A final vote on Premier Ford’s plan to repeal two paid sick days and freeze minimum wage is expected to take place at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
By Sarah Mojtehedzadeh
Removing workers’ right to two paid sick days and replacing them with unpaid emergency leave is “more progressive” for workers, Conservative MPPs said Thursday at a testy committee hearing for proposed new labour legislation.
Bill 47, which aims to undo numerous recently enacted measures including two paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, and a scheduled minimum wage bump to $15 in January, passed its second reading earlier this week and is now before the Finance and Economic Affairs committee.
Candace Rennick, secretary-treasurer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said the rollback “makes picking on the poor a government priority” and called it “bizarre” to make workers choose between losing a day’s pay and coming into work ill.
Ontario workers are currently entitled to two paid sick days and eight unpaid leave days. The government wants to give workers eight unpaid leave days instead — three for illness, three for family responsibilities, and two for bereavement leave.
“We’re hearing that it’s more progressive,” said Conservative MPP for Thornhill Gila Martow of the new proposals.
“We are offering a very progressive package of leave,” she said, adding most other Canadians provinces do not offer paid sick days.
Prince Edward Island is currently the only province with paid sick days provisions. Some 146 jurisdictions around the world offer some form of compensation when employees are ill.
Legislation recently introduced in Ottawa also provides workers employed in federally regulated industries with three paid sick days.
Speaking on behalf of the Decent Work and Health Network, Jesse McLaren said Bill 47, which will reinstate employers’ right to ask workers for sick notes, “goes against public health evidence.”
“As an emergency room physician, I depend on my patients not to come to the emergency room for unnecessary reasons like a sick note,” he said.
Michelle Eaton, vice-president of communications for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, told the committee Bill 47 “restored fairness for both business and workers while reducing the financial burden,” on companies.
“Bill 148 was too much too fast,” she said, referring to the Liberal reforms passed in 2017. “(It) created significant unintended but predictable consequences for businesses.”
Julie Kwiecinski, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said her members “felt unfairly vilified by Bill 148.”
“They felt disrespected for the jobs they create and the contributions they make every day in their communities,” adding that the changes were “forced on them all at once without any economic impact analysis whatsoever.”
Bill 148 was introduced following a two-year consultation and a 400-page independent report informed by 10 academic research projects.
Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley said the changes would result in workers “working full time and still living in poverty.”
On top of the 20 groups scheduled to depute on Thursday, some 113 applicants unsuccessfully requested to testify in person to the committee. They will be able to make written submissions instead.
Critics lashed out at the short time frame for consultation on the bill — pointing out that the new labour protections introduced in 2017 involved 12 public consultations, 200 oral presentations, and nearly 600 written submissions.
Catherine Fife, NDP MPP for Waterloo requested Thursday’s session be extended until midnight to accommodate the volume of applications to speak, but the request was denied because the house had ordered the committee to sit until 6 p.m.
“I know previously the consultation was two years so five minutes probably doesn’t seem enough,” said NDP MPP for Sudbury Jamie West to Buckley, referring to the brief period he was able to testify.
“Neither does five hours,” Buckley responded.
By Doreen Nicoll
The Ford government have set in motion changes that will significantly add to the financial stress for women, including those looking to leave abusive relationships
The Raise the Rates Coalition is holding a rally outside Premier Doug Ford’s family business, Deco Labels, on Saturday (November 17), at 1 pm, to protest Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open For Business Act. Among other cost-cutting moves, the proposed legislation will repeal a planned $1 increase in minimum wage. That’s in addition to the Ford government’s decision earlier this fall to cut in half a long-awaited rate increase to already massively underfunded Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Payment programs.
While Bill 47 takes away hard-won protections for marginalized and racialized workers, the coalition says it’s women who stand to lose the most.
That’s because women comprise the bulk of part-time workers, says Pam Frache, coordinator of the Fight for $15 and Fairness Coalition, one of the groups organizing Saturday’s protest. The bill also removes equal pay protections. While employers are still prohibited from paying women less than men, the bill removes the right of employees to request employers review their rate of pay or provide a response in writing on the reasons why they may be receiving unequal pay.
