Should Canadian employers be doing more to retain experienced employees who are burdened with the long-term care of aging, chronically ill or disabled family members? The Harper government thinks so, and has set up a blue-ribbon panel of private-sector executives to examine the issue, calling it the Canadian Employers for Caregivers Plan. At this point, however, it’s less of a plan and more of a plan to come up with a plan.
More than 6.1 million working Canadians are providing various levels of full-time care to loved ones. According to Statistics Canada, close to half of these people have reported the need to arrive at work late and leave early; 40 per cent have taken less demanding jobs; and 10 per cent passed up promotions or new jobs.
The federal government recognizes that, while people who care for loved ones take pressure off the health-care system, they also hurt productivity and may end up falling out of the labour market.
Ottawa can only do so much about that: It only regulates federal workplaces, which employ fewer than a million Canadians. But Ottawa can lead by example, and it has options. They range from allowing federally regulated employees who care for loved ones to refuse overtime, to more dramatic ideas such as giving employees the right to request flexible working arrangements, such as fewer hours, compressed schedules or telecommuting.
These interesting proposals all come from... the Harper government. They and others are found in an April, 2014, discussion paper on “Caregivers and Federal Labour Standards” put out by the Employment and Social Development Department. That’s also the department behind the Employers for Caregivers Plan. Naming a panel of executives to consult with other executives about cost-effective ways of retaining time-crushed employees has merit, and may ultimately result in a report proposing sound policy changes. But this shouldn’t cloud the fact that Ottawa already knows how to help workers who are besieged by caregiving responsibilities. If it wanted to, it could act tomorrow.