Hon. John Horgan Premier
British Columbia West Annex, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, British Columbia V8V 1X4
Hon. Harry Bains
Minister of Labour
Room 342, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, British Columbia V8V 1X4
Dear Premier Horgan and Minister Bains,
I am writing to you today to express concern over your government’s handling of the Employment Standards Branch (ESB) — an institution that is instrumental in upholding workers’ rights through the Employment Standards Act and ensuring all employees can receive the compensation, security, rights, and justice they are entitled to.
Your government’s failure to provide the ESB with the staffing, supports, and resources it needs is resulting in the delay and denial of justice for countless workers who have filed cases.
Increasingly, the Official Opposition has heard from constituents frustrated with the current timeline in which cases presented to the ESB are being handled and resolved.
Since 2018, your government has undertaken a series of legislative policies and actions that have significantly increased the volume of cases faced by the ESB.
During the committee stage debate on Bill 3 – Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2021 as well as Bill 13 — Employment Standards Amendment Act (No. 2), 2021, Minister Bains indicated several times that any disputes that would arise between employers and their employees through the implementation of these bills could be resolved through the ESB, acknowledging that this will result in a further increase in cases.
Workers and employers rely on a robust Employment Standards Branch to resolve disputes in a timely manner. Prior to 2017, almost 90 per cent of individual complaints were closed within a six-month completion window. However, under your government, this same completion rate fell to under 50 per cent in 2020/21.
Prior to 2017, the percentage of unresolved complaints was under 3 per cent, which under your government, has increased to almost 30 per cent in 2020 — an increase of 900 per cent.
Although the ESB now processes 2,340 more cases compared to 2017, there has been a failure to adequately increase the budget and staffing of the Employment Standards Branch to meet this increase.
Despite calls to increase its staffing and budget — including a submission by the BC Federation of Labour during 2022 Budget consultations, asking your government to allocate an additional $14 million of annual funding to the Employment Standards Branch — figures from Minister Bains’ estimates binder indicate that between 2019 and 2021, the Ministry of Labour hired a mere seven additional staff members while only increasing the staffing budget from $13.9 million to $14 million.
These backlogs are alienating workers and denying them justice, and this issue is only worsening.
I have heard estimates that it can now take up to 18 months before workers’ cases are even assigned to an officer to commence work on a file. Workers are desperately waiting for support to resolve workplace disputes that could be denying them wages, risking their privacy and security, or denying them their rights.
In light of these concerns, I am hoping you can answer the following questions with the utmost urgency:
- What steps are you taking to resolve the backlog in ESB cases that have ballooned as a result of your government’s labour legislation and policies?
- What short-term and long-term plans are in place to increase the budget, staffing, and resources of ESB offices?
- Will you commit to resolving ESB cases within the six-month target?
Your government has a responsibility to ensure the Employment Standards Branch resolves disputes and delivers justice promptly, that workers’ rights are protected, and that ESB staff have the supports and resources they need to carry out this crucial work.
I look forward to your prompt response.
Opposition Critic for Labour