Regarding women in the workforce, Frache says, “Maintaining a sub-poverty minimum wage and paying women less than their full-time counterparts exacerbates an already unequal situation.”
The Ford government’s proposed changes will also make it more difficult for female-dominated workplaces, like home-care services, to unionize.
Bill 47 maintains provisions brought in by the previous Liberal government providing up to 17 weeks of leave for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. Those provisions include five days of paid leave, time that is generally used to go to doctor’s appointments, get legal assistance, find new housing, find child care and to access a variety of services for themselves and their children. But the bill repeals 10 days of job-protected leave for personal and family illness.
London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler, the party’s former women’s critic, points out that for women escaping violence, “if her job is insecure and doesn’t pay enough to lift her out of poverty, she may still feel forced to stay in the abusive relationship.”
Research shows that women are far more likely to fall into poverty after leaving a relationship than men. Too often women are afraid to leave or are forced to return to their abusers because they can’t afford rent, child care, food, clothing and other basic necessities.
With most women’s shelters operating over capacity due to a lack of affordable transition and permanent housing, the added burden of insufficient income makes it all the more difficult for women to leave and remain out of abusive relationships. Now Ford and his government have set in motion changes that will significantly add to that financial stress for women.
By Clement Cheng, Simran Dhunna and Mia Sanders
Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT on why we must resist the Ford government’s rollbacks of our labour rights
In November 2017, the Liberal government passed Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, a watershed moment in Ontario’s history. As a result, over 1.7 million minimum wage workers saw a direct pay increase from $11.60 to $14 per hour, with the $15 minimum wage to come this January. Millions more benefited indirectly from wage bumps.
Today, the Progressive Conservative government is turning back the clock on our rights with Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. On November 20, our MPPs will start the third reading of the bill.
The vote will proceed after only five hours of public consultation. Citing the two weeks of extensive consultations preceding Bill 148, Deena Ladd from the Workers’ Action Centre and the Ontario Federation of Labour called these consultations a “sham.”
Though Doug Ford prides himself on being “for the people,” Bill 47 would endanger millions of workers by repealing almost all of the provisions under Bill 148, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, fairer scheduling laws, and easier ways for certain sectors to unionize.
Why students should be concerned
Among those who stand to lose the most are students. As Ontario has the highest average tuition fees in the country, many of us have no choice but to compromise our studies by juggling multiple jobs to pay tuition, afford rent, and support our families.
Those of us working in academia, such as teaching assistants, also face precarity. Over 75 per cent of college faculty members are temporary contract workers. Ontario’s colleges and universities estimate that they pocket $336 million annually by paying these precariously employed faculty less than their permanent colleagues, who do the same work.
And it’s not just postsecondary students who depend on a better minimum wage and fairer working conditions. Two weeks ago, high school students protested Bill 47 to expose that Ontario is the only province in Canada where student workers under 18 earn a subminimum wage of $13.15 per hour compared to the adult rate of $14 per hour. Bill 47 would cancel the scheduled increase in the subminimum student wage, directly impacting students’ ability to save for postsecondary education at institutions like U of T.
Once in university, many of us take on precarious, low-paying jobs — often in the service and retail sectors — that expose us to a slew of poor working conditions. Students are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of Bill 47 due to our demanding school obligations and the structural barriers some of us face. This is especially true for racialized, women-identified, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, working-class, disabled, and international students.
If it passes, Bill 47 would deny us the right to 10 job-protected leave days,two of which are paid — a rollback that 77 per cent of Ontarians oppose. The bill would also repeal fairer scheduling provisions, such as being able to refuse last-minute shift changes without risking our jobs. Taking time off and having flexibility in scheduling is especially important for students who commute, live with mental or physical illness, and have caregiving responsibilities.
Moreover, many U of T students find work through temporary agencies. By repealing the Equal Pay for Equal Work provision, Bill 47 condemns students who are temporary workers — often racialized and international students — to be paid less than permanent workers for the same job. It also gives a green light to employers who violate employment standards by reducing the penalties for labour violations by 75 per cent.
