support them. For this reason, in the longer run, being part of a union offers a framework to protect oneself from abuse whether you saw it coming beforehand or not. For more information on unions, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (http://ftq.qc.ca/modules/nouvelles/accueil.php) is a good source.

Useful links:
Educaloi, Carrefour d’accès au droit http://www.educaloi.qc.ca/
Au bas de l’échelle, groupe d’éducation populaire et de défense des droits des travailleurs et travailleuses non syndiqués http://www.aubasdelechelle.ca/accueil.html
Commission des normes du travail du Québec http://www.cnt.gouv.qc.ca/en/index.asp
Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec http://ftq.qc.ca/modules/nouvelles/accueil.php
Groupe d’aide et d’information sur le harcèlement sexuel au travail http://www.gaihst.qc.ca/