Tuesday 20 August 1996
Employment Standards Improvement Act, 1996, Bill 49, Mrs Witmer / Loi de 1996 sur l'amélioration des normes d'emploi, projet de loi 49, Mme Witmer
Oakville Chamber of Commerce
Hamilton and District Labour Council
Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton-Wentworth
Hamilton and District Chamber of Commerce
Hamilton-Wentworth Coalition for Social Justice
Burlington Chamber of Commerce
Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups
Hamilton Steelworkers Area Council
Labourers' International Union of North America
Hamilton Construction Association
Canadian Auto Workers, Local 199
Hamilton-Burlington CUPE Health Care Workers Joint Action Committee
Turkstra Lumber Co Ltd
Golden Horseshoe Social Action Committee
Canadian Auto Workers, Local 504
Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906
United Steelworkers of America, Local 1005
Niagara South Social Safety Network
Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Local 546
Provincial Council of Women of Ontario
Canadian Union of Public Employees Niagara District Council
Simcoe and District Labour Council
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Chair / Président: Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East / -Est PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce PC)
*Mr John R. Baird (Nepean PC)
Mr JackCarroll (Chatham-Kent PC)
*Mr DavidChristopherson (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND)
*Mr TedChudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC)
Ms MarilynChurley (Riverdale ND)
*Mr DwightDuncan (Windsor-Walkerville L)
*Mrs BarbaraFisher (Bruce PC)
*Mr SteveGilchrist (Scarborough East / -Est PC)
*Mr PatHoy (Essex-Kent L)
*Mr Jean-MarcLalonde (Prescott and Russell / Prescott et Russell L)
Mr BartMaves (Niagara Falls PC)
Mr BillMurdoch (Grey-Owen Sound PC)
*Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
*Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre PC)
*In attendance /présents
Substitutions present /Membres remplaçants présents:
Mr John R. O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC) for Mr Carroll
Mr DerwynShea (High Park-Swansea PC) for Mr Maves
Clerk / Greffièr: Mr Douglas Arnott
Staff / Personnel: Mr Ray McLellan, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 0901 in the Sheraton Hotel, Hamilton.
EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS IMPROVEMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 SUR L'AMÉLIORATION DES NORMES D'EMPLOI
Consideration of Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act / Projet de loi 49, Loi visant à améliorer la Loi sur les normes d'emploi.
OAKVILLE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair (Mr Steve Gilchrist): Good morning all and welcome to the second day of hearings on Bill 49. Our first group up this morning will be the Oakville Chamber of Commerce. Good morning, gentlemen.
Mr Peter Warmels: My name is Peter Warmels. I'm the president of the Oakville Chamber of Commerce this year.
Mr Don Crossley: Don Crossley, executive vice-president of the Oakville Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Warmels: The Oakville Chamber of Commerce is an organization representing more than 1,100 members. Members range in size from the Ford Motor Co to small business persons employing one to three people. We welcome the opportunity to address your standing committee with regard to Bill 49, the government's proposed employment standards improvement legislation.
The Oakville Chamber of Commerce congratulates the government on undertaking a two-stage reform of the Employment Standards Act and supports Bill 49 as a first step in the process. The act itself has been outdated due to legislation being added over the years without a complete inquiry into its underlying framework. Our chamber awaits the second phase of reform and supports the stated goals of promoting greater flexibility among the workplace parties.
Our chamber supports your three goals outlined in Bill 49: to allow the Ministry of Labour to administer the act more efficiently; to promote self-reliance and flexibility among the workplace parties; and to simplify and improve some of the language in the act. We believe that in doing so the bill continues to protect minimum employment standards for employees and workers.
The Oakville chamber is very supportive of the provisions of Bill 49 which eliminate duplicate claims, limits recovery of money to a six-month period and extends the appeal period. Employers are increasingly faced with defending claims of the same nature or for the same remedy in multiple forms. Non-unionized employees are able to have employment standards disputes dealt with by the courts in wrongful dismissal actions as well as by the employment standards branch. Unionized employees are able to file grievances under the collective agreement to be dealt with in a grievance and arbitration process, and may also file claims with the employment standards branch. This should avoid employers having to defend the same dispute in multiple forms and duplicating their costs. In our opinion, the public purse is often unfairly burdened in this manner.
The proposed provision of the act limiting the entitlement to recover money to six months instead of two years places the onus on employees to make complaints in a timely manner. In our opinion, the more time that elapses with a complaint, the more difficult will be the investigation and, as a consequence, increased costs to both parties.
The increased appeal period, from 15 to 45 days, provides for a more reasonable time in which to allow the parties to negotiate a settlement in lieu of an appeal, more carefully consider the merits of filing an appeal and make the necessary payment of the amount of the order and administration cost to the director to apply for the appeal. The current 15-day period in which to make the payment causes an unnecessary hardship to employers.
Our concerns: Notwithstanding our support in general of Bill 49, we pose the following questions, all dealing with section 20 of the bill, regarding enforcement of the act through the grievance and arbitration procedure.
Question 1: Is it appropriate to grant arbitrators the power to make an order that any employment standards officer is able to make? Our chamber believes that the arbitrator should not be taking on this role, as an arbitration hearing will only take place after the various steps of the grievance procedure have been concluded.
