Milan Nadarajah

  • donated 2017-12-14 17:14:59 -0500

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    Thanks to communities mobilizing across Ontario we won major decent work legislation in 2017. Help us build the Fight On! Fund to push pack against corporate lobbyists who are trying to roll back our gains.

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  • Toronto Star: Stronger protections needed to fight erratic scheduling, advocates say

    By Sara Mojtehedzadeh

    As the passage of Bill 148 nears completion, workers worry that a loophole in new protections will leave them vulnerable to unpredictable schedules.

    Ina Labuschagne describes her working life as akin to a juggling act: three part-time jobs plus an assortment of gigs on the side to make ends meet: loading trucks, gardening, snow shovelling. It’s a common state of being, she says, in her Regent Park community.

    Now, she’s worried the solution is just out of reach.

    As lawmakers at Queen’s Park prepare to finalize updates to the province’s employment laws, advocates say new scheduling protections contained in Bill 148 — while laudable — do not go far enough.

    “Fair scheduling is so important for your mental health,” says Labuschagne. “To know what hours you’re going to work, that would be good.”

    Currently, the bill would give workers the right to refuse a shift if it is assigned with less than four days’ notice. It would also require employers to pay workers for three hours of work if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its start time. Exceptions would be limited to emergencies beyond the employer’s control — like fires, power outages or storms.

    But a recent amendment, inserted after its first reading, could pave the way for other exemptions to be set out through government regulation for employers to avoid paying cancellation wages.

    That makes the provision ripe for abuse, according to Yogendra Shakya, senior research scientist at Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, who is also calling for the new legislation to mandate two weeks’ scheduling notice for all workers.

    “Strong evidence shows (scheduling) is the second most stressful thing for workers — after not having a stable contract.”

    “It leads to higher rates of work-life conflict and that factor is in turn associated with a range of social and health impacts including depression, anxiety, loss of appetite, bad eating habits and low quality of family relationships,” he adds.

    Research conducted by United Way and McMaster University shows, for example, that even high earners with less secure jobs are twice as likely as those in secure employment to report that an unpredictable work schedule has a negative impact on family life.

    Michael Speers, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Labour, said the amendment to Bill 148’s cancellation pay provisions will “give the government the ability to monitor the scheduling provisions and rebalance it, if needed, through future regulation.”

    As previously reported by the Star, erratic scheduling is a growing problem for precarious workers. According to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives based on 2014 Statistics Canada data, almost one in three workers in Ontario now work in jobs where their hours vary from week to week.

    Some employer associations such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce have pointed to the need for flexible scheduling to maintain competitiveness. In its submissions to the government’s so called Changing Workplaces Review the Retail Council of Canada said a cancellation wage for workers would help ensure employees have “sufficient certainty about the hours of work expected from them and the income that they may expect in turn,” but added that the mandatory two weeks’ notice period shouldn’t be “a hard and fast rule.”

    The latter measure has been implemented in some jurisdictions south of the border — for example in San Francisco, where large employers must provide two weeks notice to workers. Speers said Ontario has charted a different course — opting for provisions that benefit “the entire province, and the solution has been tailored to be workable in more sectors.”

    Shakya believes broad and robust scheduling protections are good for everyone.

    “There’s actually strong evidence that fair and stable scheduling is not just good for workers’ health and well being, it’s also good for workplace productivity,” said Shakya, citing research conducted by institutions like the University of Chicago and Harvard Business School.

    “These investments are actually beneficial to workplace productivity and employee morale and quality of service. It’s good for workers’ health and it’s good for business as well.”

    Labuschagne, who volunteers on top of her three jobs as an organizer for the Fight for $15 movement that lobbies for a living wage, says she’s thrilled that Bill 148 would raise the minimum hourly rate to $15 by 2019. But she says if working hours are unpredictable, financial planning will remain a source of anxiety in her community.

    “When you’re trying to juggle part-time jobs you’re constantly worried about scheduling — am I going to be able to be on this shift? Do I have enough time to make it from here to there?”

    “It’s just stressful. I get headaches, I don’t sleep well, I’m anxious,” she adds. “Having a stable job would just be so great.”

    Read the Toronto Star Story

     


  • The Star: Province moves to boost equal-pay protections for temp agency workers

    By Sara Mojtehedzadeh

    Changes to proposed law will make it harder for employers to pay temps less for doing the same job.

    New measures intended to protect vulnerable temp agency, casual, and part-time workers from pay discrimination got a boost Thursday when the province moved to strengthen their provisions and make it harder for employers to violate the spirit of the proposed law.

