Buyer Be­ware of Bill 148

Toronto Sun - - COMMENT - JULIE KWIECINSKI Kwiecinski is di­rec­tor of provin­cial af­fairs for On­tario at the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness (CFIB)

Lately, there’s been much ado about “Bill 148”, leg­is­la­tion passed by the pre­vi­ous On­tario gov­ern­ment to in­crease the min­i­mum wage to $15 and make a myr­iad of ma­jor changes to the prov­ince’s labour re­la­tions and em­ploy­ment stan­dards laws.

From the minute the bill was in­tro­duced last year, the con­ver­sa­tion was im­me­di­ately dragged into the mud and over-sim­pli­fied to the big, bad em­ployer ver­sus the good em­ployee. This po­lar­iz­ing de­bate pit­ted em­ploy­ees against em­ploy­ers, dis­tract­ing every­one from the se­ri­ous faults in the bill as the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment rushed to ram it through be­fore the elec­tion.

Premier Ford’s com­ment dur­ing a re­cent Ques­tion Pe­riod (“We’re get­ting rid of Bill 148”) prompted the ex­pected outcry from the usual sus­pects, once again de­mo­niz­ing small busi­ness own­ers. In re­al­ity, the pro­file of the small busi­ness owner couldn’t be fur­ther from this er­rant de­scrip­tion.

Small busi­ness own­ers value their em­ploy­ees and in many cases, treat them like fam­ily. In a re­cent CFIB sur­vey on the state of the Cana­dian work­force, two-thirds of On­tario’s em­ploy­ers iden­ti­fied their em­ploy­ees as the most im­por­tant el­e­ment of their suc­cess, the high­est re­sponse of any avail­able op­tion.

En­trepreneurs have been walk­ing the talk: Our sur­vey last year re­vealed that an over­whelm­ing 86.4% of On­tario’s small busi­ness em­ploy­ees were earn­ing above the min­i­mum wage.

In an­other CFIB sur­vey, 84% of On­tario’s small busi­ness own­ers said they al­ready of­fer their em­ploy­ees flex­i­bil­ity in the work­place to deal with per­sonal is­sues.

So if busi­nesses al­ready of­fer what’s in Bill 148, then what’s the fuss?

First of all, leg­is­lat­ing some­thing that’s al­ready hap­pen­ing in the work­place only leads to less flex­i­bil­ity. The small busi­ness work­ing en­vi­ron­ment — where the boss of­ten works side by side with em­ploy­ees — be­comes a rigid place.

Un­der Bill 148 specif­i­cally, busi­ness own­ers have be­come stuck in red tape.

Left unchecked, this red tape will mul­ti­ply ex­po­nen­tially af­ter Jan­uary 1 when the pa­per bur­den is ex­tended to record­ing every move­ment of sched­uled and on-call em­ploy­ees. All of this un­der the con­stant threat of po­ten­tial ad­min­is­tra­tive fines, and in many cases, with­out the lux­ury of an HR De­part­ment. Where in this reg­u­la­tory night­mare is a small busi­ness owner sup­posed to find time to fo­cus on the busi­ness – on keep­ing and cre­at­ing jobs?

Se­condly, some of the other Bill 148 obli­ga­tions also come with a hefty price tag to em­ploy­ers, on top of the re­cent 21% in­crease in the min­i­mum wage. For ex­am­ple, a small busi­ness owner in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor told us that the bill’s sched­ul­ing/on-call mea­sures alone would cost them $65,000 per year. This is money that could be spent on a full-time po­si­tion, or new equip­ment.

An­other busi­ness owner in the IT sec­tor told us their on-call costs would bal­loon by $150,000 every year, the equiv­a­lent of two full-time jobs.

And let’s not for­get Bill 148’s un­fair union rule changes.

For ex­am­ple, if at least 20% of a work­force in any sec­tor de­cides to union­ize, the em­ployer will be forced by the On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board to hand over the per­sonal con­tact in­for­ma­tion of all em­ploy­ees to union or­ga­niz­ers. This is un­demo­cratic, and so is tak­ing away the manda­tory se­cret bal­lot vote from the union­iza­tion process for three sec­tors (build­ing ser­vices, home care/com­mu­nity ser­vices, and tem­po­rary help agen­cies).

There are bad ap­ples in all bas­kets of life. But any gov­ern­ment that is truly se­ri­ous about fix­ing em­ployer-em­ployee is­sues in the work­place should use a leg­isla­tive scalpel, not a sledge­ham­mer.

Many busi­nesses of all sizes — re­gard­less of how well they treat their em­ploy­ees — have been wrong­fully tried and con­victed in the court of pub­lic opin­ion, and trapped by the oner­ous reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments of Bill 148. They must be freed to do what they do best: Cre­ate jobs.

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