Too Many Ontario Workers Not Getting a Fair Deal: Report

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Ontario Flynn worker report

Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn must decide if recommendations from workplace report will be implemented.

Tuesday, an Ontario worker rights group released a report that makes sweeping recommendations for closing provincial legislative loopholes it says results in low wages, poor working conditions and allows employers to evade their responsibilities under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.

The report’s authors, the Workers’ Action Centre (WAC), produced a similar report in 2007. The group says that if anything, things have gotten worse on the job in the past eight years.

According to the report – called Still Working on the Edge – the number of part-time jobs has risen much faster than that of full-time jobs. Moreover, many people are trapped in part-time work but would rather be working full-time. Since the last recession in 2008-9, many of Ontario’s  full-time, better-paid jobs have been permanently lost. Moreover, new full-time job growth is taking place in lower-paid sectors of the economy.

The report says while politicians and business leaders don’t want to admit it, Ontario is developing a low-wage economy. In 2014, 33 percent of workers had low wages compared to only 22 percent a decade earlier.

The timing of the report is clearly designed to put pressure on the Wynne government to make badly needed workplace reforms.

On February 17, the Ontario government launched its “Changing Workplace Review”. The objective of the review is to identify potential labour relations and employment standards legislative reforms. The review gives the Ontario Government the opportunity to address precisely the problems detailed in the WAC report: namely the gaps in legislative protections that allow for low wages, sub-standard working conditions and the exploitation of many of Ontario’s temporary and migrant workers.

Two outside advisors are leading the study: C. Michael Mitchell, formerly of union-side law firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, and the Honourable John C. Murray, a former justice of the Ontario Superior Court and prominent management-side labour lawyer.

While the review shows promise, the real question is whether the Wynne government is willing to stand up to groups such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and the Retail Council of Canada, all of whom have historically fought tooth and nail against any changes that would strengthen workplace protection. These and other business groups – such as the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters can be counted on to fiercely oppose the kinds of legislative changes the Workers’ Action Centre is calling for.

According to the Centre, the report seeks to bring balance to labour market regulation and provide ways to rebuild Ontario’s labour laws and employment practices to support decent wages and working conditions.

The report identifies a number of key problems facing workers under the Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA) and puts forward recommendations for improving the ESA. Reforming the ESA is essential because, for the vast majority of Ontario workers, it sets the minimum terms and conditions of work, such as wages, hours, vacation, leave, and termination.

According to the report, the following workplace problems need to be addressed:

  1. Serious gaps in Ontario’s labour laws create incentives for employers to move work beyond the reach of employment standards protection. Work that used to be done in-house is now outsourced to subcontractors. Employers hire people indirectly through temporary help agencies to shift liabilities to other entities. Employers misclassify employees as independent contractors to shift liabilities and the cost of doing business on to workers, who have little power to refuse.
  2. Temporary jobs, erratic scheduling, insecurity regarding hours of work, and lack of job permanence is creating substantial income insecurity, limited access to health benefits, and substantial challenges for workers and their families. Recommendations are provided to make work hours more predictable, healthy and economically secure, promote job growth, and improve leave entitlements such as sick leave and vacations.
  3. Violations of basic standards such as overtime pay and vacation pay have become the norm rather than the exception in many workplaces. Workers are being forced to accept substandard conditions. The report challenges the notion that the problem is caused just by a few “bad apples,” that only a few employers violate the law.
  4. The erosion of employment standards enforcement has shifted onto workers who have the least power. The report puts forth recommendations to improve workers’ ability to enforce their rights at work through an anonymous and third party complaints program. Recommendations also seek to improve job security through anti-reprisals and unjust dismissal protections. Finally, the report’s recommendations seek to improve working conditions through expanding access to unions and multi-employer bargaining structures.
  5. The question of “Fair Wages” cuts through the entire report. Fair wages is a fundamental issue in today’s low-wage labour market. Recommendations in this section seek to update minimum wage policy by removing exemptions and special rules that leave entire categories of workers, such as farmworkers, working below the minimum wage. The report also makes recommendations to increase Ontario’s minimum wage for everyone.

The report further says that Ontario employers routinely exploit lax employment laws to avoid paying people in precarious jobs basic entitlements such as overtime pay and even minimum wage.

First passed in 1968, the Employment Standards Act set the eight hour day and 48 hour work week and brought together other minimum employment standards within one act. It assumed economic stability and a labour market dominated by full-time, permanent jobs with employment benefits and steady wage increases.

This was also a time of private sector union strength.

But those are not the times we live in.

“Because of that, there’s all these huge gaps around non-standard forms of work,” explained the report’s author and Parkdale Legal Clinic Community Legal Worker, Mary Gellatly.

“In the absence of regulation, employers have been able to create increasingly insecure staffing strategies, which are giving rise to many of the problems that workers are facing today.”

One thought on “Too Many Ontario Workers Not Getting a Fair Deal: Report

  1. Anonymous

    I currently work through a temp agency, and have done so since the end of September of last year. i was told by the person running this agency that after 480 hrs of work I am eligable to be hired by the company that uses this agency. What a joke. this company hires by who you are related to, how much the supervisor likes you, and any other random reason they can think of. I go to work every day, am never late, seldom take any time off, but still, not hired on. The time frame for hire there ranges from 3 months to 3 YEARS!!!!! REALLY? Don”t you think after 3 MONTHS, they would know if you would make a great addition to their workforce? Now we get to the agency that supplies this company with MORE THAN HALF of the people that work on the shop floor. This agency routinely sends “encouraging” emails and I use this term loosely, about how hot is is, make sure you swipe in and that you need to make sure you show up for work, etc. The only THING they are worried about is how much gouging of your pay they can get away with for that week. I”m sure the company pays them the going wage of the full time people, and yet the agency pays us from $3-$5 a hour less, for doing the exact same job as a full time person, right beside us. ,,,,if not more. Considering that there are at least 120 people employed there through this agency and they take $5 a hour, from every person,,,,,well, you do the math. What they are making from OUR hard work and sweat is absolutely criminal….. We also receive no type of benefits, profit shares, pension plans etc. you would think that the insanely amount of money that this agency reaps from our collective pays, each week, they would supply us on THEIR dime, some benefits, but no, they research benefit packages, then present it to all the temporary people, and act like they are doing us a huge service, then tell us we could purchase the benefits, but WE WOULD HAVE TO PAY OUT OF OUR POCKETS!!!! They should be FORCED to pay all workers” benefits after 6 consecutive months of employment at one place. These agencies are no better that a pimp service, and they should be banned. not only are all people employed through these agencies being used but, try getting a mortgage for a house, purchase a car, or try to buy ANY big ticket item. while employed through any one of these agencies. You will be turned down flat because you are classed as a temporary worker. One of the people from the agency tole me personally that she did not understand, you work full time and have full time hours. Really? Can one person really be that STUPID??????? When oh WHEN is this WYNNE government going to wake up? I, like many, am soooooo fed up with government bungling, I want to vomit.

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