The federal Liberals are considering whether a reshaping of federal labour standards should include giving workers the right to ignore their job-related emails at home.
The idea of putting into law a “right to disconnect” is one of several policy areas the Liberals identify as meriting further study in a report being made public ahead of the Labour Day long weekend.
Governments in Canada and overseas have taken a closer look at the right-to-disconnect concept after France adopted a law in 2016 giving workers the right to turn off their electronic work devices outside of business hours over worries that employees were doing unpaid overtime, or being driven to burnout.
The results of a year-long consultation on changes to the federal labour code showed a split between employer and labour groups over whether the Liberals should follow suit and set rules for workers in federally-regulated industries. That includes employees in transport, banking and telecommunications, and could also influence provincial labour laws.
“While many concerns were raised during our consultations, one message was clear: Canadians want more work-life balance,” Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement.
“It is time for the federal labour standards to be modernized to reflect the realities that Canadians face today, and we’re taking the insights gathered from these consultations very seriously.”
Labour groups argued that a legal right to turn off work devices, or workplace policies to limit the use of work-related devices when not at the office, would improve rest and not bite into family time.
Employers were more cautious, telling federal officials that some companies need employees available to be on call after hours. And some employees choose to stay connected because they don’t work a traditional “9-to-5” workday. At least one employer group called any government action a “legislative over-step,” the report said.
The report released Thursday summarized federal consultations on potential updates to the decades-old labour code.
It also discussed whether to set a federal minimum wage and set more stringent rules around contract workers.
Standards enshrined in the Canada Labour Code were originally drafted in the 1960s in an era when the average worker had a full-time, permanent job with benefits and protections under the labour code. The wording in the regulations has remained relatively unchanged since then.
But the code is feeling the strain under a shifting labour force that since the 1970s has been increasingly marked by what is described as non-standard work — usually part-time, temporary or contract work.
The results of the consultation will feed work the Liberals intend to do to modernize labour standards that affect more than 900,000 federal workers in Canada, representing about six per cent of the national workforce.