Many Ontarians in precarious work: report

TORONTO — New technology, a shrinking manufacturing sector and fewer union jobs, among other factors, have left approximately one-third of Ontario’s 6.6 million workers vulnerable, says a government-commissioned report that recommends a major overhaul of the province’s labour and employment laws.

The Changing Workplaces Review — released Tuesday — contains 173 recommendations that aim to create better workplaces with decent working conditions and widespread compliance with the law, according to report authors C. Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray, who consulted with workers, unions and businesses for two years on a wide range of work-related issues.

“We heard that the combination of low income, lack of control over scheduling, lack of benefits such as pensions and health care, personal emergency leave or sick leave, all together or in various combinations, creates a great deal of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress which undermines the quality of life and the physical well-being of a wide swath of workers in our society,” they wrote.

The recommendations include ensuring part-time, temporary and casual employees are paid the same as full-timers for the same work, extending the right to unpaid personal emergency leave — but not paid sick days — to all employees, increasing paid vacation time to three weeks for employees of longer than five years, and introducing harsher penalties for employers who violate workers’ rights.

The 419-page report also recommends organized labour reform, including extending that right to collective bargaining to workers currently excluded — such as farm workers, architects, legal and medical professionals — and removing barriers in joining unions, whose coverage in the private sector has fallen from 19.2 per cent in 1997 to 14.3 per cent in 2015.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the Liberal government has reviewed the recommendations, and will be announcing its response within the next week.

“Action is needed in order to ensure the benefits of our strong economy are shared by every Ontario family,” he said in a statement.

Flynn acknowledged that despite Ontario’s unemployment rate — at 5.8 per cent it’s the lowest in 16 years — rapid modernization of the workplace and new technology have left people across the province feeling less secure about the future.

“We have heard from many people that they are no longer able to count on full-time, secure work to provide for themselves and their families,” he said. ”Many people work multiple jobs, on contract or in unstable positions with unreliable hours or pay.”

From 1976 to 2015, manufacturing’s share of total employment in Ontario fell from 23.2 per cent to 10.8 per cent, while the service sector’s share increased from 64.5 per cent to 79.8 per cent.

The report was released amid warnings from business owners, who argue major changes to the province’s labour laws could have a negative impact on the province’s economic recovery and lead to job cuts. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce asked the government not to proceed without first studying the economic impact of the recommended changes.

The report concluded that employers would “benefit from happier and more productive workplaces” should the changes be implemented, and better enforcement of labour laws would ensure that responsible law-abiding employers wouldn’t face unfair competition from scofflaws.

Another recommendation was eliminating the exemption of students from the minimum wage law and phasing out the lower minimum wage for liquor servers — a policy that disproportionately affects women.

“It is just wrong in our view to pay a group of workers, especially when so many of them are women, a lesser minimum wage than everyone else, including others who earn tips, or who serve customers in a liquor-free environment,” the report said.

“One is left uneasy about the demographics of the sector and we question whether this anomalous treatment of liquor servers would have survived this long if most of the servers were male.”

The chamber of commerce also cautioned against ending the lower minimum wage for students, saying that while employers believe they’re doing a public good by hiring inexperienced students, they will be far less inclined to do so if they have to pay them minimum wage.

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