Unfair labour laws such as those crafted by Ford have a body count. Just two weeks ago, a fourth temp worker died at a Fiera Foods-affiliated company that is notorious for having 191 health and safety violations. The same company claimed the lives of 17-year-old Ivan Golyashov and 23-year-old Amina Diaby, whose hijab got caught in a machine.
U of T’s complicity
Corporate elites continue to lobby against the very laws that are meant to prevent the deaths of young workers like Golyashov and Diaby. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has been spearheading these lobbying efforts, claiming that Bill 148 was “too much, too fast.”
As a member of the OCC, U of T cannot be absolved of its complicity in Ford’s pursuit to slash Bill 148. While Ryerson University, another member of the OCC, has attempted to distance itself from the organization, our university has remained silent.
Now would be a good time for U of T to come clean. To the administration: establish your stance on Bill 47, clarify your relationship with the OCC, and explain why you, as a public university, continue paying membership to a corporate lobbying group that actively undermines workers’ rights — and, by extension, our financial security and well-being as students.
How students can win
Unlike the university, we have not been idle. The U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness has started conversations with hundreds of students across campus. From petitioning at Sid Smith to handing out leaflets at Clubs Fair, we have heard from U of T students of all stripes: commuters who spend hundreds of dollars a month on transit, students raising young children, and classmates supporting their grandparents.
Among the thousands of students who have signed our petition, many are shocked to hear that the Ford government is attacking their future and those of their families.
Along the way, we have been debunking some myths. For instance, Bill 148 is not an “absolute job-killer” as Ford would have people believe. Since Bill 148, the average number of hours worked has increased, and 139,000 net jobs have been created in the province year-over-year.
While canvassing, we also uncovered the deception behind Ford’s new income tax cut for low-income workers, which leaves them with around $1,000 less in their pockets per year than if the $15 minimum wage came into effect. Under Ford’s plan, the minimum wage would be frozen at $14 until October 2020, after which it would be indexed to inflation. In other words, Ontarians would not see the $15 arrive until 2025.
The province-wide Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign has been organizing tirelessly for years to win Bill 148. Now that it’s under imminent threat, we will continue to organize against a government that is ruthlessly trying to turn back the clock on our labour rights. With the power of thousands of students behind us, we will win again.
On Tuesday, November 20, the Ontario Legislative Assembly will debate on Bill 47. Please join the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in Queen’s Park to pack the gallery and stand united against this regressive legislation. Arrive no later than 4:30 pm to get through security. You may also submit a customizable letter calling for the withdrawal of Bill 47 here, which will be sent to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs: https://www.15andfairness.org/withdrawbill47.
Clement Cheng is a fourth-year Peace, Conflict and Justice, English, and Geography student at Victoria College. Simran Dhunna is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Mia Sanders is a second-year Women and Gender Studies and Diaspora & Transnational Studies student at Victoria College. They are members of the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness.
Toronto Star: Students want Ontario to scrap special minimum wage that is lower than that paid to adults
By Sarah Mojtehedzadeh
Ontario is the only province in Canada to have a minimum wage for young workers that is lower than the minimum wage for adults — and Grade 12 student Taamara Thanaraj isn’t happy that a scheduled increase to that rate may soon be frozen.
She was one of a group of 30 students who gathered under drizzly skies at Yonge and Bloor Sts. Friday to protest Bill 47, provincial legislation that, if passed, will result in significant rollbacks to labour protections recently enacted including increases to the general minimum wage and the subminimum wage for students.
“Right now, minimum wage is not a livable wage for a lot of people, especially for parents. That’s why a lot of young people do work,” said Thanaraj, who attends the Scarborough Academy of Technological, Environmental and Computer Education at William Arnot Porter Collegiate Institute.
Bill 47 will keep the general minimum wage at $14 an hour, but cancel an increase to $15 scheduled for January. It will also cancel a scheduled bump from $13.15 to $14.10 an hour for students’ minimum wage.
Employers in Ontario are not required to pay the general minimum wage to students under 18 who work part-time during school or work during a school break or the summer holidays.
In 2017, an extensive report written by two independent experts for the government’s two-year Changing Workplace Review noted that 59 per cent of young people in that category reported making less than the general minimum wage, and this resulted in $25 million in lost wages a year for the province’s student employees.
