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Cathy Majtenyi: Workers on losing end of legislation

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  • November 20, 2018

Like a sign hanging on a shop door, the Ontario government is declaring that the province is “open for businesses” through a piece of draft legislation called Making Ontario Open for Business Act.

If passed, Bill 47 will “enable more Ontario employers to boost job creation and investment by cutting unnecessary regulations that are inefficient, inflexible and out of date,” according to the government’s Oct. 23 announcement.

What’s troubling about Bill 47 and the pro-business rhetoric promoting it is that basic workers’ rights are being treated as “red tape” that must be cut to attract, and keep, investment. Four current regulations that Bill 47 aims to repeal are especially concerning.

One is equal pay for equal work, regardless of employment status.

In a CBC story from March 2017, a labour rights advocacy group reported that one employer who paid full-time workers $23 an hour paid relief and temporary agency workers $13 an hour for the identical job. The discrepancy “sends a message to employers that you can hire people at a lesser rate than your employees,” said the group’s representative.

To address this, the previous government passed Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. It prohibits employers from paying part-time or temporary workers wages lower than those earned by full-time employees if the work is the same and is performed under similar conditions. Bill 47 would eliminate this requirement, except in the case of men and women doing the same work.

Another concern is how the new law would treat time off for personal emergencies such as illness and death. Currently, employees can take a total of 10 days off per year for personal emergencies, the first two days being paid by the employer. But Bill 47 eliminates personal emergency leave, replacing it with three types of absences: sick leave of three unpaid days per year; family responsibility leave of three unpaid days a year; and bereavement leave, which is two unpaid days a year.

A third concern with the new proposed law is workers’ reduced ability to control their work schedules. Currently, workers employed for more than three months can ask their employer to change work schedules or locations. Employees also have the right to decline work or be on-call with less than 96 hours notice on days when they’re not scheduled to work or be on call. If a scheduled shift or on-call session is cancelled within 48 hours before starting time, workers are entitled to three hours’ pay. Bill 47 cancels all of these provisions.

Finally, the bill cancels a minimum wage increase scheduled for January. The minimum wage is frozen at $14 an hour until Oct. 1, 2020.

Earning a living wage, turning down unscheduled, last-minute work requests, asking for scheduling changes, being guaranteed two paid sick days per year — these and other workers’ rights ensconced in current legislation are not unreasonable and are not unfair to employers. Indeed, the onus is on the Ontario government to show how basic workers’ rights “hamper” job creation and investment and how curtailing or cancelling these rights will lead to more economic growth.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his supporters will have a tough time doing so.

Take the minimum wage hike, a measure widely predicted to result in massive job loss. In mid-2018, six months after the increase, Ontario’s jobless rate was at an 18-year low, dropping from 5.9 per cent to 5.4 per cent.

According to the Royal Bank of Canada’s June 2018 report, “Ontario’s economy is coming off four years of above-potential economic growth” with a growth rate of 2.7 per cent in 2017.

The Making Ontario Open for Business Act is a mean-spirited attempt to expand the economy. There are many other ways to “lighten the burden on business” than to deny workers their basic rights. Bill 47 is a way for the government to show that it is on the side of business — at the expense of the worker.   

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research at an Ontario university.)

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