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Our Thoughts on the The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act

July 25, 2017 Make Change

The province’s consultation on Bill 148 the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, closed on July 21st.

We are pleased to see that the Bill 148 will amend the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to embed a $15 minimum wage by 2019.  .

There are other positives in Bill 148 and some areas where we support the general direction of the proposed legislation but would prefer that it go further.  You can read a slightly edited version of our submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs below.

For an extremely comprehensive response to the legislation we recommend that you look at  what the Workers Action Centre, $15 and Fairness and Parkdale Legal Services had to say in their submission It can be found at http://www.workersactioncentre.org/updates/lets-defend-and-strengthen-bill-148-submission-deadline/

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Advocating for people in precarious work is a significant part of our day to day work at Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.  Workers in our community who are involved in precarious work face particular hurdles.  These hurdles involve complex issues resulting from lack of decent, secure work and protections and which extend into other legal, familial, and financial concerns in their lives outside of work.

Last year we wrote to Special Advisors of the Changing Workplaces Review and urged them to tackle the root causes of precarious work. To a great extent the proposed legislation that has been drafted as a result of the Review has addressed our concerns,

For example, we are pleased to see that Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 will amend the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to embed a $15 minimum wage by 2019.  In addition, we support extending Personal Emergency Leave to all workers.

In some instances, we support the general direction of the proposed legislation but would prefer that the legislation go further.  Specifically: 

  1.  1  We support the new scheduling rules but believe that employers should be required to provide employees with at least two weeks’ notice of their work schedules. We believe employers with unionized employees should also be required to comply with the new scheduling minimum standards.
  2. We support paid Personal Emergency Leave (PEL) and recommend that Bill 148 be amended to provide for seven (7) paid PEL days. The proposal for two days PEL clearly falls short.

 These improvements, and others, would not only provide more substantive protections and rights for workers, but would also represent a stronger commitment to supporting workers’ dignity and giving them the security they deserve.     

Areas for Change

There are four additional areas where we propose changes.         

  • We recommend removing the subminimum wages for students and liquor servers.  The passage of this section of Bill 148 would mean that Ontario is the only province with a subminimum wage for students.
  • We recommend that the ESA definition of employee be amended to include dependent contractor as defined in the Labour Relations Act. Currently, some dependent contractors have ESA protection and some don’t.  A key factor in misclassification of  employees is the lack of a clear recognition that dependent contractors are employees under the   ESA and afforded ESA protection as a result.  Clarification is required.
  • We support the concept of equal pay for equal work as described in Bill.   Unfortunately, the language in the ESA does not recognize how the workforce has changed.  The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition has recommended changes to remedy these problems and they have been summarized by the Workers’ Action Centre, $15 and Fairness and        Parkdale Community Legal Services in their submission to the  Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. We support these changes.  They are, in brief:
  1. The scope of what is considered comparable work must be expanded so that employers can’t evade compliance.
  1. Loopholes that employers can use to avoid compliance with the equal pay provision must be closed.
  1. Employers must be required to provide employees with pay structures and pay scales proactively so that employees and temporary employees and temporary help agency workers can have the information necessary to enforce their rights.
  1. As a result of the WSIB’s practice of “deeming” thousands of injured workers will have their benefits reduced due to the increased minimum wage. It is essential that the government immediately put together a policy direction to the WSIB that makes it clear that no injured workers will have their benefits reduced when the minimum wage goes up.

Migrant Workers

Last year we met with Ted McMeekin MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and Andrea Horwath, MPP Hamilton Centre, to talk about the Changing Workplaces Review and express our concerns that laws should be introduced to address the particular barriers to workplace safety and fairness faced by migrant workers.

We believe that Migrant Workers deserve the same rights as everyone else. In that regard, we agree with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change that the ESA should be amended to remove exemptions that impact migrant workers in the agricultural and homemaker/domestic worker sectors. 

Ontario has announced that it will start a review of the ESA exemptions and special rules in the fall of 2017.  While we believe that exemptions should be limited now, if the review does proceed, the legislation should be amended to specifically define what kinds of circumstances would justify exemptions.  We endorse the recommendation made by Parkdale Community Legal Services/Workers Action Centre, $15 and Fairness in this regard.

We also believe that Agriculture Workers and Caregivers must be able to unionize and bargain collectively and sectorally. The Special Advisors are quite clear on this matter.  Agricultural and horticultural employees should be included in the Labour Relations Act, 1995 and be given the same rights, agency, and protections as other employees.

Similarly, we agree with the Special Advisors that the domestic workers exclusion should be removed from the Labour Relations Act, 1995.

As far as recruitment fees are concerned, there should be no fees for work.  In addition, we recommend compulsory licensing of recruiters and compulsory registration of employers. Recruiters and employers should be held jointly financially liable for violating labour protections.

In our meetings with MPPs we argued for the need for special anti-reprisal protections for migrant workers.  Bill 148 falls short in that regard.

Procedures need to be jointly developed with both senior levels of government to address cases of alleged reprisals that result in termination or unjust dismissal for temporary foreign workers prior to repatriation under the terms of their work permit.

In addition, Ontario should amend its agreement on “foreign workers” with Canada to require mandatory issuance of an open work permit to workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program when they start an employment standards complaint.

 

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