“Ontario is the only province in Canada with a lower minimum wage for students, and those (provinces) that previously had a lower rate eliminated them years ago,” the report said.
“In our view, the impact of the provision is discriminatory, and, although the Human Rights Code effectively permits discrimination of those under 18, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not.”
Thanaraj said she helped organize Friday’s protest to advocate for young people — and to send a message to government that they deserve equal treatment.
“The government is assuming that because you’re a younger person, you don’t have financial responsiblities. But that’s such a generalization, because most young people are saving up for post-secondary opportunities,” she said.
According to the Ministry of Labour’s policy manual, the rationale for the exemption is “to facilitate the employment of younger persons,” who may struggle to compete for jobs with older students with more work experience.
Several business groups opposed removing the wage differential. These included the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, which said, in its submission, to the review that requiring employers to pay students under 18 the general minimum wage “will have a huge impact on the overall business” and “will greatly affect youth employment.”
Documents obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request show Morley Gunderson, the CIBC Chair in Youth Employment at the University of Toronto, advised the review experts that “the evidence suggests that the sky will not fall in if the student subminimum (wage) is raised, although it may reduce their employment, perhaps by two per cent or so.”
The review recommended that government eliminate the lower student minimum wage over a three-year period, which the Liberals’ Bill 148 did not do. It did increase the base rate.
The Progressive Conservative provincial government has called Bill 148 “job-killing” legislation, and says its proposed replacement, Bill 47, will “make the province open for business, grow the economy and help create good jobs”
NDP MPP Jessica Bell, who addressed Friday’s protest, said Bill 47 serves “an economy of the rich.”
“Even if we’re not old enough to vote, that doesn’t mean we don’t understand our civic rights. Because we’re old enough to work,” added Thanaraj.
“It’s about more than just a $1 raise; it’s a fight against poverty and discrimination in the workplace.”
By Joelle Kovach
Dave Smith to host grand opening Saturday on Water Street
A protest is expected outside Conservative MPP Dave Smith's constituency office on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. over workers' issues such as the halted minimum wage hike.
The protest is being organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour, although it's expected to also include retirees from General Electric who developed cancer from exposure to workplace toxins.
Sue James, a GE retiree and health advocate, said she's been trying to get a follow-up appointment with Smith since he met with the retirees for the first time, in August.
"We want a face-to-face with Smith, who seems to be avoiding us," James said on Friday.
The protest will coincide with the grand opening of Smith's office – which he calls the Action Centre – at 1123 Water St. near Marina Blvd. in the city's north end.
Smith announced in October it would be a barbecue, and he'd offer free hotdogs and burgers.
He wasn't available for an interview Friday. When asked via text how he felt about the protest, he wrote that he will feed anyone who comes to his event.
"We want to encourage everyone who comes – including the protesters – to bring mitts, scarves and hats to donate to Brock Mission and Youth Emergency Shelter," he wrote.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) stated on social media Friday that the protest was organized in objection to the provincial government's treatment of workers.
The government proposes not to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in January as planned by the previous Liberal government, for instance, and to cancel the two paid sick days that workers now get.
The government has also made cuts to the WSIB premiums, the OFL points out – and that concerns James because many GE retirees are seeking compensation for cancer developed from working with toxic chemicals.
James and a group of retirees – many of them sick with cancer – first met with Smith in August to ask him to help them advocate for compensation.
He said at the time he'd do research and update them on his findings in early September, but James has not been able to set a follow-up appointment.
She's spoken to Smith's staff a few times this fall, she said, but they've told her there's no point meeting because he has nothing to report.
"You really do feel he's pushing you aside," James said. "He really should be interested in his constituents and what's important to them."
When asked on Friday to respond to James's assertion that he's brushing off former GE workers, Smith responded (in writing) this way:
"We have an open house tomorrow and everyone is welcome to come."
By Kim Champion
Members of Fight for $15 and Fairness and the Ontario Federation of Labour had issues they wanted to discuss with Elliott
Workers rights activists met with Newmarket-Aurora MPP and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott on Tuesday during constituents’ week to plead their case that paid sick days are essential to public health.
