The BC government recently announced an update to its BC Jobs Plan that focused on measures to encourage increased employment in nine key sectors of the economy. One of those sectors is technology and innovation. To facilitate employment growth in this area the Premier announced that an “Innovation Network” would be created, headed by UBC president Professor Santa Ono—the Premier’s Chief Advisor on this file.
Professor Ono convened Innovation Network stakeholders at a forum during the recent 2017 #BCTECH Summit. Over the next year the Network will focus on the development of talent, research and innovation, and super clusters. One of the main elements of that focus will be the development and implementation of strategies to attract and retain talent. However, missing from this strategy to promote employment growth in the “high tech” sector is an examination of the conditions of employment in the sector, including consultation with workers.
The exemption of high tech workers from basic employment standards means they can be required to work longer hours without the benefit of overtime pay.
For the past 18 years “high technology professionals” and “high technology companies” have been excluded from the hours of work, overtime and statutory holiday provisions of the Employment Standards Act. The Employment Standards Act is legislation designed to provide basic minimum terms and conditions of employment applicable to all employers and employees, providing basic floors and a fair competitive playing field where the rules are the same for everyone. As stated by the committee of special advisors reviewing employment standards in Ontario, unless there are conditions to warrant otherwise, exemptions from the Act (such as those for high tech workers) are inconsistent with the principle of universality—which is that minimum terms and conditions set out in the Act should be applicable to all employees.
Under employment standards the maximum daily and weekly hours of work after which overtime rates of pay must be paid are eight hours and 40 hours respectively. The exemption of high tech workers from these basic provisions means that they can be required to work longer daily and weekly hours without the benefit of overtime pay, which they invariably are required to do. This exemption therefore represents a significant and unreasonable wage subsidy to high tech companies at the expense of their employees.
As noted in the recent interim report of the Ontario Changing Workplaces Review Special Advisors “Unwarranted or out-dated exemptions may have unintended adverse impact on employees in today’s workplaces. The concern is that many employees may be denied the protections under the ESA that are essential for them to be treated with minimum fairness and decency.”
In submissions made to that government review it was argued that the cost of exemptions is borne not only by employees not covered by the Act who suffer lost income and insufficient time off, but also that there is a social cost to health and safety resulting from excessive overtime and long hours of work.
Submissions made to the Ontario Changing Workplaces Review committee with respect to the exemption of information technology professionals from the ESA were echoed by a significant number of BC high tech workers, particularly those in the digital animation of visual effects industry, who attended the recent workers story forums held by the BC Employment Standards Coalition.They all complained about their working conditions and the exploitative and discriminatory nature of their exclusion from the right to receive overtime pay—and in some cases any pay—for work beyond an eight hour day and 40 hour week.
It is imagined that high tech workers are somehow removed from the drudgery and exhaustion of other more traditional occupations. And oddly, it is assumed they don’t have to balance the same work-home-life challenges and obligations.
Underlying the exemption of high tech workers from these basic employment rights and protections are some troubling myths and misperceptions about the industry. It is imagined that high tech workers are somehow removed from the drudgery and exhaustion of other more traditional occupations. And oddly, it is assumed they don’t have to balance the same work-home-life challenges and obligations. So this exemption is accepted because it is imagined that all high tech workers are young and childless, happy to work late hours and camp-out at work because work at high tech firms is so enjoyable and stimulating? Do the powers that be think all these workers are content to trade in their rights for easy access to ping-pong tables and a lax dress code? And by what logic is the work life of a receptionist or a computer programmer in the high tech sector fundamentally different from a receptionist or a computer programmer in any other industry, and therefore undeserving of basic overtime rights?
The simple truth is that the high tech sector is a workplace like any other. And the workers in that industry need and deserve the same protections.
According to government documents BC has grown to become one of the world’s largest clusters of visual effects and digital animation companies. This is due in part to BC tax payers subsidizing film, television, digital animation and visual effects companies to the tune of $500 million a year through tax credits that pay for a significant portion of their labour costs. According to recent BC government statements there are 25,000 jobs in the BC industry and BC taxpayers contribute an estimated average of $25,000 for each individual employed in the industry.
Given the extent of government direct wage subsidies to companies in the high technology sector, and the unfairness and discriminatory nature of the exemption of high tech workers from the hours of work and overtime provisions of the ESA, it is high time that high tech workers were restored their full rights and that they be consulted on their conditions of employment during Professor Ono’s review of the sector.
Topics: Employment & labour