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Published on Friday, June 2, 2017

MPP Kevin Flynn hails proposed new labour law

Minister of Labour Flynn calls labour reforms victory for the little guy

MPP Kevin Flynn hails proposed new labour law
Kevin Flynn
Oakville MPP and Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn. - Metroland Media
By Nathan Howes Oakville Beaver

Ontario’s new proposed Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs plan is all about taking care of the ‘little guy.’

That’s according to Ontario Labour Minister and Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn, who, along with Premier Kathleen Wynne, launched a plan Tuesday, May 30 billed as one to safeguard employees and create fairer and better workplaces.

Measures include hiking the minimum wage, ensuring part-time workers are paid the same hourly wage as full-time workers, introducing paid sick days for every worker and ramping up enforcement of employment laws.

The proposed changes are in response to the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review, which made 173 recommendations and was conducted by special advisors C. Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray, during a two-year period.

It is the first-ever independent review of the Employment Standards Act 2000 and Labour Relations Act 1995.

Flynn called the plan a “real victory for ordinary Ontarians,” who have struggled to recover from economic hardships in the 2008-09 global recession.

“The little guy felt like they just weren’t being treated well. As the recovery took place, the little guy, again, felt like there was a lot of assistance being given to business. There was a lot of assistance being given to people who were already doing pretty well,” said Flynn, noting the Province may be introducing the plan in the House as early as this week.

“It’s been a long time coming. I spent the last two years looking forward to this day when we can take the advice from the advisors and we could prepare our response to it as a government.”

Since the last examination of the Employment Standards and Labour Relations acts, which was 20-25 years ago, Flynn said the workforce has changed “quite significantly.”

Whereas the norm used to be graduating from post-secondary school with a diploma/degree, or acquiring an apprenticeship through skills training, which led to securing a full-time job for many years, this is no longer the case, Ontario’s labour minister pointed out.

New reality of employment

“The reality is just something entirely different today. There are a lot of young people entering the workforce and finding it’s not the workforce of the 1990s or the workforce in the early 2000s,” said Flynn, adding there is now a lot of contract, part-time and temporary agency work.

In 2016, the median hourly wage in Ontario was $13 for part-time workers and $24.73 for full-time workers.

In the past 30 years, part-time work has grown to represent nearly 20 per cent of total employment, according to the Province.

“There sometimes isn’t enough work to allow somebody the security to make some of the decisions that my generation made, about starting a family, buying a house, maybe renting a condo. There is an increasing amount of younger people having to live at home these days,” said Flynn.

Minimum wage

“There is an increasing amount of young people relying on the minimum wage to try to raise families.”

Under the new proposed plan, minimum wage would jump to $14 an hour as of Jan. 1, 2018 and then to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019, followed by annual increases at the rate of inflation.

“In southern Ontario, or anywhere in Ontario, you can’t live well on $11.40 an hour. In fact, you can’t really live at all without some sort of assistance. You’ve got to pay rent, buy clothes for the kids, you’ve got to buy groceries, all those normal things people buy,” said Flynn.

“An increasing amount of people were finding the money was running out before the month ended. People were starting to lose hope.”

Other new measures include:

• Mandating equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal employees doing the same job as full-time employees; equal pay for temporary help agency employees doing the same job as permanent employees at the agencies’ client companies

• Expanding personal emergency leave to include an across-the-board minimum of at least two paid days per year for all workers

• Bringing Ontario’s vacation time into line with the national average by ensuring at least three weeks’ vacation after five years with a company

• Making employee scheduling fairer, including requiring employees to be paid for three hours of work if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its scheduled start time.

The government will also propose measures to expand family leaves and ensure employees are not mis-classified as independent contractors, so they receive benefits.

To implement these changes, the Province will hire up to 175 additional employment standards officers and launch a program to educate both employees and small- and medium-sized businesses about their rights and obligations under the Employment Standards Act.

During the Changing Workplaces Review, Flynn “actively encouraged” businesses to come forward and provide input, particularly chambers of commerce, he said, as meetings were held with them, businesses and organized labour unions.

“They provided us with some advice and we were able to listen to that advice and present a report yesterday (May 30) that I think really meets the needs of both (employers and employees),” said Flynn.

“It ensures our workplaces remain competitive and the people who are working part-time now are paid the same way as somebody who is working full-time.”

Oakville Chamber among many with concerns

The Oakville Chamber, along with the chambers of commerce and boards of trade across the province, has however expressed concern that the Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs Plan commits to an extensive reform without ensuring protection against “unintended consequences,” such as job losses, rising consumer costs, rising business costs and economic hardship, it noted in a statement to the Oakville Beaver.

“We share the government’s desire for economic growth, however, in order to achieve this, we need to ensure a competitive environment for business in Ontario,” stated John Sawyer, Oakville Chamber president.

“We will work together with government to identify the scale of the economic impact on business and help employers transition to follow the new regulations.”

Weighing in with feedback

The Ontario Fabricare Association (OFA) also registered “grave concerns” with the plan, particularly on the minimum wage increase, matching funds to finance Canada Pension Plan, OHIP and other payroll taxes, among others, as stated in its media release.

“This policy will cause havoc in the dry- and wet-cleaning industry, as well as many other small businesses. Most of the operators in our industry are small family businesses, which are currently struggling with a difficult economy and high utility prices,” said Sidney Chelsky, OFA executive director, in a letter to Wynne.

The Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) doesn’t believe this is the “best time” to overhaul Ontario’s hospitality industry and add new costs, stated in its media release. It opposes the announced 32 per cent increase of minimum wage over 18 months.

“The Premier has clearly not considered the sustainment of our economic model with rigid price point limitations in a highly-competitive environment. Ontario’s restaurants have the lowest profit margins in all of Canada,” stated Tony Elenis, ORHMA CEO and president.

Province is on ‘right track’: elementary teachers

While there are numerous groups opposed to the plan, the government does have supporters – the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is one of them.

In a media release, the union stated the Province is on the “right track” to creating better working conditions through its proposed changes to the labour and employment laws.

“We need to see draft legislation on these and other issues to ensure the desired outcomes advocated by the labour movement are achieved,” said Sam Hammond, ETFO president.

‘No discernible effect’ on small business: Flynn

For the most part, Flynn said Ontario businesses will be “largely unaffected” by the workplace review.

After researching and looking at studies, the Province found there is “no discernible effect” of a minimum wage increase on small businesses.

“At the end of the day, you get more people spending money in the community. You get higher employee satisfaction, you get greater retention, much less turnover in companies,” said Flynn.

“The reports we’ve looked at largely tell us that what we’re doing is a benefit to the economy,” said the minister.

The Province is also proposing a broad consultation process to get feedback from a wide-variety of stakeholders on the draft legislation it intends to introduce.

To facilitate this consultation, it is proposing to send the legislation to committee after First Reading.
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Author: Mayor Rob Burton

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