Wynne looks to strike bal­ance with pro­posed labour re­forms


Premier Kath­leen Wynne is set to un­veil dra­matic labour law re­forms, in­clud­ing greater em­ployee pro­tec­tions, a push to­ward a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage, more paid va­ca­tion time and mea­sures to make it eas­ier for work­ers to union­ize. On Tuesday, Wynne and Labour Min­is­ter Kevin Flynn will launch the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s for­mal re­sponse to the Chang­ing Work­places Re­view, which made 173 rec­om­men­da­tions on im­prov­ing job con­di­tions for On­tar­i­ans.

Al­though the prov­ince will not im­me­di­ately adopt all of the pro­pos­als from the 419-page re­view pre­pared by spe­cial ad­vis­ers C. Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray, it will serve as the tem­plate for changes.

Sources say Wynne wants to strike a bal­ance in the re­forms — which will not be in­tro­duced in the leg­is­la­ture un­til the fall ses­sion — to en­sure they are ac­cept­able to both em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers.

“On­tario busi­nesses have never been bet­ter at cre­at­ing wealth, but en­sur­ing those ben­e­fits are shared widely and fairly, that seems to be get­ting more dif­fi­cult,” the premier said in a ma­jor speech last month in Hamil­ton.

“We must do more than sim­ply pro­tect peo­ple’s wages and their abil­ity to earn a good liv­ing. We must work to cre­ate a fair econ­omy that pro­vides op­por­tu­nity and se­cu­rity for ev­ery­one,” Wynne said.

“It means fair work­places with de­cent ben­e­fits; work­places where em­ploy­ers meet their obli­ga­tions to their work­ers; and it means good pen­sions,” she said, not­ing she led the way in per­suad­ing other pre­miers and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to boost the Canada Pen­sion Plan.

“The chang­ing na­ture of work is leav­ing some peo­ple vul­ner­a­ble. They’re work­ing con­tract to con­tract or they’re oth­er­wise deal­ing with an un­sta­ble or pre­car­i­ous work sit­u­a­tion. They can be let go with no warn­ing as a re­sult; some peo­ple can slip into poverty.”

To ad­dress that, the Lib­er­als want to en­sure that On­tario work­ers earn equal pay for equal work, re­gard­less of their full-time, part-time or tem­po­rary em­ployee sta­tus.

The aim is to en­cour­age em­ploy­ers to hire per­ma­nent staff in­stead of re­ly­ing upon con­tract work­ers. The gov­ern­ment wants to end loop­holes that en­able com­pa­nies to claim that de facto full-time work­ers are in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors to avoid pay­ing them bet­ter wages and ben­e­fits.

Al­though the Lib­er­als plan to re­duce the bar­ri­ers to union­iza­tion in many sec­tors, they are un­likely to ban re­place­ment “scab” work­ers, as the NDP briefly did while in of­fice a quar­ter-cen­tury ago.

The Chang­ing Work­places Re­view, re­leased last Tuesday, rec­om­mended that, with some ex­cep­tions, farm work­ers, nan­nies and le­gal, den­tal, med­i­cal and ar­chi­tec­tural pro­fes­sion­als be al­lowed to union­ize.

It also sug­gested em­ploy­ees in fast food and re­tail out­lets should be able to or­ga­nize in “multi-em­ployer bar­gain­ing” units to give work­ers at com­pet­ing burger restau­rants and chain stores more clout.

“If em­ploy­ers and fran­chisees in restau­rants, re­tail, fast food and other spec­i­fied sec­tors be­come part of a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing regime as sin­gle em­ploy­ers, this could lead to some nat­u­ral ex­pan­sion to­wards multi-em­ployer sec­toral bar­gain­ing in those ar­eas,” the re­view said.

The labour min­is­ter strongly favours unions sign­ing up mem­bers us­ing card-based cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, which re­duces the risk of work­ers be­ing in­tim­i­dated by their bosses into not join­ing a guild.

As part of a new Work­place Rights Act, the Lib­er­als are also ex­pected to ex­pand min­i­mum an­nual va­ca­tion from two weeks to three, in­crease the fines for em­ploy­ers who cheat work­ers out of their wages and set up a con­fi­den­tial tip line to re­port bad bosses.

Wynne’s re­forms are the most sig­nif­i­cant in decades. In the early 1990s, NDP premier Bob Rae beefed up labour laws only to have his Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive suc­ces­sor, Mike Har­ris, wa­ter them down.

Even though the Chang­ing Work­places Re­view did not call for a $15 hourly min­i­mum wage, the prov­ince wants to grad­u­ally raise it to that from the cur­rent $11.40 be­gin­ning this year.

As part of a new Work­place Rights Act, the Lib­er­als are also ex­pected to ex­pand min­i­mum an­nual va­ca­tion from two weeks to three

NDP Leader An­drea Hor­wath has long been call­ing for a $15 min­i­mum wage and, with an elec­tion just over a year away, Wynne wants to shore up the Lib­er­als’ left flank.

At the same time, the gov­ern­ing party wants to force PC Leader Pa­trick Brown to take a stand on labour re­forms that are op­posed by many busi­ness groups, in­clud­ing the On­tario Cham­ber of Com­merce.

In a break from his PC pre­de­ces­sors, Brown has been try­ing to steer the Tories to the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre by court­ing some union lead­ers, but he may risk of­fend­ing his party’s base if he em­braces labour-friendly Lib­eral poli­cies.

Tuesday’s an­nounce­ment in Toronto comes in the fi­nal week of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­fore MPPs rise for the summer break and against the back­drop of Thurs­day’s by­elec­tion in Sault Ste. Marie.

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