    Bill 148, which will update the province’s employment standards and is expected to come into force by the end of the year, was amended Thursday to address widespread concern among workers’ rights advocates that new equal-pay policies would not fulfill their stated purpose: to guarantee parity for workers doing the same job, regardless of employment status.

    Critics slammed the previous wording of the bill, which stipulated that temporary employment agency workers doing “substantially the same” work as permanent counterparts must be paid the same rate. Advocates said that language was too vague, and would allow employers to fudge job descriptions to maintain discriminatory wages.

    The Star has written extensively on abuse faced by temp agency workers on the job. Thursday’s changes confirmed the application of the proposed equal-pay measures will be broad, and clarified that temp agency, casual, and part-time workers don’t need to perform identical work to their permanent counterparts in order to benefit from equal-pay provisions.

    “Jobs do not have to be identical in every respect, nor do they have to be interchangeable for the standard to apply,” said Liberal MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence Mike Colle.

    “This is the test that will continue to apply going forward and we believe this is the right direction in promoting fairness in pay in Ontario.”

    Lawmakers also removed controversial language inserted after the bill’s first reading that would have allowed employers to preserve pay differentials between temps and permanent employees through hours-based seniority. Other areas of the Employment Standards Act rely on start date to determine seniority, but the amendment would have allowed seniority to be based on the number of hours worked.

    That would have made it “almost impossible” for precarious workers to be able to ever access their right to equal pay for doing the same job, according to Mary Gellatly of Parkdale Community Legal Services, because by definition, temp, casual, and part-timers are unlikely to ever work as many hours as a full-time employee.

    “I think it really would have been quite dangerous to introduce that into employment standards and I think it would have exacerbated issues precarious workers face in terms of accessing rights,” said Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Worker’s Action Centre.

    “All in all, I think the legislation didn’t get weakened … and in particular (that) concession to business was taken off the agenda. So I think we came out of this part of the process with the legislation stronger.”

    The bill, which now heads to third reading, will also make it easier for temp agency workers to unionize.

    The number of temp agency offices opening across Ontario has increased by 20 per cent in the past decade and there are now more than 1,700 operating in the GTA alone, according to statistics from the provincial workers’ compensation board.

    This year, the Star sent a reporter to work undercover as a low-wage temp worker at an industrial bakery that relies heavily on temp agency employees as it mass produces bread products for major grocery stores and fast-food chains. The reporter received just five minutes of safety training and was paid in cash at a payday lender, without pay stubs or statutory deductions. Statistics obtained by the Star showed that temp agency workers across the province are at greater risk of workplace injury than non-temp counterparts.

    Citing the investigation, NDP labour critic Cindy Forster unsuccessfully proposed two further amendments to Bill 148 to prevent workplaces from hiring more than 20 per cent of their workforce through temp agencies and to make temp agency workers directly hired employees after 90 days on the job.

    “I think the government needs to do more,” Forster said, adding that workers shouldn’t “remain temporary for the rest of their lives.”

    Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has described his government’s reforms as a way to ensure that “everyone who works hard has the chance to reach their full potential and share in Ontario’s prosperity.” The bill will also increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour and introduce two paid sick days for all workers.

    “To me that is so well-deserved and so needed,” Ladd said. “I know that’s going to make a huge difference for a lot of workers.”

    Read the Toronto Star Story

     


  • International Socialists: Young Workers Assembly shares lessons on the Fight for $15 and Fairness

    By Peter Hogarth


    “I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! Doesn’t it feel good to say that and mean it?” Rejean Hoilett from Fight for Ryerson $15 and Fairness commented after leading the crowd in the chant at the Ontario Federation of Labour’s (OFL) Young Workers’ Assembly.

    The gathering of more than 200 young workers at the Toronto Sheraton Hotel on Saturday, November 18 ahead of the OFL convention seemed buoyed by the recent announcement of the passing of Bill 148. It was an exciting chance to reflect on what can be learned from experience and how to strengthen and extend the recent victories going forward. The bill will raise the minimum wage to $14 an hour in January and $15 in January 2019, along with a host of other fairness provisions, regarding scheduling, unionization, time off work and equal pay. The fight it took to win these reforms has strengthened the power of workers across Ontario

    The attendance demonstrated the diversity of the labour movement, with attendees from Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Kingston, North Bay, Thunder Bay and elsewhere. Young workers represented CUPW, IATSE, IBEW, CUPW, UFCW, PSAC, Unifor, Unite Here, CUPE, and more. There was particularly good attendance from grocery and food service workers. The messaging from the invited speakers and participants in table discussions reflected the success of the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in pushing its message and just how much the campaign has done to help shape the agenda for labour in Ontario.  

