Flexible shift work schedules are a familiar part of large-scale infrastructure and resource projects in British Columbia. In those industries, it is common for employees to work for several weeks, followed by a week off, work 10- or 12-hour shifts, or work some other nonstandard schedule. However, as more employers look for ways to lower payroll costs and improve flexibility, demand for flexible shift scheduling is increasing across many industries, a trend which is gaining momentum and will continue for the foreseeable future.

The reasons motiving non-standard work schedules are myriad, but often include time and cost pressures on employers. For example, market pressures may demand that a project is complete before price changes make the project uneconomic. Employers often compete for skilled employees from out of province, who may prefer the compensation benefits offered by many consecutive days of work, and longer breaks to return home. Finally, capital-intensive equipment can be better utilized when projects are completed quickly, allowing employers to be more efficient.

Providing the right kind of labour and employment scheduling requires good planning – in the non-union context, those arrangement are often in tension with many provisions of the Employment Standards Act, including provisions setting out maximum hours of work per week, overtime provisions, minimum amount of time free from work per week, and other rules that provide limits to shift scheduling. However, there are several tools within the Act that can provide significant flexibility – variances, averaging agreements, and exclusions – and are available to all employers in British Columbia.