Earlier this month, the Ontario Government announced sweeping labour reforms in the form of Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act . Again. This time, the government proposes to roll back advancements achieved by workers after the previous Liberal government’s Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs Bill took effect in January 2018.
While Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives initially implied that they would repeal Bill 148 in its entirety, Bill 47 hasn’t gone quite that far. A few of the January 2018 changes to laws like the Ontario Employment Standards Act would remain in effect if the new bill passes. This includes maintaining the current $14 minimum wage. Increases to pregnancy and parental leave (aka “maternity leave”) to mirror new Employment Insurance entitlements will also stay in place. And, unsurprisingly, the government opted not to take-back the new right to 3 weeks of vacation per year for long-service employees.
Nevertheless, if Bill 47 passes, workers will lose significant rights. Some of these losses would include:
- A freeze on the planned increase to a $15 per hour minimum wage, which is itself lower than the living wage.
- The elimination of 10 “personal emergency days”, including 2 paid “sick days” per year. Instead, employees can take a maximum of 3 sick days, but can be required to produce a doctor’s note to enforce this right.
- A reduction on maximum fines for corporations convicted of Labour Relations Act Offences from $100,0000 to $25,000. These rare convictions are issued to employers who repeatedly violate the Act, doing things like firing pro-union workers or ignoring Labour Board orders.
- Eliminating the right of part-time employees to be paid the same as full-time employees if they do the same work. This will disproportionately effect women who are more likely to work part-time.
- Eliminating new rights for unions to obtain employee lists when organizing vulnerable workers, making it harder for these workers to join a union if they choose.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BILL 47?
Contrary to the Minister of Labour’s talking points, there’s no evidence that Bill 148 caused job loss or business closures in Ontario. In fact, while we haven’t had a long time to study its effects yet, so far it looks like greater workers rights and better pay have been good for Ontarians . Especially for workers. This includes the increase to a $14 per hour minimum wage in January.
That’s not surprising. Studies following increases to the minimum wage in other parts of the world are still in early stages and have mixed results, but they often show that they help rather than hurt the economy. The #FightFor15 is a fight for stronger, more just economies.
The numbers back up the January 2018 introduction of 2 paid sick days (aka “personal emergency leave”) per year, too. They even back-up granting sick days without a note. Doctors in Ontario complain that employers who require notes for every absence waste our public health care system’s resources. There’s no cure for the common cold, so there’s normally no real reason to see a doctor. They also point out that these unnecessary visits bring viruses into clinics and hospitals, where doctors treat infants, the elderly and immuno-compromised patients who can actually be significantly harmed by a cold or flu. Others point out that coming to work sick spread germs among your co-workers as well as your customers. In short, it can result in lost productivity across the workforce (and more sick days!).
At the same time, the new Bill would decrease fines for employers who violate their employees’ rights. It makes it harder to unionize in vulnerable sectors like home care or temp agencies. What this means is that you have fewer rights, and less ability to meaningfully fight back when those rights are violated.
These changes benefit employers on the surface by helping them stave of payment of a higher living wage and reducing the cost of being a bad boss. But this comes at the cost of employees’ purchasing power, not to mention health and safety. We also know that a less economically equal society means there is more illness, crime and less growth. This isn’t just, and it isn’t good for business in the long-term.
FIGHTING BILL 47
The Bill isn’t law yet. This means that until it passes, employers’ obligations stay the same. It also means that those opposed to the law still have a chance to speak out.
Since the Progressive Conservatives have a majority in the legislature, it’s likely that the Bill will pass as-drafted. Unless we get loud. That means protests, letters to the editor and calls to MPPs objecting to the changes. Unions and other pro-worker organizations are already speaking out across this province. Contact your union, the Workers’ Action Centre or other social justice advocacy groups in your community to find out how you can help.
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