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Photo by Justin Quaintance

On-call shifts exploit student workers

By Jesse Stilwell, April 27 2017 —

Most post-secondary students have to balance a part-time job with school to manage their finances. These jobs give students valuable experiences and skills, but in Alberta, protection from unfair workplace practices for part-time workers in the customer service industry is lacking — specifically in retail and food service sectors, where many students are employed.

The state of California proposed a policy in 2015 called the Fair Schedule and Pay Equity Act. If passed, it will make the practice of using “on-call shifts” less exploitative under California’s employment standards. On-call shifts involve an employer scheduling an employee for a shift, but the employee is required to call in to work a few hours prior to find out if they will actually get to work and be compensated at all. San Francisco has already banned the practice under their municipal jurisdiction. It’s likely California will follow suit at the state level.

Offering hours to employees and then not providing them or giving any compensation to the worker makes budgeting and time management virtually impossible. These on-call shifts are still legal across Canada and many students are being exploited by this practice.

According to the Alberta Employment Standards code, an employee is entitled to three hours of wages if they report to work but do not stay longer than this threshold. San Francisco law says that if an employer does not bring an employee in for a shift, they are entitled to two hours of pay just for calling in, because that is equivalent to reporting for work. Alberta should either amend the existing policy regarding reporting for work to provide employees a three-hour wage guarantee or follow San Francisco’s example.

If a company cannot provide employees the compensation they deserve for serving their workplace, the company should not be in business. They were prepared to provide the wages associated with the on-call shift if it were to be confirmed, so providing a portion of those wages regardless of whether the employee is required to physically report to work or not should not financially harm the business significantly. This could alleviate many of the anxieties and frustrations employees who are subjected to this practice experience.

I work a retail job and have been scheduled for more on-call shifts than ever during the economic downturn. One Friday night I couldn’t make other plans because I had an on-call shift. But I didn’t end up working, so I sat at home alone worrying about how I was going to pay for gas and other expenses in the next few weeks because I didn’t get the hours at work that I needed. This was simply because my manager decided the store was too quiet for the shift I had set time aside for and reported to by calling in. Alberta should follow in the footsteps of California and work to outlaw this ridiculous practice.

Customer service can be a great field for students. Most businesses have regular hours that work well with typical class schedules and serving customers isn’t too demanding. But customer service jobs don’t pay very well, so every hour an employee works matters. These on-call shifts increase stress because there is no guarantee they will get the hours they need to make ends meet, despite being scheduled for them and reporting to work by calling in to see if they’re needed.

If you’re a student who works at a business that uses on-call shifts, write to your Member of the Legislative Assembly to tell them a policy like San Francisco’s should be added to the Employment Standards code. Hopefully, Alberta will emerge as a leader who protects the vulnerable people working at businesses that engage in exploitative practices. Students who work these jobs deserve to be protected.

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