By Muriel Draaisma
'Decent work is an education issue,' union leader tells reporters at Queen's Park
An Ontario government bill that aims to roll back labour reforms would make life more difficult for precariously-employed university and college students, staff and faculty, says an NDP MPP.
Chris Glover, A Toronto MPP who serves as the Official Opposition's universities critic, urged the provincial government to immediately withdraw Bill 47 on Monday.
The bill, dubbed the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, would repeal a planned minimum wage hike to $15 — an increase set to happen in January 2019 — while cancelling two guaranteed paid sick days for all Ontario workers. The Progressive Conservative plan has already passed first reading and is likely to be approved due to the government's majority.
"The students in our colleges and universities in Ontario, already faced with the highest tuition fees and highest debt levels, are potentially facing much higher costs for going to school," Glover told reporters at a Queen's Park news conference.
According to Statistics Canada, undergraduate students in Ontario paid more than $8,000 in tuition fees, the highest average in the country, as of the 2016/2017 academic year.
Other speakers said the bill will add to the financial insecurity facing college and university staff and faculty, many of whom work contract-to-contract with no health benefits or pensions.
According to Glover, more than half of university faculty members and more than 75 per cent of college faculty members are part-time, temporary contract workers.
Glover called the bill an attack on their rights.
Previous gains to be lost, union reps say
RM Kennedy, chair of the college faculty division at Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents more than 40,000 faculty and staff at colleges, agreed, saying: "Decent work is an education issue."
Labour reforms introduced by the Liberal government, under 2017's Bill 148, were "a good start," Kennedy said.
"For part-time support staff, many of whom are also students, paid sick days and a livable wage are needed to make ends meet," he said. "For contract college faculty, the equal pay raises that were achieved with Bill 148 have been life-altering."
These gains will be lost with the new legislation, he added.
"Students go to school so they can get good jobs, but the vast majority of faculty teaching them, ironically, do not have good jobs," he said.
"Thousands of Ontario college workers are looking at cuts to the improved wages, which they have only had a few months to experience."
The bill is "a step in the wrong direction," according to Kimberly Ellis-Hale, chair of the contract faculty committee of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, which represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians at 29 faculty associations.
Ellis-Hale said she has been working on 12-week contracts for most of the last 21 years. She said most contract faculty do not have desks to call their own, health benefits or pensions, or job security. Living contract to contract is extremely stressful, she added.
"We should be making progress in addressing fairness for contract faculty, not rolling back reasonable and essential elements to improve workers' rights," she said.
"If the premier is really here for the people, the hard-working, front-line people, and is truly committed to helping people like me make ends meet, then he should withdraw Bill 47."
Bill to weaken learning conditions, grad student says
Hamish Russell, an international graduate student at the University of Toronto and a member of Canadian Union of Public Employees, told the news conference that post-secondary students and workers juggle many jobs, high rents and demanding course loads.
The bill will not only erode working conditions, it will also weaken learning conditions, he said.
By Taylor Campbell
Hands off our decent work laws.
That was the message nine workers’ rights advocates had for Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a rally in Windsor Friday.
A new workplace standards bill, Bill 47, introduced at Queen’s Park in October, promises to repeal the majority of worker protections implemented in January by the previous Liberal government through Bill 148.
“What would be adequate is to leave the legislation as it is and then review it for improvements,” said Mario Spagnuolo, organizer of the local “$15 and Fairness” group.
The province-wide organization was created in 2013 to pressure the Ontario government to increase minimum wage and bring workers above the poverty line. Members of $15 and Fairness want to see provincial minimum wage rise to $15, something that was supposed to happen in January under Bill 148.
Bill 47 is regressive, Spagnuolo said. He and the members of his group, many of them union representatives, gathered near the Windsor Chamber of Commerce to raise awareness.
“We believe the Ford government is trying to ram through this legislation without proper consultation,” said Spagnuolo. “It’s regressive in nature, and what we want to see is some progress when it comes to the minimum standards and employment standards in Ontario.”