    Through the workshops, table discussions and panels, a few key themes and lessons emerged that participants tried to tease out and generalize to help them in organizing their workplaces and communities:

    Grassroots organizing
    Lesley Jamieson, a member of PSAC and Kingston Fight for $15 and Fairness organizer, talked about the grassroots nature of the campaign and “starting from scratch in Kingston to take advantage of the historical opportunity presented by the Changing Workplaces Review” to fight for decent work. She and others repeated similar stories of a few like-minded people petitioning, knocking on doors, talking to co-workers, phone banking, leafletting, organizing meetings and demonstrating to pressure their MPPs to take action.

    But what was especially striking about these stories was the way people in their ones and twos found another person to bring to a meeting or to make a call or to put up a poster; building trust-based face-to-face relationships in communities and workplaces to force MPPs to take the campaign seriously. We heard of medical providers taking up the call for paid sick days and better wages and workers incorporating the demands of the campaign into their bargaining.

    Fight for $15 and Fairness and union activists talked about breaking out of a passive, service model of labour activism; instead making people aware that this was their fight and finding ways to involve them and give them agency in their own fight for decent work. The campaign emerged from workers themselves, around a demand that could inspire people but also one that seemed achievable. In organizing to win decent work, the campaign empowered low-wage workers to demand better.

    As Hamilton city councillor Matthew Green emphasized in his keynote speech, “when conversations on labour only cater to a sector of unionized folks, we leave too much on the table.” The Young Workers’ Assembly, in content and form, showed some ways in which the fight for $15 and better working conditions has activated non-unionized workers in struggle and has helped to forge links between unionized and non-unionized workers.

    Not falling for the elections trap
    The assembly reflected the optimism of a movement that had just won a major victory, but there were no illusions about where that victory came from and what it would take to defend it. As Alia Karim of the York University Fight for $15 and Fairness group emphasized, “the victory is ours, it’s not from the Liberals. We fought for and won it!”

    With the June 7 provincial election on the horizon, questions of how young workers should approach it informed much of the discussion at the assembly. While there were certainly NDP members in attendance, the prevailing message from participants throughout the event was not to endorse a party, but to set the bar and force the parties to meet it. The movement that forced Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government to put forward Bill 148 did so by empowering other workers and community members to fight for an ambitious set of demands through demonstrations, strikes and campaigning, not by asking a political party to do it for them.

    The threat posed by Patrick Brown’s Tories (who have promised to delay $15 until 2022) can best be defeated by maintaining an issues-based mobilization that forces parties that want the decent work vote to come and get it. As David Anderson from Unite Here 75, said “if we can show we are using the new labour laws to make people’s lives better we can beat Patrick Brown.”

    Defend and Extend
    The passing of Bill 148 has the potential to give unionized workers greater leverage and help more workers join unions. These ideas animated the conversation around “what’s next?”

    The successful fight of food service workers at York University was cited by many as a useful example of how we can defend and extend the gains of Bill 148. The York food service workers built the demands of a province-wide movement into their contract demands and the solidarity of $15 and Fairness student groups helped mobilize support from students and other campus workers, put pressure on York University and win an impressive contract that had reverberations on other campuses and workplaces.

    In strategizing on how to protect and expand the gains up to and after the election, many were intrigued by how to bargain and organize for $15 and Fairness. David Anderson emphasized the opportunities that the changes to the Labour Relations Act offered to the labour movement. Greater access to bargaining unit contacts with fewer requirements when forming a union, more mechanisms to force certification into the workplace and counter employer intimidation, and protect workers who try to form unions or go on strike. These changes offer opportunities to strengthen the labour movement and build workers’ power.

    The sense of confidence and combativeness meant some participants saw these changes as weapons that could be used to fight Islamophobia and white supremacy. The connections between increased leverage for workers to leave abusive employment, fighting to make all jobs decent jobs and the centring the experiences of the most marginalized in an active fight to smash divisions between workers while empowering new leadership in the movement were made throughout the assembly’s discussion.

    The Young Workers’ Assembly brought together young workers, organizers and leaders that have the potential to transform the class struggle in Ontario. By becoming leaders in our workplaces and activating that next layer of co-workers and neighbours, we can win much more than Bill 148 and have the fighting labour movement we want and need.

    Read the International Socialists Story 

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  • published Jacobin Magazine: Workers Win Big in Ontario in Media 2017-12-04 16:42:11 -0500

    Jacobin Magazine: Workers Win Big in Ontario

    fter nearly three years of organizing, protesting, striking, and lobbying, a grassroots workers’ campaign in Ontario has secured a huge victory.

