By Sara Mojtehedzadeh
Legislation rolling back significant labour protections introduced under the previous government has passed at Queen’s Park, meaning workers will no longer have the right to two paid sick days and will not receive a scheduled minimum wage bump to $15 this January.
Protests disrupted the legislature’s gallery late Tuesday, pushing the vote by a day. Under fire from NDP leader Andrea Horwath Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said the “most needy people in society” told him they had been laid off because of the previous’ government’s “job-killing” labour legislation.
“It discouraged companies from all over the world to come to Ontario and open a business because of Bill 148. It was the worst job-killing bill. It was the worst bill for people, the most vulnerable people in society to get a hand up,” he said.
According to the latest Statistics Canada data, employment in Ontario has increased by 1.2 per cent since last October due to a growth in full-time jobs. At 5.6 per cent, Ontario’s unemployment rate is lower than the Canadian rate of 5.8 per cent.
Bill 47 will repeal the bulk of recent updates to Ontario’s workplace standards, including temporary and part-time workers’ right to be paid the same as a full-time, permanent employee for doing the same job.
Workers will no longer be entitled to two paid sick days and eight unpaid emergency leave days. Instead, they will get three sick days, three personal days and two bereavement days — all of which will be unpaid.
The minimum wage will also be frozen at $14 until 2020, when increases will become tied to inflation.
Debating the bill Tuesday evening, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Todd Smith said the previous government’s workplace legislation, Bill 148, “didn’t understand the hopes and dreams that go into building a small business.”
“We have no choice but to be competitive. You don’t get to opt out of the global economy,” he said.
NDP Labour critic Jamie West (Sudbury) blasted the Tories’ new labour bill as an attack on workers’ fundamental rights.
“The government wants you to work sick. The government wants you to struggle with two or three precarious jobs. The government wants you to spend less time with your family,” he said.
“This is a government that wants to make it harder for good businesses to compete with bottom feeder businesses” he added. “Legislation is written for the worst employers.”
Labour minister Laurie Scott lauded MPPs who had “listened to the needs of businesses” in their ridings and said Bill 148 had created “staggering job losses.”
“In a prosperous society, people are free to choose their work arrangements,” she added.
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the province needed “a more balanced approach to wage and labour laws, an approach that puts people first.”
“But instead of conducting consultations across the province, the government held one day of public hearings for people to come in and talk about this issue,” he added.
The now-repealed Bill 148 was the product of two years of public consultations and research led by two independent experts.
Protesters chanting in favour of a $15 minimum wage were handcuffed and escorted out of the Queen’s Park gallery on Tuesday.
Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley said the government’s bill “ignores the voices of the people who will be most affected by these laws — women workers, racialized workers, Indigenous workers and workers with a disability.”
“Now, it will be much easier for unscrupulous employers to take advantage of their employees. I say shame on this government for the damage it has done to Ontario workers.”
“To cut wages, to cut sick days, and to make it easier to fire workers who are already in precarious situations is cruel and callous in the extreme,” added Pam Frache of the Fight for $15 and Fairness movement.
On Tuesday, the Star reported that a group of advocates, including an emergency room physician, were told by Health Minister Christine Elliott that she had not been consulted on the health impacts of cutting paid sick days.
“I think it was some confusion when I had the meeting … there’s a difference between being consulted and drafting the bill,” said Elliott at Queen’s Park.
“I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that I didn’t draft the bill because it’s a labour bill, not a health bill. But was I consulted about the bill? Of course I was. We make decisions as a team. Of course I was consulted on all provisions of the bill and I’m very supportive of all of the provisions of the bill.”
She said the province’s decision to give workers unpaid days off — losing the current two paid sick days — “is the most fair balance” between making sure that employees get the time that they need, as well as for employers to be able to conduct their business.
Advocates worry the loss of paid sick days will result in more people coming to work sick if it means losing a day’s pay. A 2010 World Health Organization report found that “gaps in paid sick leave result in severe impacts on public health and the economy” and a study from the American Journal of Public Health found that the absence of paid sick days in the U.S. resulted in 5 million more flu cases among the general population.
Smith said number of people who took a sick day after the Superbowl “exploded” as a result of Bill 148.