Under Bill 47, minimum wage would remain at $14 per hour instead of increasing to $15 per hour January 2019. Annual minimum wage adjustments would be tied to inflation, and would start in October of 2020. Employees would no longer be entitled to the two paid days of personal emergency leave each year granted by Bill 148. Employers would be allowed to pay part-time and full-time employees different wages for equal work, which had been prohibited under Bill 148.
“This is going to bring us back a few years instead of forward,” said Spagnuolo, who raised his group’s concerns at the constituency office of MPP Rick Nicholls (C. —Chatham-Kent-Essex) before the rally Friday.
“We wanted for him to hear some of our concerns and bring them back to the caucus.”
By Mark Brown
A group of union members from Windsor-Essex are putting the Ontario government on notice concerning a proposed rollback of the minimum wage.
The group, known as Fight For $15 and Fairness, held a demonstration on Dougall Avenue in Windsor on Friday afternoon, not far from the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. The group is are hoping to call attention to the effort by Ontario’s PC-majority government to repeal the plan to raise the minimum wage in Ontario from $14 per hour to $15 on January 1.
The legislation, known as Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, would if passed roll back the planned minimum wage increase, keeping it at $14 per hour, and instead tie increases through 2020 with inflation. The minimum wage increase was part of Bill 148, which was passed by the previous Liberal-controlled legislature.
Mario Spagnuolo, who organized the demonstration, said that the proposed minimum wage rollback is not the only concern they have.
“One of the concerns is the cut to paid sick days that are available through the legislation, and also the requirement for employees to have to get a doctor’s note if they take one day off sick for cold or flu,” said Spagnuolo.
The law that is currently in place says employers cannot ask for a doctor’s note when they access their ten days of emergency leave currently under the law. Spagnuolo said it would be better if the Ford government left the legislation alone and allowed for more public consultation on it.
“We believe that we need more thorough discussion on this and we want the public to be aware that this is going to bring us back a few years,” said Spagnuolo.
The Ford government says Bill 47 will help make Ontario more friendly for job creation by cutting red tape, and replacing regulations that they consider outdated and burdensome.
For complete information on Fight For $15 and Fairness, visit their official website.
The Trudeau government is poised to give federally regulated workers more paid personal-leave days just as the Ford government is scrapping Bill 148, which takes away two paid sick days and a minimum wage hike to $15.
Fight for $15 and Fairness protested the provincial government’s moves to scrap labour reforms outside the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
By Chris Dawson
'If Victor Fedeli will not protect the rights of workers, then who will?'
More than 30 protestors gathered outside the Chamber of Commerce in downtown North Bay late Tuesday afternoon.
It’s the second of a handful of protests that have been coordinated by the group Nipissing Decent Work, which is protesting the province’s proposed Bill 47, which is set to repeal a large part of Bill 148, which was passed into law just under a year ago by the former provincial Liberal government.
Bill 47 would freeze the minimum wage at $14 per hour along with eliminating two paid sick days.
The group which held a similar event last week along the bypass, chose to move to the front of the local chamber due to its recent support for Bill 47, which has been posted on the chamber website.
“We know the chamber of commerce’s across Ontario do great things for communities but right now they are on the wrong side of the political economy,” stated event organizer Jared Hunt.
“They are getting it wrong and we are here to say to everybody that the information they are spreading is not correct.”
Hunt has also targeted MPP Vic Fedeli for his support for the Bill 47.
“If Victor Fedeli will not protect the rights of workers, then who will,” stated organizer Jared Hunt.
“Why is he siding with the lies and misinformation of Doug Ford and the Chambers of Commerce, when we know the job numbers in Ontario are promising, even with the $14 as minimum wage?”
Fedeli, replied to the protest through a series of tweets on Tuesday evening.
“Critics are also saying that the Act, ‘doesn’t let families invest in the lives of their children.’ The opposite is true. Nourishing a minimum wage economy is a failed policy that gives up on our young people and apprentices,” Fedeli stated through his Twitter feed.
Hunt says the protests are all about timing.
“Bill 47 is still getting debated so this is important, we want to send that message but these crowds are getting bigger,” stated Hunt.
