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Yesterday, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs’ tour of Ontario hit London to hear from the public on the changes to labour and employment legislation proposed in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017. Throughout the day, the Committee considered oral presentations from nineteen parties, the majority of whom spoke on behalf of unions, community services, and the farm and food processing sector, and expressed concerns from an employee perspective. The full agenda is available here. While the Committee commended those parties who highlighted new issues (London was the sixth of ten public hearings), it was clear that a handful of recommendations were top of mind.

1. Increased minimum wage should be implemented over time.

Employers are clearly concerned that a 32% increase in minimum wage over two years is problematic. While parties generally supported the wage raise itself, they took exception to the timeline. Many parties requested that the increase be implemented on a scaled, scheduled basis to afford employers crucial financial planning time. Advocates for small businesses and farms, in particular, opined that their operations will close the day $15.00/hour by January 1, 2019 is approved. Their reasons were twofold: either the margin for the related cost increase or applicable provincial funding is simply not available, or the increase would preclude them from continuing to pay higher than minimum wage rates, which threatens their ability to retain employees.

2. Scheduling provisions are impractical for certain sectors.

Representatives in the agricultural, food processing and packaging sectors called for exemptions to the proposed scheduling provisions (mandating minimum pay for shifts under three hours or cut short or cancelled without 48 hours’ notice). Shifts in these industries are highly reactive to weather and, to a lesser degree, client demands. Their message: adjusting shifts on short notice without penalty is a practical necessity. Some exemptions are already included in the draft legislation, for storms and power outages for example. The Committee appeared receptive to altering this language to better accommodate the realities of certain sectors.

3. More and dedicated paid personal emergency leave days.

Demands to expand and increase the paid personal emergency leave provisions ran the gamut. Requests were made to increase the number of paid days to as many as 10; extend paid days to individuals currently exempt; and add 5 to 10 paid leave days specifically for domestic violence. These requests received little opposition.

4. Card based certification is controversial.

One of the most polarizing issues of the day was the proposed card-based union certification for employees in specified industries (building services, community services, home care and temporary help agency). Unions lobbied for a return to card based certification for all workers in all sectors, claiming the secret ballot process is too stressful for workers and too susceptible to employer intimidation. MPP Peter Milczyn provided some insightful commentary in response. He explained that the intention of extending card based certification to those sectors named in Bill 148 is to extend the right to join a bargaining unit to workers who are dispersed geographically, and therefore vulnerable due to their isolation from fellow employees – barriers that are not present in sectors where employees all show up for work at the same building and can more easily congregate. His remarks offer some hope that this provision, if approved, will not be expanded.

The committee is still accepting written submissions until 5:30 p.m. on Friday, July 21, 2017. More information on how to submit written comments is available here.

Based on the Committee’s comments, we would suggest written submissions specify:

  1. Your request. What is it that you want the Act to provide or not provide?
  2. Your problem. Why is the proposed change a problem for your business or industry?
  3. Your solution. Are there other avenues for solving this problem?
  4. Suggested language. What new or modified language would make the Act work for you?
  5. Your involvement. Did you raise your concerns at any earlier stage in the legislative process and, if so, how?

For more details on the proposed changes, flip back through our blog.

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