Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau touted help for families balancing the demands of work and home life Wednesday, promising certain employees the right to request flexible hours as well as increased parental leave.
Trudeau told a Winnipeg rally that his party would ensure that employees covered by federal labour laws have the legal right to ask their bosses for flexibility in their start and finish times, as well as the ability to work from home.
"The way Canadians work is changing," he said. "The way Canadians live is changing," he told about 200 supporters. "It's about recognizing that we can increase the productivity for Canadians and protect their quality of life in a way that will grow the economy."
A Liberal government would amend the Canada Labour Code and would also work with provincial and territorial governments to put the same rights into their own labour legislation, Trudeau said.
While employees would have the right to ask for more flexible work hours, there is nothing in the Liberal plan that would require employers to grant the request.
"The employee is allowed to ask and the employer needs to formally respond in writing to that request," Trudeau said.
A similar plan in the United Kingdom has shown that about 80 per cent of requests from employees for changes in work hours are eventually granted, he added.
But NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called the proposal "wanting" and wouldn't say whether his party would support a similar initiative.
"You're going to be allowed to ask for flexible hours but your employer can say no," Mulcair said during a stop in Surrey, B.C. "Well, that's already the case today so I'm not too sure what they announced, to be honest with you."
The Conservatives criticized the proposal saying the "entire 'policy' involves employers writing a letter."
"Justin's announcement lacks any teeth or enforceability, and does not apply to the vast majority of workers," the party said in an emailed statement.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said it's not clear what the Liberal proposal would accomplish. Informal requests are made by employees across Canada already and are granted, he said.
In fact, he said current labour law can stand in the way of such arrangements by binding the hands of employers to pay overtime. By enshrining the process in legislation, Kelly said it could create more red tape.
"I don't think it would have huge negative impact on business other than perhaps creating a bit of a paper chase," Kelly said. "There is nothing in the proposal that appears to mandate that the employer must agree to what the employee wants."
Later in Vancouver, Trudeau announced an 18-month parental leave policy following the birth of a child.
He said parents could choose to take their leave in portions over that period, up from the current 12 months.
"For example, a single parent could take six months leave, go back to work for another six and then return to parental leave and receive benefits for the remaining six months."
Parents could also choose to extend their parental leave to 18 months when combined with maternity benefits at a lower benefit level, he said.
"In a two-parent family, parental leave could be split between partners in whatever way works best for them," Trudeau said.
"This added flexibility will increase the use of parental leave benefits, which means it would translate into an investment of $125 million more per year in the economic security of Canadian families. And it will not mean any increases to employment insurance benefits."