TORONTO—Sweeping changes to Ontario’s labour laws this week have left groups on both sides of the worker-business divide feeling dissatisfied.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne unveiled the Liberal government’s plan to modernize workplace regulations May 30.
The proposed legislation will increase the province’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, as well as introduce a slew of new measures that increase vacation entitlements, expand personal emergency leave and guarantee equal pay for part-time workers.
“Our plan takes dead aim at the challenges that confront us in this new, uncertain world,” Wynne said. “It puts fairness at the heart of all we do.”
For labour and business group across the province, however, fairness seems to mean different things.
The Ontario Federation of Labour, for instance, praised the introduction of a $15 minimum wage, calling it a “a win for Ontario workers,” while the Keep Ontario Working Coalition said the new legislation is composed of unproven reforms that could have serious “unintended consequences,” including job losses and higher consumer costs.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses was equally put-off by the overhaul.
“We are shocked and appalled that the government is broadsiding small business owners with a 32-per-cent increase in the minimum wage within only one-and-a-half years,” said CFIB director Julie Kwiecinski. “Small businesses, who don’t share the larger profit margins of big business, will be forced to make difficult choices.”
While business associations came out strongly against the reforms, Labour groups criticized the proposed legislation for not going far enough to protect workers.
The OFL said the minimum wage hike was a good start, but should be followed by legislation that guarantees further protections.
“Now it is time to put legislation in place that will guarantee decent conditions in the workplace for all workers, as well as decent pay,” OFL president, Chris Buckley said.
“Every Canadian has a constitutional right to access meaningful collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Buckley added. “Our government must protect this right through legislation that removes obstacles for all workers who desire to exercise their rights and join a union.”
The Ontario government plans to table the new labour laws this week and send the legislation to committee for consultations this summer. If enacted, the rules would begin coming into force in early 2018.
The proposed changes are in response to a government-commissioned report released last week that included 173 recommendations addressing precarious work. The Changing Workplaces review concluded that 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.
In the political arena, NDP leader Andrea Horwath suggested the Liberals are only introducing the wage increase to shore up votes before next year’s election.
Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, meanwhile, echoed the concerns of business groups about the economic impact of the proposed changes.
While Horwath has long pushed for a $15 minimum wage, Brown would not say if he would cancel the planned wage hike if he wins the 2018 election.
—Canadian Press writers Jessica Smith Cross and Allison Jones contributed to this report