Ontario government to freeze Liberals’ minimum wage hike and roll back labour-friendly rules

Posted on October 23, 2018 in Policy Context

TheGlobeandMail.com – Business

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government announced officially on Tuesdaythat it plans to repeal chunks of the previous government’s Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act amid pushback from business owners who argued many of the changes were too costly, forcing them to raise prices and cut staff.

Premier Doug Ford was elected last spring on an Ontario is “open for business” platform that included a promise to freeze the minimum wage $14 an hour. On Tuesday, his government confirmed the freeze and followed up with a recently promised plan to scrap or amend other changes in the legislation, known as Bill 148.

The government said it will maintain the current minimum wage at $14 per hour until 2020. Labour Minister Laurie Scott said it would be “immensely unfair” to workers to roll back the wage increases that workers have already received. The government also said it will implement annual increases to the minimum wage, tied to inflation, starting in 2020.

The government also said in a release that will also replace the previous government’s “disastrous Personal Emergency Leave rules.” Workers will be able to take “up to three days for personal illness, two for bereavement and three for family responsibilities.” The days will be unpaid.

The current act allows employees to take up to 10 personal emergency leave days a year, two of them paid.

The government will also cut the section that forces employers to pay part-time and casual staff at the same rate as full-time workers doing the same work, but said it will maintain the requirement for equal pay on the basis of sex.

“Overall, our reforms will simplify, harmonize and reduce the regulatory burden for anyone willing to create jobs in Ontario,” Ms. Scott said at the news conference.

Many businesses cheered the changes on Tuesday, while labour groups argued the government is removing workers’ rights.

The government’s new Making Ontario Open for Business Act was set to be introduced this afternoon before going on to second and third readings.

Ms. Scott also said the government is also working on a plan that sees minimum wage workers pay no provincial income tax. She said provincial finance Minister Vic Fedeli is “actively working on that right now.”

The announcement was made at the Scarborough offices of Leland Industries Inc., which makes bolts, nuts and screws for the construction industry, and included Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson and Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton.

Business owners have complained about the higher labour costs, including the spike in minimum wage to $14 from $11.60 as of last Jan. 1 and the additional staffing needed to cover for employees in other scenarios, including the personal emergency leave days and increases to vacation entitlements to three weeks for workers at a company for at least five years.

The PC government maintained the three-week vacation entitlement after five years as well as current provisions for domestic and sexual violence leave, which it stated “is a valuable protection for employees.”

Karl Littler, vice president of public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), issued a statement in response to the announcement on Tuesday saying his organization was happy the government is “taking a responsible and sensible approach in reforming the effects of the flawed Bill 148.”

The RCC and other business groups have lobbied hard to have the legislation changed.

“Our primary concern with Bill 148 was always the cumulative impact of its provisions, and the extraordinary pace at which they were implemented,” stated Mr. Littler. “It is encouraging to see a government that has understood and acted upon the major pain-points of our industry; namely, in the areas of full-time/part-time work, public holiday pay, scheduling and leaves.”

Labour groups have defended Bill 148, saying it protects and expands workers rights and pays them more to help keep up with the rising costs of living, especially in larger urban centres.

Gilleen Pearce, a spokesperson for the Better Way Alliance, a group of business owners that supports Bill 148, says she’s disappointed at the changes announced by the government that take away rights for workers.

“It’s all very short sighted,” says Ms. Pearce. “It makes me think how disconnected business lobby groups are and the government is from the employees who help make businesses successful.”

For instance, she’s upset about the two paid emergency leave days being removed.

“It’s sad they’ve said these businesses are so cheap essentially … that they can’t even pay for two leave days,” says Ms. Pearce, who also owns Walk My Dog Toronto, a dog-walking business.

She’s also upset the government plans to drop scheduling changes set to take effect next year. The scheduling changes in Bill 148 were to give workers the right to refuse shifts scheduled less than 96 hours beforehand and require to pay workers for a minimum of three hours at their regular rate if they cancel a scheduled shift within 48 hours of the shift’s start time.

In addition, the bill said that if an employee is on-call, but is not called in, the employer will have to pay them for at least three hours at their regular rate, with some exceptions.

Without the scheduling laws, she says the government is robbing workers of stability in their lives.

“That, to me, is unfair as well,” she says.


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