Worries beyond $15 minimum wage in labour bill

By MPP Toby Barrett

Much of this summer’s discussion on proposed labour legislation has focused on the $15 minimum wage and its impact on labour-intensive agriculture, student jobs and the restaurant trade.

Previously, all three political parties had agreed to take the minimum wage out of the political arena and set it according to the consumer price index. This gave business predictability. Bill 148 throws that agreement out the window.

Bill 148 also goes far beyond the proposed 32 per cent increase in mandatory pay, with sweeping changes ranging from workplace scheduling and wage parity to union organizing and doctor’s notes.

Ontario has already lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Many of the hundreds of oral and written submissions to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs address these worries.

Marc Neeb, Executive Vice-President, Magna International, wrote to our committee, “We believe the tipping point for Magna may well be the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017. For the first time in our 60-year history, we find ourselves in the very untenable position of questioning whether we will be able to continue to operate at historical levels in this province.”

As an employer of 22,000 people in Ontario in 50 manufacturing and engineering facilities, this is a serious message. When secondary companies that support Magna and the auto industry in Ontario are taken into consideration, there could be tens of thousands of jobs at stake.

Reiterating Bill 148 is the last straw and is one-sided, Neeb laid out some of the other challenges to doing business in Ontario including: uncompetitive hydro rates, increased payroll and pension costs, cap and trade policies, and some of the highest personal income tax rates in the G7.

Karl Baldauf from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce recently addressed the Tillsonburg Chamber of Commerce: “. . . such a dramatic change is simply unprecedented when you look at jurisdictions that have moved to $15 an hour. . . .  to say nothing of the intent, the speed with which this public policy is being driven is an incredible pace.”

Baldauf explained that people who will suffer the most are the “most vulnerable in our society” – the same people the bill purports to be protecting.

Both Baldaulf and Neeb echoed the request, from so many other employers, for a longer transition – in the range of three to five years.

Our Finance Committee received other concerns about Bill 148.

The proposed provision allowing employees to refuse scheduling changes with less than four days advance notice was felt to be completely impractical by many who testified.

Another concern was wage parity for contract, part-time and temporary workers – workers who may be the first to be cut if Bill 148 passes.

Also problematic is the proposed ban on the ability of employers to validate absences by asking for medical evidence.

We also heard that moving to card-based union certification is both undemocratic and not in the best interests of workers. The present secret ballot vote is a basic principle upon which our democracy is based.

Our local Simcoe District Chamber of Commerce, in their brief, sums it up by advocating Bill 148 requires more balance, and should be on hold until the necessary studies and alternatives are adequately considered – a sentiment consistently echoed by calls and e-mails to my office.