Public Hearings on Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act

The Ontario Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs met from July 10 to July 14, 2017 (we were informed that hearings are continuing to July 21, 2017, Hamilton is today and Toronto closes the tour tomorrow) to consider and hold public hearings on Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017. The Bill amends the Employment Standards Act, 2000, the Labour Relations Act, 1995 and makes related amendments to other Acts. The government wanted to be sure that there are no unintended consequences because the changes in the Bill contain complex policies.

Ontario’s legislative committee travelled to Thunder Bay, North Bay, Ottawa, Kingston, Windsor, London, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Hamilton and Toronto to obtain stakeholders’ opinions on the changes and consider how the changes will affect them.

One of the most talked about topic for discussion during the hearings is Ontario’s bid to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is a move that is feared by businesses but has the support of some prominent economists.

The government intends to raise the minimum wage from $11.40 to $11.60 per hour on October 1, 2017, with a subsequent increase on January 1, 2018 to $14 and by January 1, 2019 to $15 per hour. After 2019, increases to the minimum wage will be annually based on the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index). Wages for students and liquor servers among others would also increase but remain lower than the general minimum wage.

The second topic of interest, is that part-time workers would be entitled to the same pay as full-time workers for performing similar work and employers will be on the hook for mandatory three hours’ pay for an employee scheduled to work, called in or shift cancelled with less than 48 hours’ notice.

A third topic is Bill 148 expansion of the 10 days personal emergency leave to small employers (prior 50+), with at least two of those days being paid.

Lastly, card-check certification will be expanded to building services, home care, community service and temporary help industries and more lenient restrictions on union access to employee contact information, among so much more. It was explained by MPP Peter Milczyn that the intention of extending card based certification to those sectors named in Bill 148 is to extend the right to join a bargaining unit to workers who are dispersed geographically, and therefore vulnerable due to their isolation from fellow employees. These workers in those sectors face barriers that are not present in sectors where employees all show up for work at the same building and can more easily congregate.

Concerns expressed during the hearings

Small employers, in particular, expressed concerns and told the government that the minimum wage increase to $15 is coming too fast; that they were looking at a 32 percent increase in minimum wage in only 18 months. In addition, other employees paid above the minimum wage may require a wage increase as well.

The Canadian Federation of Small Business, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurants Canada, the Canadian Franchise Association and others such as the Fraser Institute fear that the workers the government is trying to help will be negatively impacted because small business will have to adjust by reducing hours of work, layoffs, less hiring and increasing cost to goods and services to consumers; some going so far as saying:

“Many Ontario employers, especially small businesses, are now considering closing their business because they do not have the capacity to successfully manage such reforms,” they wrote during the public hearings. Their reasons were twofold: “either the margin for the related cost increase or applicable provincial funding is simply not available, or the increase would preclude them from continuing to pay higher than minimum wage rates, which threatens their ability to retain employees.”

These business groups wanted the government to first perform an economic analysis, but have now commissioned their own which will be complete in August.

However, many studies by economists tend to support the minimum wage increase saying that it will decrease income inequality and reduce poverty. Studies show that increasing the minimum wage elevates people’s purchasing power, as well as consumption and economic activity in general.

As illustrated in an open letter on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s proposed minimum wage hike, some 53 economic experts across the country claim the move “makes good economic sense” and could generate “substantial benefit to low-wage workers, their families and the economy as a whole.”

Provinces such as Alberta and cities like Seattle who are moving to a $15 minimum wage are showing a healthier economy. But one reasoning for this is that Alberta is taking a much longer implementation period for the $15 minimum wage hike.

This said, the Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn has indicated that throughout the hearings, he received a balanced response from those participating. Other recommendations coming out of the hearing in regards to the other topics stated above include the following:

  • Regarding comments with respect to equal pay for equal work, the part-time versus the full-time, most stakeholders felt that was a required change and that there is a need for such a change. Most pay by position. So whether you’re a full-time employee or a part-time employee, if the position pays $11.40 an hour, that’s what you earn. It’s what the position pays. It’s not whether or not you’re a full-time or a part-time employee. The issue is mostly scheduling. Flexibility in scheduling is vital to ensuring the success of most small businesses.
  • Representatives in the agricultural, food processing and packaging sectors want an exemptions to the proposed scheduling provisions mandating minimum pay for shifts under three hours or cut short or cancelled without 48 hours’ notice. They say that shifts in these industries are highly reactive to weather and, to a lesser degree, client demands. The Committee during the hearing appeared receptive to altering this language to better accommodate the realities of certain sectors.
  • A number of submissions requested an increase to the number of paid personal emergency days to as many as 10. Also to extend paid days to individuals currently exempt and add 5 to 10 paid leave days specifically for domestic violence. These requests received little opposition from the Committee during the hearings.
  • The proposed card-based union certification for employees in specified industries such as building services, community services, home care and temporary help agency was born from Union lobbies for a return to card based certification for all workers in all sectors, claiming the secret ballot process is too stressful for workers and too susceptible to employer intimidation. Most stakeholders felt that this provision in Bill 148 did not go far enough, that Bill 148 needs to be amended to reintroduce card-based certification for all workers and not just the few sectors mentioned in the Bill. One attendee stated “denial of the extension of card-based certification to all sectors may allow some employers to drastically interfere with the decision of workers to seek union representation by a variety of means at the employers’ disposal.”

Some of the debates of the public hearings are posted on the Ontario Legislative Assembly website and can be read here.

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