    Against the unpopular Liberal government’s commitment to neoliberal austerity and sustained opposition from a powerful business lobby, the Fight for $15 and Fairness movement won a $15 minimum wage and other significant concessions. On November 22, Bill 148, which makes these achievements law, passed third reading in the Ontario legislature, overcoming its last legislative hurdle.

    Bill 148 has the quickest timeline to a $15 minimum wage in North America — just eighteen months. Labor minister Kevin Flynn introduced the legislation on June 1, 2017, and workers will get their first raise on January 1, 2018. The bill calls for a front-loaded phase-in: in 2018, the minimum wage will jump from $11.60 to $14 an hour, and then reach $15 by January 1, 2019. Because of a 2014 victory by the $14 NOW campaign, the wage will be indexed to annual inflation rates.

    For the province’s 675,000 minimum wage workers, Bill 148 represents a 30 percent wage increase. Overall, 1.7 million workers will see a direct pay increase.

    Women and racialized workers, who disproportionately occupy low-wage jobs, will see the greatest benefit. An estimated 130,000 union members will also get a direct pay raise — about one in ten unionized Ontario workers. Factoring in anticipated wage bumps for workers making between $15 and $19, over two million workers will see their paychecks grow next year.

    Bill 148 also ushers in a host of other labor reforms.

    It extends access to ten job-protected Personal Emergency Leave (PEL) days to every worker in the province, allowing an additional 1.6 million workers to use the benefit. In addition, it mandates that two PEL days be paid and that employers cannot require a doctors’ note. This makes Ontario the first Canadian province where all workers have access to paid sick days.

    The law also eliminates on-call or “zero hour” contracts, requiring employers to pay workers for a minimum of three hours for every day they are on call, but are not called in. Employers must also pay the three-hour minimum for canceling shifts within forty-eight hours and give workers the right to refuse last-minute shifts.

    The legislation extends card-check certification to some highly precarious sectors, like building services, temp agencies, and home care — the first time card check has been restored outside the construction industry since its wholesale repeal in the Ontario Tories’ 1995 neoliberal blitzkrieg.

    In addition to paid sick days, improved scheduling rules, and some gains on card check, Bill 148 introduces equal-pay language, threatening the ubiquitous practice of paying part-time and temporary agency workers lower hourly wages than full-timers doing the same work.

    Other reforms include the elimination of contract flipping in certain sectors, improved access to employee lists for union drives, and an extra week of paid vacation after five years of employment.

    Bill 148 does fall short of the movement’s demands on a number of fronts. The Liberal government continues to deny collective bargaining rights to farm and domestic workers, and the legislation fails to address a host of exemptions from employment standards. The equal pay for equal work language also contains troublesome loopholes.

    Despite these shortcomings, however, Bill 148 is a major victory for the Ontario working class, and the fight for it offers similar campaigns important lessons and new ideas.

    Clearing the Path

    The achievements in Bill 148 did not come out of thin air nor were they bequeathed to workers by a benevolent Liberal government. A persistent, determined movement, built from below by workers themselves, wrenched the $15 minimum wage and other reforms from employers and the government.

    In 2013, while the labor movement was still reeling from a government-backed employers’ offensive launched after the 2008–9 economic crisis, community and union groups — including the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto and the Ontario Federation of Labour — launched the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage. The campaign hoped to pressure the minority Liberal government to raise the minimum wage, which had been frozen at $10.25 since 2010, to $14. Through petitioning, creative action, and outreach the campaign began building popular support.

    As the 2014 election approached, the Liberals promised to raise the minimum wage by 75 cents to $11 and tie future increases to inflation. Ontario’s New Democratic Party (NDP), the social democratic labour formation that traditionally occupies third-party status, chose to undercut rather than amplify the campaign’s demands by endorsing only a $12 minimum wage.

    With the NDP tacking to the right and the Tories threatening massive public sector layoffs and American-style right-to-work legislation, the unpopular Liberals won an unexpected majority. While the minimum wage campaign did not achieve its $14 goal, it did win a promised review of provincial employment and labor laws. This victory laid the groundwork for the next phase of the campaign.

    In January 2015, the Liberals created the Changing Workplaces Review to examine the Employment Standards Act (ESA), which governs minimum work standards, and the Ontario Labour Relations Act (OLRA), which oversees trade unions. However the government declared that minimum wage was outside the review’s mandate. Further, like most government-commissioned reviews, this initiative would bury grievances and defuse agitation through committees, panels, studies, and other bureaucratic and legislative labyrinths.

    The activists and workers who had been involved in the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage strategized about how to respond. Low-wage, nonunionized workers organized by the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto — the vast majority of whom were women and workers of color — were at the crux of this movement.