As well as advocating for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and safe workplaces, members of Fight for $15 and Fairness and the Ontario Federation of Labour wanted to discuss with Elliott, also the province's health minister, the consequences of taking away paid sick days.
The local groups are fired up over the Ontario government’s move to repeal much of the former Liberal government’s Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, also known as Bill 148. The Ford government’s Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, would, if passed, freeze the current minimum wage at $14 an hour until 2020.
Personal emergency leave, currently consisting of two paid days and eight unpaid days of protected leave annually for each worker, would be replaced with the right to three sick days, two bereavement days and three family responsibility days annually — all unpaid. Employers could once again require a doctor's note for time off.
“Paid sick days are essential to public health, especially coming into the too often deadly flu season,” $15 and Fairness spokesperson Jessa McLean said in an email. “Allowing employers to demand sick notes would be a burden on the already overcrowded health-care system and contribute to the hallway medicine that the Progressive Conservative government has vowed to end in Ontario.”
McLean's request for a meeting was acknowledged by Elliott in early October when the deputy minister was confronted by protestors in Aurora as she made her way into a local chambers of commerce event. Elliott told them she would be happy to meet.
The group delivered a petition that had more than 500 names on it from Elliott's northern York Region riding to maintain worker protections in Bill 148.
“We presented hundreds of signatures from her constituents and we asked MPP Elliott to pledge to vote to withdraw Bill 47,” McLean said. “And she would not.”
The delegation who met with Elliott included McLean, Dr. Jesse McLaren, an emergency room doctor who shared his view that people turning up in the ER seeking doctor's notes for employers were a drain on public health resources, and CUPE Local 905 chief steward Katherine Grzejszczak, who shared her beliefs about fair scheduling, precarious employment and the positive outcomes of elevating labour standards across the board.
“Elliott acknowledged that the Health Ministry had not been consulted on Bill 47, which includes changes that will have obvious impacts on public health,” McLean added.
Meanwhile, Newmarket Chamber of Commerce CEO Tracy Walters said in a previous interview the Ford government’s new labour bill would "take off some of the pressure (small businesses) have been feeling on Bill 148 and the speed of the changes. Reducing the red tape burden will be welcomed."
While Walter said many local businesses support modernizing labour laws — and many already pay their employees above the minimum wage and for personal emergency days — Bill 148 brought in changes too quickly and without consultation.
"It was too much, too soon," she added, "and actually caused more red tape."
In a media release announcing the regulatory and legislative changes to come with the expected passage of Bill 47, Elliott said: “This new legislation will help bring more jobs to communities like ours and create a better environment for businesses to grow. During the campaign, we heard that doing business in Ontario was becoming increasingly unaffordable, and Bill 148 imposed unnecessary costs on Ontario job creators. That’s why we’re cutting red tape and taking concrete measures to create jobs and make sure Ontario is open for business.”
~With files from Debora Kelly
By Fernando Arce
The Ford government's plan to eliminate paid sick days and reduce access to personal emergency leave has far-reaching implications for the health of every resident in Ontario
While Doug Ford’s Making Ontario Open For Business Act (Bill 47) is ostensibly about helping businesses, a coalition of labour activists and health professionals see it as a public health crisis in the making.
Calling it a “massive step backward for health care in Ontario” during a press conference at Queen’s Park on October 30, Dr. Danyaal Raza, a family physician with the Department of Family Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital and member of the Decent Work & Health Network, says the bill “has implications for the health of every resident in Ontario.”
The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, passed by the previous Liberal government in 2017, granted two out of the seven paid sick days that had been lobbied for by groups like the Fight for $15 and Fairness coalition, the organizers of last week’s press conference. But the Ford government wants to eliminate paid sick days altogether and reduce access to personal emergency leave.
If passed, workers will be forced to parcel out their personal emergencies into a total of eight days of “personal emergency leave” (down from 10) all unpaid and divided into three categories: sick leave (three days), family responsibility leave (three days) and bereavement leave (two days).
Deena Ladd, a coordinator with the Workers' Action Centre, says Ford's bill should be renamed the "Making Ontario Open For Sickness” bill.
