Update: Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has left his job too. The labour movement will fondly remember him as the minister who finally brought in anti-scab legislation (with the NDP pushing) for federal workers. The new federal labour minister is Steven MacKinnon.


Perhaps the best labour minister B.C. has ever had won’t be seeking re-election this fall.

Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains has announced he’s leaving provincial politics after 20 years.

Anyone who works for a living or who wants to get into the workforce — union and non-union — has a lot of reasons to thank Harry Bains.

If the David Eby NDP government is re-elected in the fall, we’re sure the premier will name a worthy successor, but it’s worth looking back to see all that Bains has done for B.C. as labour minister since 2017.

B.C. had a lot of ground to make up for when the NDP government took office in 2017.

Training and health-and-safety are often the first areas to be attacked when a government, like the previous one, promises to cut red tape. They were two areas where this government made a steady stream of improvements and announcements that started in 2017 and continue even now.

Young workers and foreign workers were were among those singled out for protections.

Finally, we had a government that took asbestos handling seriously.

The Workers’ Compensation system was enhanced many times to expand professions and injuries covered, and to make it easier for injured workers to get coverage. 

On June 10, for example, 11 new occupations were added to the mental-health presumption under the Workers Compensation Act, offering easier access to workers’ compensation for psychological injuries caused by work-related trauma.

In January, the province brought in new rules for workers returning to a job following a workplace injury.

In 2022, firefighters received easier access to workers’ compensation benefits and services in recognition of their higher risk of developing work-related cancers.

Trades training and certification systems were brought in and improved. Getting non-traditional and hard-to-employ people into the workforce was also a major goal.

New training programs being added to educational institutions around the province have been announced pretty much monthly since the NDP came to power.

New rules to make life better for gig workers are coming into place on Sept. 3. They will set a minimum wage for engaged time, and a minimum per-kilometre vehicle allowance; all ride-hailing and delivery workers will now be covered by WorkSafeBC.

The minimum wage is now $17.40. It was $11.35 in 2018.

Card check was introduced in 2022. Not only does it make it easier for unions to organize, but it reduces opportunities for companies to intimidate their employees during the unionization process. Under the rules, if 55 per cent of employees sign union cards, certification is now granted. A vote is no longer required.

“The current two-step system can lead to interference in organizing. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, workers who wish to collectively organize must not be impeded in any way,” said Bains in a news release at the time.

Union applications and certifications went up after the law went into effect, BC Labour Relations Board statistics showed.

Non-union workers were granted five sick days in 2022. Unifor had been pushing for 10, but it’s five more than workers had before then.

While other jurisdictions have been making child labour easier, Bains’ ministry put in more safeguards. In 2021, the general working age was raised from 12 to 16 and the types of jobs that are appropriate for those under 16 were defined — essentially “light work.”

In 2019, the government got rid of the dreaded Employment Standards self-help kit. Introduced in 2003 as staffing and services were chopped at the Employment Standards Branch, workers were required to use the kit to file a workplace complaint with their employer before contacting the branch.

“I couldn’t be happier to officially say goodbye to the self-help kit,” said Bains. “For too long, the process has created a barrier for workers who have concerns about whether they are being paid or treated appropriately. Eliminating this as a required first step to filing a complaint with Employment Standards Branch will help ensure that workers can easily access help when they feel their rights have been violated.”

After previous governments had tried to erase all evidence of one of B.C.’s best-known union activists, the NDP government declared Ginger Goodwin Day in 2018 and unveiled new highway signs.

Two of governments first acts in 2018 were raising the minimum wage and improving parental leave provisions in the Employment Standards Act. They were just the start of seven years of such steady improvements.

The above are just some of measures the government and Bains’ Ministry of Labour has put in place since 2017. 

A job well done. We hope it continues.

— Pat Bulmer, Unifor 2000