    Informed by their own understanding of the province’s evolving political situation in Ontario and inspired by Fight for $15 in the United States, these workers spent several months developing a list of demands they thought would be realistic enough to achieve but bold enough to inspire.

    Relaunched in April 2015 as the Fight for $15 and Fairness, the campaign laid out twenty-six demands that came from the needs of workers, not the business community, politicians, left academics, or social-democratic institutions. While all elements were important, the movement made the $15 wage the keystone for building popular support, connecting to the US struggle, and mobilizing widespread opposition to income inequality.

    In terms of organizing, the campaign set out to unite union and nonunion workers and to use the Changing Workplaces Review as a province-wide venue in which to bargain collectively for all workers. From the outset, the activists were clear that simply lobbying politicians for legislative changes would never produce substantive victories. Workers needed to build power from below at work, on campus, and in the streets.

    Laying a Foundation

    Unlike Fight for $15 in the United States, into which the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) poured millions of dollars in funds, the Ontario Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign did not enjoy massive investment from unions. It received some union donations and support and had one full-time organizer, but its limited resources meant that the campaign depended entirely on worker energy and capacity.

    The campaign built small groups in communities, colleges, and workplaces across the province. Activists used centrally produced materials such as leaflets, petitions, and buttons to orient the movement and build it outward. They aimed to build support at a local level, drawing in community allies, collecting data, and training new recruits. Each chapter determined its own activity level, but they often coordinated with each other.

    Activists organized mainly in communities where they were already rooted. For instance, workers and students in the health-care sector mobilized the Decent Work and Health Network to build public pressure for paid sick days and to end employer requirements for doctors’ notes. Activists in the faith community used the $15 and Fairness demands to craft a statement framing the struggle as a moral issue. They then used this statement to organize in their faith communities, pressure politicians, and get a voice in the media.

    The campaign built an extensive network of campus groups at Ontario universities and community colleges. These organizations united union and nonunion workers, faculty, and students, many of whom also hold low paying jobs. Campus chapters organized workshops, petition, and tabling efforts, coordinated protests, and, in some cases, strike support.

    For instance, the $15 and Fairness campaign had already been campaigning on the York University and the University of Toronto campuses for over a year when low-wage food service workers employed by Aramark went out on strike in the winter of 2017. Thousands of students had signed the petition, heard a class talk, gone to a workshop, or been handed a leaflet. So, when Unite Here Local 75 members framed their bargaining demands in terms of a $15 minimum wage and respect at work, they tapped into a wide network of support.

    Students recognized that supporting workers on strike for $15 and Fairness meant supporting those demands for all workers, including themselves. Organizing around demands that spoke to the broader working class produced this incredible solidarity operation, including a successful student-led boycott of Aramark services.

    The strikers won big, with a $15 starting wage and massively improved benefits. The campaign helped set a new standard in the sector, paving the way for a big victory at the Roger’s Centre, and showed that the $15 and Fairness framework could produce gains at the bargaining table by building massive strike support on the ground.

    Since then, workers at libraries, airports, grocery stores, and colleges have used these techniques to marshal the movement’s power in their efforts to secure wage increases, equal pay for equal work, paid sick days, and fair scheduling. Some of these efforts have produced important contract victories, and all have led to breakthroughs in terms of membership mobilization and popular support.

    Organizing the Work

    Allowing local groups to shape the $15 and Fairness campaign to their needs built internal organizing capacity and buy-in at the same time. The organization’s structure encouraged self-activity, new ideas, and new directions as long as activists were willing to do the work.

    Most of the routine mobilization work involved petitioning, leafleting, holding creative events, postering, organizing town halls, and lobbying politicians. Protests, strikes, and strike support were less common, but they played a crucial role in focusing local and province-wide capacities, building momentum and energy, and providing an ebb and flow to activity that helped prevent burnout.

    While local groups determined the activities they would participate in, chapters collaborated on setting the campaign’s overall direction in province-wide teleconferences, in-person strategy sessions in the spring of 2016 and 2017, and a province-wide campus assembly in September 2017.

    The organization activated and armed its local chapters with materials, knowledge, and a grasp of the broader strategic framework. It centralized communications and data, allowing for coordinated phone banking, email blasts, lobbying, and campaign messaging.

    The campaign did not rely on a strong leader who enforced rigid discipline. Rather, it resembled the free-flowing creative collaboration of a jazz group. Cornel West, when describing “jazz freedom fighters,” noted that “individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group — a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project.” This interplay between collective goals and individual creativity allowed the campaign to build new layers of leadership, strengthen its political perspective, and expand its dynamic capacities.