“We are getting more skills, we are learning more tools to organize and to be people power so this is also about that.”
By Peter Biesterfeld
Open for business? The Ford government and their big-business lobbies blame the introduction of a $14 minimum wage for the loss of 90,000 jobs in Ontario, but that's not what the real economic numbers show
Since Doug Ford made his campaign threat to dismantle Liberal labour reforms (Bill 148), there have been almost daily rallies and social media campaigns as part of a province-wide resistance movement on precarious employment.
Last week, Ford followed through on his warning, killing plans for a $1 increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, among other measures, in the name of “efficiencies.” The Bill also introduced changes to vacation entitlements, paid sick days and equal pay rules.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), Retail Council of Canada, Food and Beverage Ontario and temp agency lobby group ACSESS (Association of Canadian Search, Employment & Staffing Services) have all been calling for the Ford government to quash the bill.
“We have been persistently urging the government to take immediate action and repeal Bill 148 due to the compounding labour reforms, which come at too high a cost to the economy and workers,” reads an OCC press release that was regurgitated verbatim in the legislature by Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson.
On October 3, OCC head Rocco Rossi went further. He told CBC Metro Morning that Ontario lost 90,000 jobs since changes under Bill 148, including a $14 minimum wage, were introduced.
Labour minister Laurie Scott made the same claims in an op-ed in the National Post in September – “our province’s largest monthly job loss in a decade. Every single one of those lost jobs was a part-time job.
“Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government chose to put the burden of an abrupt and dramatic increase on the back of our small businesses,” Scott wrote.
Yet Statistics Canada figures show that employment in Ontario’s service sector grew by 1.3 per cent at a slightly higher rate than the national average of 1.2 per cent over the last 12 months.
“This means that the total number of hours worked grew at nearly double the rate,” reports Canadian labour news website rankandfile.ca. “This is the exact opposite of what the Chamber of Commerce is claiming is happening.”
Rankandfile.ca has called out the Ford government and big-business lobbies for “repeatedly twisting the facts on job numbers to attack the minimum wage.”
The claim is backed by Scotiabank, which stated in its February economic review that “there is no discernible evidence of a minimum-wage impact on hours worked in Ontario. Employment losses in the province in January were not concentrated in ‘minimum-wage’ industries.”
Similarly, the National Bank of Canada’s August survey of employment, payrolls and hours found that “employment in the country’s largest province is rising at the fastest pace in years, faster than the national average.”
A Globe and Mail opinion piece authored by four research economists from universities across the country points out that in three states and dozens of U.S. cities that have adapted “living wage” policies, “there is no credible evidence that this clear trend in labour policy is hurting job creation.”
Gilleen Pearce, a small business owner and coordinator with Better Way Alliance, a network of employers that support a living wage, says the Ford government is misrepresenting the business community’s views on Bill 148.
Most Ontario businesses support a $15 minimum wage or higher, she says, “For the simple reason that either they were already paying more or they understand that you get and keep better employees if you pay better.”
Bill 148 was a rewrite of outdated Ontario labour legislation, which came under scrutiny after years of grassroots pressure for a living wage culminated in the province-wide $14 Now campaign in 2013.
After two years of public consultations, special advisors leading “the largest review of Ontario’s labour laws conducted in decades” concluded in the 400-page Changing Workplaces Review report “that there are too many people in too many workplaces who do not receive their basic rights.”
Researchers found “substantial non-compliance” with basic labour standards, including failing to pay wages on time or not paying overtime. Recommendations included comprehensive amendments to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Act. Kathleen Wynne’s newly elected government responded with Bill 148.
“We campaigned for much more comprehensive change,” says Pam Frache, who works out of the Workers’ Action Centre, “a union for non-union workers” on Spadina. “But we were very happy with the recommendations that were made.”
Frache says that for business lobbies to now say there has been no input and that Bill 148 is “too much too soon” is disingenuous.
“The business community was well represented in two rounds of consultations. In fact, some of the changes that were made to what we we’re putting forward were modified by the business community.”
