OTTAWA (CP) — Federal officials are set to tighten labour rules to make it tougher for large, federally regulated companies to conduct mass layoffs without warning.

The requirements for businesses dealing with what are known as group terminations have undergone a quiet overhaul amid concerns from officials and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk that the rules designed for exceptional circumstances were being used too regularly.

The final wording has not been set, but the aim is to better ensure employers take the necessary steps to help affected employees find other jobs and receive the severance pay owed to them.

Federal labour regulations require companies to give the federal government 16 weeks notice before they lay off 50 or more workers in a four-week stretch. During that time, employers are also required to create a joint employee-employer committee to help, as much as possible, affected workers find new jobs.

Companies can ask the government for a waiver to the rules in exceptional circumstances and, up to now, have been able to provide generic reasons to support their request.

When federal officials took a look at the dozens of such requests over the last few years, they noticed a pattern that suggested the waivers were being used much too often, especially in the telecommunications and banking sectors.

Exemptions may soon be denied if a waiver was granted in the previous six months and companies would have to give much more detailed information on the number and types of workers affected, along with the specific economic and financial reasons for the layoff.

Officials hope the new rules will give workers more of a heads-up as to when layoffs are coming.

The details are outlined in documents provided to the top official in the labour division at Employment and Social Development Canada and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

This week, the Liberals came under pressure from the NDP to bar replacement workers from being used during work stoppages in federally regulated businesses, such as banks, rail companies and telecommunications firms.

A private member’s bill to ban the use of these workers failed to pass second reading Wednesday night by a vote of 217-47.

Story from Canadian HR Reporter