On October 23, Ontario’s government tabled Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. The legislation, which will repeal portions of Bill 148 (the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act), is a major setback for workers’ rights in Ontario.
Bill 148, passed in November 2017, was the result of years of campaigning and advocacy for legislative provisions that would better protect low-wage and precariously employed workers. The reforms in Bill 148 included a phase in of a $15 minimum wage by 2019, two paid personal emergency leave days, and equal pay for equal work. The bill also strengthened employment standards enforcement and introduced rules that made it easier to join and remain in a union.
These much needed reforms have helped millions of Ontario’s workers. Many healthcare practitioners have noted that the introduction of paid sick days, ending the requirement for doctor’s notes for sick days, a higher minimum wage and strengthened labour laws have been positive steps in improving public health in the province. The rollback of these reforms by Bill 47 will put a further strain on our public healthcare system.
Despite claims to the contrary from the big business lobby, these reforms have been good for Ontario’s economy. Over the last 12 months Ontario has added 89,000 jobs. Hourly wages and the total amount of working hours have risen since Bill 148 was implemented in January, with workers in the lowest waged sectors seeing the greatest benefit.
Some of the more notable changes in Bill 47 include the following:
- The elimination of 10 personal emergency days, including 2 paid personal emergency days (with no requirement to provide a doctor’s note). Instead, employees will be provided with only 8 unpaid personal emergency leave days that are prescriptive (3 for sickness, 3 for family emergency, 2 for bereavement), and reinstituting the use of doctor’s note to use sick days. Note that for workplaces with over 50 employees, this is actually worse than the personal emergency leave provisions that were in place before Bill 148.
- The minimum wage, currently set at $14/hour in Ontario, was scheduled to increase to $15/hour as of January 1, 2019 and be indexed to inflation thereafter. The government has announced that the minimum wage will no longer increase in January 2019. Instead, any increases will be indexed to inflation starting in 2020, resulting in what is effectively a 33 month freeze of the minimum wage.
- The ending of the fair scheduling provision that was set to come into effect in January 2019. That provision would have required employers to pay for the cancellation of shifts that occurred within 48 hours of their commencement and provide at least three hours pay for on-call shifts in 24 hour period in which they were not called in.
- The government will repeal the requirement that part-time employees be paid the same as full-time employees if they do the same work, subject to some exceptions. Only the requirement that workers receive equal pay regardless of sex will be preserved.
- The elimination of a provision requiring employers to prove that a worker is not an employee. This provision was aimed at preventing employer misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
- The elimination of rules that make it easier to join and keep a union such as: lowering the threshold of union cards to get employee lists, sector-specific card check, and sector-specific protections against contract flipping.
Overall the changes to the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act in Bill 47 will further entrench the inequities of precarious and unstable work in the province.
What can you do?
Bill 47 is currently still being debated at Queen’s Park. Here are some ways you can voice your opposition to the Bill:
- Join the Fight for 15 and Fairness campaign and participate in local event. See https://www.15andfairness.org/ for more details.
- Write a letter to your local MPP.
- Write a letter to your local paper.
David Bush is the Workers’ Rights Organizer at the Income Security Advocacy Centre.