Frache says that during the review, many progressive businesses across the province spoke out. “These are employers who really believe that paying decent wages, treating workers with respect and dignity on the job is actually key to their success.”
A 2016 Ryerson University study found temporary and on-call agency employees reported “a collective sense of unpredictability, lack of control over one’s schedule and inability to plan that permeated participants’ work and family lives.”
The study, A Public Health Crisis In The Making: The Health Impacts Of Precarious Work On Racialized Refugee And Immigrant Women, reported that “many participants had weekly incomes that added up to much less than the hourly minimum wage if averaged over the week.” And that “participants lived in constant fear of not getting enough hours of work. Participants said they could not afford to fall sick because it would mean lost wages. Many said that if they were sick for more than a couple of days, they were quite likely to lose their job.”
“It’s a health issue,” says Frache. “All the evidence shows that.” Try telling it the Ford government.
By Emma Paling
Without paid sick days, sick people will go to work and infect others, Dr. Danyaal Raza said
Jill Promoli wonders if her son would still be alive if another child stayed home from school.
Promoli's two-year-old Jude — named for The Beatles song — got a fever in May 2016 after his older sister picked up a bug at her kindergarten class.
He was dead within a day. It was influenza B.
"When people are sick, they need to stay home," she said at a press conference at Queen's Park on Tuesday.
The Mississauga, Ont. mom was in Toronto to criticize the Ontario government's new labour legislation with workers' advocacy group Fight for $15 and Fairness.
Progressive Conservatives announced last week that they'd repeal parts of a Liberal-era labour bill. Their new legislation, Bill 47, will take away two guaranteed paid sick days a year and let employers demand a doctor's note for absences. It also strips temporary and part-time workers of the right to be paid the same as their full-time counterparts.
"It's not just a labour issue. It's a public health issue," Promoli said.
'A massive step backwards'
If the law passes, more people will be spreading flus and colds at school, at work and in public, a family physician said at the press conference.
"Bill 47 is a massive step backwards for health care in Ontario," Dr. Danyaal Raza said.
Patients will get others sick when they take the bus to the doctor, or go into work because they can't afford to lose a day's pay, he said.
There will also be long-term consequences for public health. Research shows that without paid sick days, employees get fewer flu shots, fewer mammograms, fewer pap smears and fewer blood pressure checks, Raza said.
Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott have promised to end what they call "hallway health care," or the practice of treating patients in hallways because there aren't enough hospital rooms.
This bill will do the opposite, Raza said.
Doctors will have less time to treat ill patients when they're busy writing sick notes so that workers with common colds don't get fired, he said.
"It's absurd. It's such a waste of time and such a waste of resources."
The health minister's press secretary refused questions on Bill 47 because it's a labour bill. A spokeswoman for Labour Minister Laurie Scott said that requiring doctors' notes is an "attendance management tool" for employers.
The move will make it harder for employees to abuse their three unpaid sick days, Christine Bujold said in an email.
Fight for $15 and Fairness has recommended that everyone be given seven paid sick days a year. The two paid days legislated by former premier Kathleen Wynne's government was far from enough, Raza said.
"We're not being particularly innovative here," he said. "We're just trying to catch up and do the bare minimum."
By Sheila Wang
Residents call for Ontario to keep $15 minimum wage and workers protection laws
The message was loud and clear: “Hands off workers’ rights.”
Demonstrators gathered in front of the office building of Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill PC MPP Michael Parsa’s office Monday evening to call for the province to reverse its recent decision of freezing minimum wage and cutting paid sick days.
It was part of the provincial movement of Fight $15 and Fairness - a prominent provincewide labour rights advocacy group – that has strongly opposed Ontario’s sweeping labour reform bill.
The rally in Richmond Hill was only a start, McLean said, noting that they were going to rally at all MPPs’ office around York Region to have their voices heard.
McLean said they chose Parsa’s office first because of his important role as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, which “should put him in a position to understand the true benefits of a $15/hr minimum wage.”
On Oct. 23, the Ontario government tabled Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act that would repeal much of the changes made by the previous government under Bill 148, which was set to start January 2019.