When asked about the rationale for eliminating paid sick days, the Ministry of Labour offered in an email response to NOW that “these eight days... would be in line with Alberta and British Columbia, and could be taken without fear of termination.”
But as studies have shown, paid sick days can make a crucial, sometimes even fatal difference, when workers choose to stay home or work through their sickness.
“A lot of specialists don’t have availability in the evening, so having sick days allows patients to get to those appointments during the day,” says Raza. Employees without paid sick days also tend to get fewer flu shots, mammograms, pap smears and blood pressure checks.
The changes proposed by the Ford government mean that Ontarians will be at greater risk of contracting diseases when workplaces become inundated with sick workers unable to afford a day off to see their physician or get well. Raza says schools could soon follow when sick children are forced to attend because their parents or guardians can’t stay home with them.
Two years ago this scenario came to pass, with tragic consequences, when two-year-old Jude – described by his mother Jill Promoli as an otherwise “perfectly healthy child” – succumbed to influenza B, which had begun with a fever the day before. His sister had first caught the bug in her kindergarten class. Said Promoli at last week’s press conference: "One sick child came to school, and basically, it became an entire classroom full of sick children."
The Ford government’s legislation is also reintroducing employer-mandated sick notes. As CBC News reported, it was the Retail Council of Canada president Diane Brisebois, one of the main lobbyists for the bill, who claimed workers were abusing their privileges by faking illness.
However, studies in New York City and San Francisco, where employees receive between five and nine paid sick days, suggest fears about widespread abuse by employees are unfounded.
Raza says “most workers took three or fewer days off. And a quarter of workers took no time off at all. We’re learning from experiences of other jurisdictions.”
Ford claims the bill is about finding “efficiencies,” but Raza says there is nothing cost-effective about it.
“If the government is interested in making health care more efficient, then Bill 47 is in complete contradiction to that goal.”
By James Hopkin
Representatives from a number of local unions stood with the Sault Ste. Marie and District Labour Council in front of Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano’s constituency office Tuesday to rally for workers' rights.
Bill 47 - also known as the Making Ontario Open for Business Act - will scrap the planned $15 per hour minimum wage and reduce the number of sick days allotted to workers.
The minimum wage in Ontario will also be capped at $14 per hour until fall 2020.
USW 9548 president Cody Alexander - who also serves as second vice-president for the labour council - says Romano has been silent in the Sault since the provincial election.
“We need to get the message to Mr. Romano that this is not acceptable, and that they need to stand for workers, as opposed to find ways to work them to death,” Alexander said.
Members of OPSEU, United Steelworkers and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario stood with the local labour council outside Romano’s Bay Street office, hoping to speak with the local MPP.
Romano’s office told SooToday that Romano is currently participating in a series of roundtable discussions in Thunder Bay, which were booked about a week ago.
“Doug Ford seems to take offence to the working class people, and he seems to want to continue to put money in big business’ pockets while not being concerned with the actual people that make the big business their money,” Alexander said.
The Ford government has stated that the repeal of Bill 148 will cut red tape and encourage business investment in part by scrapping the minimum wage hike.
Alexander says that he’s aware of the “fear mongering from the Ford government.”
“I haven’t seen any evidence of that,” Alexander said. “As far as what we’ve seen, it’s doing better for business, because people have more money to spend.”
“Many of the people that are making the minimum wage are also consumers, so having more money in their pockets is better for business all around.”
Alexander told SooToday that the labour movement has been fighting to stop precarious work for decades, and for awhile it felt as though gains were being made in that fight.
“A lot of these gains that we made with Bill 148 were long overdue,” said Alexander. “The minimum wage was one those that should’ve been increased yearly but it wasn’t, so as far as I’m concerned, the $14 an hour is less than what they should’ve been making anyways at minimum wage.”
By Alison Braley-Rattai
Ontario’s Conservative government recently tabled the Open for Business Act (Bill 47). Bill 47 proposes to repeal the changes to Ontario’s workplace laws introduced by the previous Liberal government under Bill 148.
