June 03, 2020

Media Release: Workers hit hardest by the pandemic faced with greater financial insecurity after Ford government puts layoff benefits on hold

TORONTO, June 3, 2020 – “For workers who got temporarily laid off or had their hours cut due to COVID-19, this crisis has just turned from bad to worse,” said Pam Frache, Coordinator of the Fight for $15 & Fairness Campaign. “The consequences of Premier Doug Ford’s decision will be devastating for many, while deadly for others.”

On May 29, 2020, the Ontario government amended the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to suspend termination and severance pay for non-unionized workers who’ve been temporarily laid-off because of COVID-19. The new Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) regulation will be retroactive to March 1, 2020 and stay in effect until 6 weeks after the province’s declared state of emergency ends.

“Workers – especially in low-wage jobs that dominate sectors providing essential services like care work, food supply and cleaning – have been paying for this pandemic since day 1,” said Frache. “Taking away their hard earned entitlements worth several weeks of wages is a slap in the face for many who are just one rent cheque away from losing their housing.”

As part of IDEL regulation, workers who had their hours cut or eliminated due to COVID-19 will now also be prevented from filing a Ministry of Labour claim for constructive dismissal. Previously, a reduction in hours of work or earnings by 20 per cent would likely deem workers constructively dismissed, making them eligible for termination and severance pay as well as CERB. Now without constructive dismissal, more workers will be barred from accessing the $2,000 monthly Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which is not available to those who have quit their job, even when their hours of work and wages are cut significantly. This also gives employers more power to reduce wages and working conditions.

“The loss of constructive dismissal protection during COVID-19 will mean even fewer people will be able to risk speaking up against unsafe working conditions, while reprisals in the form of reduced earnings become more swift” said Jared Ong, a community organizer with the Workers’ Action Centre. “At a time when more workplaces are reporting outbreaks, this is extremely dangerous.”

"Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton may say this is merely temporary and that workers will be able to access their entitlements 6 weeks after the pandemic," said Mary Gellatly with Parkdale Community Legal Services. “But the truth is, there is nothing to stop employers from hollowing out their companies and removing assets, so when they are finally required to pay termination and severance, there will be nothing left for workers.”

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For more information or to arrange interviews:

Nil Sendil
Communications Coordinator, Fight for $15 & Fairness
info@15andfairness.org l 647-710-5795