    As more activists became involved, they began framing the movement’s demands in language that spoke to their lived realities as workers. They forged organic links between the need for improved working standards and the fight against Islamophobia, racism, and sexism. It wasn’t just the fact that that racialized and female workers are statistically overrepresented in low-wage and precarious jobs in Ontario that made the $15 and Fairness campaign relevant for women and people of color. Just as importantly, the campaign allowed workers to actively shape its demands from below. The strong antiracist, anti-Islamophobic, and feminist framework reflected the actual struggles of people participating in the campaign.

    This bottom-up framework gave participants a powerful experience of collective political and economic education. The majority female leadership of the Workers’ Action Centre, who provided the core organizational, strategic, and intellectual muscle, built a culture of intellectual inquiry and organizing in a way that fostered new layers of worker leadership.

    At each stage of the struggle, activists collectively developed the movement’s organizing model, policies, and politics. New voices rose up from the rank and file that reflected this collaborative work, and they began leading trainings, workshops, and panel discussions as well as speaking at public events and in the media.

    The regular activity of petitioning, training, and public speaking sharpened activists’ rhetorical and recruitment skills, and it also compelled them to deepen their understanding of their demands’ political and economic dimensions and to figure our how to relate these ideas to others in a coherent way.

    As the campaign gained momentum and Bill 148 appeared, employers began to pump out fear-mongering propaganda about massive job losses, widespread automation, and bankrupt small businesses. In order to resist this assault, activists had to develop a clear understanding of the province’s employment and business structures; of automation, productivity, turnover, wages’ gendered and racialized nature, aggregate demand, working-class consumer spending, and more.

    Defeating the Critics

    For some, Ontario’s $15 minimum wage now seems modest — perhaps even inevitable. But it only seems that way because people organized like hell to make it so.

    When the campaign launched, the vast majority of people, even those sympathetic, said it would never happen. This response was to be expected, considering how effectively neoliberal austerity had subdued and isolated Ontario’s union and nonunion workers. If the campaign had aligned its demands with these lowered expectations, it would have neither won any substantial reforms nor shifted the balance of class forces in favor of workers.

    Some circles didn’t appreciate the movement’s orientation toward mass outreach. Early on, a fair number of labor leaders said organizers would never win $15 and that they should drop it because it was outside the Changing Workplaces Review’s purview.

    But campaign organizers rejected the idea that the government should dictate worker priorities. They understood the wage increase’s importance because it spoke to the needs of workers in clear terms, captured the need to address rising inequality, and could build a base of support for winning more niche reforms.

    The very fact that we won $15 shows just how wrong the skeptics were.

    Since the Liberals began supporting the $15 minimum wage and announcing Bill 148, sections of both the Left and Right in Ontario have characterized the move as a crafty attempt to buy votes in the June 2018 election.

    No doubt, Bill 148 is Liberal opportunism. But, more important, it shows that the campaign has made $15 and Fairness so popular that no party dare directly oppose its core demands. Polls routinely show solid and wide majority support for these reforms, and politicians are keenly aware that these issues could determine their electoral fate.

    Perhaps the most pitiful response has been from the NDP, which complained that the Liberals stole its ideas. While the NDP certainly has better policy positions on these issues, it only endorsed $15 a year before the Liberals brought forward Bill 148.

    The NDP also inexplicably called for five paid sick days instead of the campaign’s demanded seven. More worrisome, however, has been its call for small business “offsets” to help entrepreneurs deal with the wage increases. This line of thought completely cedes ground to the arguments the business lobby has advanced in its efforts to undermine and ultimately defeat Bill 148. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath recently attended an Ontario Chamber of Commerce event where she criticized the Liberals for failing to produce a coherent plan for offsets and for rushing the reforms through.

    With the NDP joining the business lobby’s call for offsets, the Liberals had no real opposition on this issue when they recently announced cuts to small business taxes.

    Winning the War

    It is clear the struggle this campaign initiated is far from over. Bill 148 simply means the fight has entered a new level, where the stakes become even higher. Now, much of the work will come in shaping the law’s practical implementation.

    These fights will determine the legislation’s utility to workers. Pushing for the best possible interpretations of the new ESA and OLRA provisions and keeping the struggle in the public eye offer the best defense against a well-organized and vicious employer lobby.

    The right wing and big business are looking toward the spring election, where a tired fifteen-year Liberal dynasty is facing a rejuvenated Tory opposition. The latter have already announced they will postpone the wage increase until 2022. If they win big, the Tories can be expected to gut Bill 148 even further, just as they did in the first months of their 1995 government, when they rolled back the labor reforms of the province’s one and only NDP government.

    As for the NDP, they are giving every indication that they will run a campaign that blends progressive policies with Third Way rhetoric. In other words, they remain steadfast in their commitment to the neoliberal turn they made over two decades ago.