The purpose of Bill 148 was to increase fairness for workers, particularly those precariously employed, while balancing the interests of employers.
It was three years in the making and informed by a panel of two workplace law experts, which twice toured the province to hear from hundreds of witnesses before tabling its 419-page final report. By contrast, Premier Doug Ford’s government claims to have spoken with “dozens” of employers and unions prior to introducing Bill 47.
The purpose of Bill 47 is to “bring jobs and investment back to our province” and to increase “opportunities” for workers. One needs to look harder for any mention of fairness for workers or the creation of decent jobs, although the government claims to wish to “protect” workers. At the end of the day, however, Bill 47 will do none of the above.
The economic sky isn’t falling
By far, the most controversial aspect of Bill 148 was the increase in the minimum wage, from $11.60 to $14 in January 2018, with another scheduled increase to $15 set for January 2019. Bill 47 freezes the rate at $14, with an “annual inflation adjustment” as of October 2020.
Notably, the Ontario Conservatives have opposed every raise in the minimum wage since at least 1995, when they froze wages for eight years. They opposed this one as well, predicting rampant job loss. They were wrong.
In July, Ontario’s unemployment rate hit an 18-year low, with notable jobs gains in the hospitality sector, an industry among those most affected by Bill 148. Bank of Canada economists have said no evidence indicates that Bill 148 caused any general economic downturn.
The reality is that raising the minimum wage on its own has no net effect upon employment figures. The reason is simple: There are too many other factors at play. But that hasn’t stopped the government’s wrongful claim that Bill 148 has crippled the economy.
Bill 47 decreases fairness at work
While doing virtually nothing for job creation, Bill 47 will decrease fairness for workers.
For instance, Bill 47 repeals the provision giving workers the right to refuse work with less than 96 hours’ notice. Such notice is important for those with child/elder care issues, or indeed other jobs, to make appropriate arrangements.
Bill 47 retains the provision to pay workers for three hours if they are required to show up to work but are then not required to work for three hours. However, workers who are on call but are then not required to work will no longer have the same right to three hours pay. It also repeals the right to three hours pay if a scheduled shift is cancelled within 48 hours.
In the name of “flexibility,” employers retain the authority to make scheduling decisions that they believe best suit their bottom lines, while virtually all the risk for such decisions flows to workers.
Employers are not encouraged to make careful scheduling decisions, since they will no longer bear even the minimal responsibility of guaranteeing three hours pay in most instances. Meanwhile, last-minute scheduling changes wreak havoc on the lives of workers and their families.
Even the tepid provision requiring employers to consider requests for a change in schedule or work location in good faith, by providing reasons for a refusal of any such request, is now gone.
Precarious workers and temp agencies
What’s more, Bill 47 reintroduces an incentive to create piecemeal, precarious work. The proliferation of employment agencies — many fly-by-night — and the intense vulnerability of those employed through them has been well-documented. So too have the health impacts of precarious work for certain demographics that make up a large percentage of the precarious workforce.
The Liberals’ Bill 148 made it less attractive for employers to rely upon a casual, precarious workforce by removing distinctions in pay that were based upon “employment status.” The fact that a worker was hired through a temp agency or worked part-time hours could not be the basis for differential pay.
Because precarious work is often gendered and racialized, this provision had the added effect of reducing distinctions indirectly related to gender and race as well.
Bill 47 reintroduces pay distinctions based upon employment status.
What about balance?
The government claimed it was introducing Bill 47 to repeal those parts of Bill 148 “that are causing employers the most concern and unnecessary burden.” Evidently, this government suffers from an inability to prioritize since virtually all of Bill 148’s numerous changes are on the chopping block.
Undoubtedly, the various political parties will adopt various stances on policy issues. What is lacking from Bill 47 is any semblance of balance. Rather than use a scalpel to excise those aspects causing “the most concern,” the government used a fish-hook to gut the bill almost entirely. What little is left provides fewer benefits to workers.
But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Bill 47 was the manner in which the Conservatives greeted its introduction in the legislature: standing and clapping while proposing to repeal basic protections for the most vulnerable workers.
Such displays transform the slogan of a government “for the people” into Orwellian doublespeak.