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.