Doubts raised over equal pay pro­posal

Ad­vo­cates for temp work­ers say amend­ment on se­nior­ity would ben­e­fit em­ploy­ers


Equal pay pro­vi­sions meant to pre­vent dis­crim­i­na­tion against temp agency, ca­sual and part-time work­ers have been qui­etly wa­tered down — rais­ing doubts that pro­posed leg­is­la­tion will “suc­ceed in meet­ing its pur­pose,” work­ers’ rights ad­vo­cates say.

In a joint sub­mis­sion be­ing made to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment this week, a coali­tion of groups in­clud­ing Park­dale Com­mu­nity Le­gal Ser­vices ar­gues that a re­cent re­vi­sion to pro­posed labour leg­is­la­tion “di­rectly un­der­mines the in­tent of the equal pay pro­vi­sions” and “pre­serves sys­temic in­equal­i­ties be­tween those in stan­dard em­ploy­ment and those in pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment.”

The pro­posed “Fair Work­places, Bet­ter Jobs Act” was first un­veiled in June and is ex­pected to be­come law this year. It aims to en­sure em­ploy­ers can no longer pay tem­po­rary, ca­sual and part-time work­ers less for do­ing the same jobs as per­ma­nent ones. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has touted the mea­sure as a key way to pro­mote the cre­ation of sta­ble jobs rather than pre­car­i­ous ones.

But af­ter the first round of com­mit­tee hear­ings over the sum­mer, an amend­ment was in­tro­duced that would al­low em­ploy­ers to main­tain pay dif­fer­en­tials be­tween temp and per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees through hours-based se­nior­ity. While other ar­eas of the Em­ploy­ment Stan­dards Act rely on start date to de­ter­mine se­nior­ity, the amend­ment would also al­low se­nior­ity to be based on the num­ber of hours worked.

“It was de­ter­mined dur­ing the first read­ing con­sul­ta­tions that there is am­bi­gu­ity on how to cor­rectly in­ter­pret se­nior­ity pro­vi­sions within the Em­ploy­ment Stan­dards Act,” said Michael Speers, spokesper­son for the Min­is­ter of Labour.

“Bill148 makes it clear that a se­nior­ity sys­tem in­cludes a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of pay based on the ac­cu­mu­lated num­ber of hours worked. This is con­sis­tent with the gen­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion of se­nior­ity, and does not change how the law is cur­rently ap­plied.”

But the amend­ment will make it “al­most im­pos­si­ble” for pre­car­i­ous work­ers to be able to ever ac­cess their right to equal pay, ac­cord­ing to Mary Gel­latly of Park­dale Com­mu­nity Le­gal Ser­vices, be­cause by def­i­ni­tion, temp, ca­sual and part-timers are un­likely to ever work as many hours as a full-time em­ployee.

“All em­ploy­ers have to do is set up a sys­tem of se­nior­ity based on hours of work to avoid com­ply­ing with the equal pay pro­vi­sions,” Gel­latly said.

In com­mit­tee hear­ings this sum­mer, some em­ployer groups ex­pressed con­cern over the orig­i­nal word­ing on equal pay mea­sures.

Karl Lit­tler of the Re­tail Coun­cil of Canada told MPs that while his or­ga­ni­za­tion was sup­port­ive of some of the pro­posed up­dates to work­place laws, equal pay pro­vi­sions “could con­ceiv­ably be in­tru­sive,” ac­cord­ing to tran­scripts from the hear­ings.

Kim Pa­tel, Em­ploy­ment Ser­vices direc­tor at St. Stephen’s Com­mu­nity House, said the amend­ments sub­se­quently in­tro­duced ef­fec­tively mean temp, ca­sual and part-time work­ers are “never go­ing to make it.”

In its cur­rent form, Bill 148 also does not make both em­ploy­ers and temp agen­cies li­able when a tem­po­rary worker gets in­jured — a key fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive for com­pa­nies to hire temps.

A Star in­ves­ti­ga­tion this year re­vealed the growth of temp agency work across On­tario, and how em­ploy­ers use agen­cies to avoid re­spon­si­bil­ity for ac­ci­dents and cut costs.

Asec­ond round of com­mit­tee hear­ings started this week. On Mon­day, Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees pres­i­dent Fred Hahn said Bill 148’s equal pay pro­vi­sions needed to be strength­ened “to pro­tect the most marginal­ized work­ers.”

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