    This is the difficult context in which activists in the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign will have to develop a new strategy to fight for Bill 148’s enforcement, defend it against rollbacks, and build power to win unmet demands.

    Expanding the Struggle

    Ontario Fight for $15 & Fairness put workers’ demands and concerns on the table and squeezed out real victories. There are several important reasons why.

    The first was the campaign’s razor sharp focus on the issues. By picking demands bold enough to inspire but achievable enough to win, the campaign centered its project on workers and their experiences. The issues’ broad class appeal raised expectations, allowing activists to build a united front of unionized and nonunionized workers, community and student groups.

    Second, the campaign focused on mobilizing workers province-wide to engage in mass outreach to other workers. It used a bewildering array of methods to achieve this end: protesting, petitioning, lobbying, postering, writing to newspapers, holding public events, releasing videos, dropping banners, phone banking, door knocking, and even striking.

    This was not an insular or top-down campaign, but one predicated on building grassroots leadership across sectors.

    The third strength came from the thoughtful, skilled, intellectually curious, and compassionate people involved in the organizing. The movement culture they cultivated cares about the people involved in it, aims to build people up, and gives workers the chance to shape the movement in a way that reflects their own experiences and communities.

    The final lesson from the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign is not simply that winning a $15 minimum wage is achievable, but that it can be transformative. The campaign’s efforts to raise the floor of labor standards is about building the capacity, confidence, and power of all workers to go further and fight for what they truly deserve.

    Read the Jacobin Magazine Story.


  • Financial Post : Ontario reforms labour laws, boosts minimum wage to $15 in 2019

    By Allison Jones

    TORONTO — Ontario passed sweeping labour reform legislation Wednesday, including increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which will form a key pillar of the governing Liberals’ re-election bid next year.

    Premier Kathleen Wynne has been tying the policy at nearly every opportunity to a theme of fairness that will likely carry through to the June 2018 election, along with free tuition for low- and middle-income students, more child care spaces and pharmacare for youth.

    The minimum wage boost has proved largely popular in government polling and with labour advocates, though it is controversial with businesses, who say the increase is too fast and will lead to job losses.

    Currently at $11.60 an hour, the minimum wage will rise under the legislation to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, with the increase to $15 coming in 2019. It will then continue to rise with inflation.

    The government and some economists argue that the hike will have some positive impact on the economy, as minimum wage earners get more spending power.

    “Actually what you see is increases in employment because that money gets recycled,” said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn.

    “This isn’t money that goes to the Cayman Islands. This isn’t money that goes into savings accounts. If you’re trying to raise a family on a minimum wage in the province of Ontario you don’t have a savings account,” he said. “What you do is you take that money out, you pay your rent, you pay your groceries, maybe a little car payment, you buy some shoes for the kids, diapers, that goes right back into the businesses.”

    Flynn also immediately made political hay of the Progressive Conservatives voting against the legislation.

    “I really think it was a slap in the face to working people in the province,” he said. “I expected better.”

    Progressive Conservative John Yakabuski said his party didn’t support it because of various analyses and business groups warning such a sharp increase in minimum wage will lead to job losses.

    “The accelerated increase in the minimum wage is the No. 1 reason why we had to send a clear message that we’re going to defend what we believe are the working class in Ontario,” he said. “If you haven’t got a job your wage is zero.”

    The province’s economic watchdog, the Financial Accountability Office, has estimated more than 50,000 people could lose their jobs due to the minimum wage increase.

    A TD Bank report has estimated the minimum wage hike could cost the province’s economy as many as 90,000 jobs by 2020. And an analysis from the Keep Ontario Working Coalition concluded over 185,000 jobs could be impacted.

    Businesses say it will be difficult to absorb the increased costs over such a short time frame.

    “They also turned a blind eye to numerous surveys and evidence-backed studies warning of significant job losses, especially among lower-skilled workers,” said Julie Kwiecinski, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

    The Liberal government recently announced the provincial corporate tax rate for small businesses will be cut from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent to help support businesses through the minimum wage transition, though Wynne said it was never intended to fully offset the impact.

    The legislation also mandates equal pay for part-time and temporary workers doing the same job as full-time employees, increases vacation entitlements to three weeks after a worker has been with their company for five years, requires employees to be paid for three hours if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its start, and expands personal emergency leave to 10 days per year, two of them paid.

    The minimum wage increase is the centrepiece of the legislation and something labour advocates have been urging for years.

    “The $15 minimum wage will put money where it is deserved and most needed, into workers’ pockets,” Navi Aujla, a former temp agency worker with the $15 & Fairness campaign, said in a statement.

