Collective Action Essential to Advance Worker’s Rights in Ontario
Workplace Wellness New labour law in Ontario puts workers in precarious employment at risk. Swift action from Canada's largest union has made the voice of Ontarians heard.
On Nov. 20th, 2018, Ontario’s newly elected PC government passed Bill 47, also called the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. The legislation has seen intense opposition from the province’s residents, unions, health professionals and others.
In essence, the new act unwinds Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which was introduced by the previous government in 2017. That law addressed concerns around precarious employment and low wages, while introducing several protections for workers — among them, equal pay for equal work, termination with one week’s notice or pay in lieu of notice for some temporary workers, and a minimum of a three-week vacation after five years of employment.
The introduction of Bill 47 removes these measures designed to protect Ontario workers. Many people in the province are concerned about the negative impact it poses and have spoken out publicly against it.
A strong push for worker’s rights
Unions like Unifor are playing an active role in getting the word out. The trade union represents more than 315,000 members and is the largest private sector union in the country. Its formation in 2013 brought together individual unions representing workers in every major sector of Canada’s economy, including the auto, communications, manufacturing, energy, paper, forestry and fishing sectors.
Unifor’s primary goal is to advocate for a fair and progressive future on behalf of all workers. “We bring in the balance to the power that employers hold over employees,” says Naureen Rizvi, the union’s Ontario Regional Director. “We ensure there are good wages, good benefits, fair working conditions, and most of all, an avenue of appeal when your rights are violated.”
The union’s response to Bill 47 has been swift and robust. It has issued an emergency collective bargaining directive to all Ontario local unions which clearly outlines measures in eight key areas to be included in future proposals. Among them, a minimum starting wage of $15 per hour, personal emergency leave, equal pay for equal work based on gender and employment status, the right to refuse shift changes, and 48-hour notice for shift cancellations.
Along with the collective bargaining directive, Unifor has been very active in increasing awareness and emphasizing the potential fallout of Bill 47. “We have had hundreds of actions in the last two months,” explains Rizvi. “We’ve also been distributing leaflets and organizing actions at workplaces. We’ve met with MPPs and have had non-stop, on-the-ground action in an effort to grow a movement to challenge to the Conservatives’ attacks on the people of Ontario.”
A change of perspective is required
Rizvi fears that the Ontario Works assistance program will take a financial hit because of Bill 47. “In a financial sense, it (the bill) means that workers will take home $2,000 less a year,” she says. “It means sick employees will come to work because they can’t afford to take a day off without pay. It also means workers may keep that second or third job even after 2020 because by then, $15 an hour will be the same rate as last year’s minimum wage.”
The union suggests that employers who support the bill should understand that the money they may save in the short term on salaries will have wider, long-term implications. Rizvi uses a coffee shop analogy to illustrate the point for business owners who may support the measure: “If people don’t have money to come to your coffee shop because they have nothing extra left after they pay their bills, what does that $14 an hour worker behind the counter actually do for your bottom line? Save you $2,000 a year? What if everyone had that much money to spend, how many more coffees could you sell?” she says.
For those who share Unifor’s opposition to Bill 47 — whether unionized, unemployed, or otherwise — Rizvi recommends supporters take immediate action to ensure their voices are heard. That means contacting MPPs, the Minister of Labour, and the Premier. “Take the stories out on the streets, join coalition groups, join the dialogue, share your narratives on social media, and challenge the MPPs who have been elected to represent you,” she says. “We need to keep a strong and steady pressure on this government.”