The main amendments include freezing minimum wage at $14 until 2020 and cuts to paid sick days.
“They say that this government is for the people. Well, explain to me how they’re for me,” said Christine Ilot, a 45-year-old Richmond Hill resident who co-organized the event on Monday.
No one knows better what it is like to work on minimum wage than Ilot, who works three different part-time jobs, all paying minimum wages.
“Just making sure our messages are getting across and clear because most of these MPPs have refused to meet with us personally,” said Jessa McLean, leader of the movement’s York Region chapter.
“It’s crazy. It’s really hard,” Ilot said.
She said she still had to ask her mother for help to pay her rent in the summer when her shifts get cut short.
Even $15 per hour would not be a living wage in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), she said, but it could be a start.
Expectedly, MPP Parsa did not attend the rally, but Ilot said she would love to meet him in person and ask for an explanation.
“I would love to have him explain to my face why they stood up and applauded this new bill. To me, it’s just faulted.”
The demonstrators have gone to Aurora and Newmarket earlier in October and are planning to set up meetings with MPPs around York Region in the coming weeks, McLean said.
By Sarah Mojtehedzadeh and Brendan Kennedy
The recent death of another temp worker at a company affiliated with Fiera Foods highlights the cost of the Progressive Conservative government’s proposed rollback of worker protections, opposition critics argued at Queen’s Park on Monday.
“This is the fourth — the fourth — death of a worker at Fiera Foods’ businesses,” NDP labour critic Wayne Gates said during question period. “A workplace death is a terrible cost. Four deaths, and someone should be in jail.”
On Thursday night around 9:45 p.m., a man in his 40s who was working for Fiera Foods’ partner company, Upper Crust on Canarctic Dr. in North York, died when he was pinned by a transport truck against the factory’s loading bay. The man’s identity has not been released, but he was employed by the temp agency, OL & Partners. The Ministry of Labour is investigating the death.
Labour Minister Laurie Scott said she was “saddened” by the death and then accused the NDP of “politicizing” the tragedy.
Outside the legislature, Scott called the death “a terrible tragedy” but said she couldn’t comment while the ministry’s investigation was ongoing.
“Certainly, I know there’s the history there,” she said, referencing the three previous temp worker deaths at Fiera Foods and its affiliated companies. “There has been other punishments given for the other cases. This is a new investigation that needs to take place in the proper manner.”
Fiera and its sister company Marmora Freezing Corp. were fined $150,000 for the first two deaths at their facilities and $300,000 for the 2016 death of 23-year-old temp worker Amina Diaby.
A vigil organized by the Workers’ Action Centre was held Monday evening outside the Upper Crust plant where the worker died last week.
“It’s so sad because this is what happens when we don’t have rights and protections at work,” said Navi Aujla, who has worked through temp agencies and is now an organizer for the fight for $15 Movement.
“Temp agency workers are so invisible in our workplaces,” added Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre, who called on the government to stop new legislation aimed at rolling back recent labour protections.
Thursday’s death is the fourth of a temp worker at Fiera Foods or one of its affiliated companies since 1999 and the second in little over two years. The company, which mass-produces bread products for fast-food chains and major grocery stores, was the subject of a 2017 undercover investigation by the Star, which found the company relied heavily on temp workers who received little safety training and were paid in cash at payday lenders.
Data obtained by the Star as part of its investigation also showed that temp agency workers in Ontario are increasingly placed in non-clerical environments like factories and warehouses, and that they are twice as likely to get hurt in these sectors as their non-temp counterparts.
Last year, the Liberal government passed significant new protections for temp workers, including the right to be paid at the same rate as their permanent counterparts for doing the same job. New measures also made both the temp agency and their client companies accountable at the workers’ compensation board when temps get injured, which advocates called a key incentive to keep workers safe on the job.
Last week, the Progressive Conservative government introduced new legislation, Bill 47, that would roll back many of the labour protections enacted by the last government, including equal pay for equal work. The Ministry of Labour has not said whether new provisions around temp worker injuries will remain intact.
“The government is going backwards,” said John Fraser, the interim Liberal leader.