    “Together with paid emergency days, fairer scheduling and equal pay for equal work measures, $15 will make a real difference for our communities who fought so hard for this victory.”

    The Ontario Federation cheered the passage of the legislation but had hoped it would contain even more changes.

    “The law needs to go further to better safeguard decent work for generations to come,” said president Chris Buckley. “It must reflect what these workers and so many others face every day, including low wages, no access to unions and no job security.”

    The NDP had proposed amendments to give all workers five paid sick days, eliminate minimum wage exemptions for servers and limit how much companies can rely on temp workers, but the Liberals voted them down.

    “Workers have been waiting 14 long years actually under the Liberal government for some improvements to their working conditions in this province,” said New Democrat Cindy Forster.

    Read the Financial Post Story.


  • Financial Post: What’s in Ontario’s massive new labour law? A minimum wage hike, but much, much more

    By Geoff Zochodne

    The Ontario legislature passed a bill Wednesday including the much-ballyhooed minimum wage hike that has been hailed as both massive boon and possible job-killer for Canada’s most populous province.

    But Bill 148 — the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act — contains much more than an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The legislation follows a lengthy review ordered up by Ontario’s Liberal government of provincial employment and labour law, and as such contains sweeping reforms that will be felt by businesses of all sizes.

    “We know the province’s economy is doing very well, but not everybody is sharing in that prosperity,” Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said during Wednesday’s question period at Queen’s Park. “It needs to change. Bill 148 is that change.”

    So what’s actually in the bill? Here are a few of the changes it will ultimately make in Ontario:

    • The wage hike – There is more in the legislation than just the headline increase to the province’s minimum wage, which consists of a hike to $14 per hour on Jan. 1, 2018, followed by a bump to $15 per hour in 2019. Outside of that, liquor servers, students under 18, hunting and fishing guides and people working from their homes for an employer would continue to be paid a special minimum wage rate, but that rate “will increase by the same percentage as the general minimum wage,” the province has said.

    And while not in the legislation passed Wednesday, the government is trying to ease the burden of the wage hike on small businesses by cutting their corporate income tax rate, to 3.5 per cent from 4.5 per cent. This is “to provide increased support for small businesses and help them become more competitive,” the province’s fall economic and fiscal update said. The tax cut would be effective as of Jan. 1, according to the government, the same day the minimum wage will be hiked to $14 per hour.

    • No more mandatory high heels – Bill 148 would add a section to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act that would block employers from forcing workers to wear high heels, “unless it is required for the worker to perform his or her work safely.” An exception will be made for employers looking for a “performer” in the entertainment and advertising industries, the law says.

    • Solidarity – Bill 148 will arguably make it easier for some employees to unionize. It allows for “card-based” certification — wherein workers can form a union if enough employees sign a card saying they want to be represented by the union, rather than a vote having to be held — for the building services, home care and community services, and temporary help agency industries. This is in addition to the construction sector, which already uses the card-based method.

    • The maximum fines under the province’s Labour Relations Act would also be bolstered, to $5,000 from $2,000 for individuals and to $100,000 from $25,000 for businesses.

    • Scheduling – Bill 148 is chock full of changes to how bosses can pencil in their hires for shifts. As one example, when an employee has worked somewhere for more than three months, the law allows them to ask for schedule or location changes, “without fear of reprisal,” the government says.

    • Under the new law, employees who usually work more than three hours a day, but who show up to work and are given less than that, would have to be paid for three hours. And if a boss cancels a shift on an employee less than 48 hours before that shift was set to begin, the worker would be paid for three hours of work.

    • Leave — The legislation contains a number of sections establishing rules around leaves and holidays, such as employers having to give their workers a minimum of three weeks of paid vacation if the employees have been working for them for five years or more.

    • Under the law, paid personal emergency leave will be extended to all workers, not just those at a business with 50 or more employees. Bill 148 would entitle all workers to 10 personal emergency leave days a year, with two of them paid. Employers would not be allowed to ask for their employees to give them a sick note when they take that leave, the government says.

    • Equal pay for equal work – Bill 148 sets out that casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers get paid the same as full-timers when they are “substantially” doing the same job for the same employer.

    What’s more, workers who suspect that they’re not receiving equal pay can ask for a “review” from their employer, following which the employer could adjust the employee’s pay or be forced to issue a written response as to why they disagree a change is needed. The legislation also says employers can’t cut employee pay in order to comply with the law.

    • The blitz is on (soon) – To ensure its new rules are followed, the government says they will hire up to 175 additional employment standards officers. When those new officers are hired, the government says it is aiming to perform inspections at one out of every 10 Ontario businesses.

    Read the Financial Post story.


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