Question 2: What is the process to appeal/review an arbitration decision enforcing the act? The act is unclear about whether any arbitration decision may be appealed or if it is in fact final and binding.
Question 3: Do time lines in the act or the collective agreement prevail? All collective agreements set out time lines in the grievance process and must be filed and processed, but in many cases these time lines will be different than those in the act. Our chamber believes that collective agreement time lines should prevail to ensure consistency.
Question 4: Is the arbitrator's ability to award damages restricted by the six-month recovery limit? It is not clear from the proposed amendments if this is the case.
Finally, the chamber would support moving the provisions of Bill 49 allowing for a greater right or benefit assessment as a package to the second phase of reform. Our chamber strongly believes that allowing for a greater right or benefit as a package is an important component of allowing workplace parties the freedom to mutually agree to arrangements which, if viewed separately, would not be in compliance with the act.
In conclusion, the Oakville Chamber of Commerce supports the two-stage Employment Standards Act reform process and supports Bill 49 as the initial step in that process. We urge you to consider the questions we have raised to clarify certain of the proposed amendments. We thank you for allowing us the opportunity to appear before your committee today.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): Thank you for your presentation. The issue around arbitration is now coming up repeatedly with a number of business interests across the province. I wonder if it wouldn't be your view that perhaps the government might want to take the arbitration clauses out of the bill and deal with them in the second part of the process. Would you think that would be a prudent step on the part of the government?
Mr Warmels: I think the process of dealing with the appeal process certainly requires a lot of review, and if it can't be dealt with in the first step, then the second step may be more appropriate -- wherever the most thorough degree of review can be taken, whether it's in the first or the second step.
Mr Duncan: The nature of your comments on the arbitration indicate to me that you would contemplate amendments to the bill as proposed that would substantially alter the government's intent. Would it be your recommendation that the government, prior to adopting this legislation, at the very least consider amendments to the arbitration, and if it's not prepared to consider amendments to the arbitration clauses, then deal with them in the second phase?
Mr Warmels: Yes.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Thank you for your presentation; appreciate it. I noted on the second page, sixth paragraph, "We believe in so doing the bill continues to protect minimum employment standards for workers." I have some difficulty appreciating how that can be if you accept that right now the minimum is there is no cap on the amount of money that a worker can claim for, there's no minimum threshold they have to cross to be eligible to make a claim. They're losing the ability to claim for up to two years; it only goes to six months. With those losses of minimum protections that workers have now, how does that square with making the statement that you believe the bill will still continue to protect those very minimum standards that no longer exist?
Mr Crossley: I think that whenever you are taking a review process on something of this magnitude, there are a number of issues that have to be addressed. I don't disagree with what you're saying. We attempted, from our vantage point, to do the best we could in the time allowed to come up with what we felt were some solid questions that needed answering. I'm sure if we had studied it for another month, we probably would have come up with more and perhaps reached some of your conclusions. But in a general way, we feel a general level of comfort with what we've suggested today.
Mr Christopherson: I would just express that part of the concern of my colleagues and I is that a general level of understanding or acceptance is really difficult when the Employment Standards Act is the only real bill of rights that workers have and the government maintains that there are no losses and, I think I've pointed out clearly, there already are losses.
To the parliamentary assistant, maybe the fact you didn't have enough time would point to the fact that maybe this whole thing should have been put off for the year-long review, bearing in mind that the government tried to ram this through in just a few weeks last session.
My other question to you would be over on the next page. It says, "The proposed provision of the act limiting the entitlement to recover money in six months instead of two years places the onus on employees to make complaints in a timely manner." I can appreciate that train of thought, but we've already heard evidence yesterday in Toronto from groups representing particularly visible minorities, women, people whose first language isn't necessarily English -- in other words, the most vulnerable -- non-union shops, where there are unscrupulous employers. I know that you wouldn't support employers who violate the laws, and I believe that's a sincere position on your part, but what we've heard is that there are an awful lot of these workers who are so fearful of losing their jobs and have so few other opportunities for employment that they don't make claims until, quite frankly, they've either been fired or quit out of frustration or have another opportunity to go to another job. But with this change in the legislation, they've lost the right to claim for a year and a half of money that's owed them, money they've already worked for. Again, how would you square the benefit that you see as an employer with the rights that the workers are losing?
Mr Crossley: I would suggest that there are still vehicles in place so that this process can be dealt with with due diligence in a six-month time frame. I do not think you need two years.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): Thank you very much for your presentation. There is one area I want to explore with you. Essentially the standards that govern employment are not being affected by this act, except for pregnancy leave and vacation leave, which are being clarified. What we're dealing with are administrative and procedural changes.
I just want to comment with respect to your concerns about the arbitrator's powers, because as you know, we're looking at putting the resolution process between unions and the employer through the collective agreement process. From what I can see of your questions, is it your concern that you want to make sure that the arbitrator's powers are limited to the purpose and rights that are given under the Employment Standards Act and no further?
Mr Warmels: Yes, I certainly do. The arbitrators, even today, have an immense amount of power in the decision-making process, and the consistency with which their decisions are applied throughout the process is difficult to comprehend at times. I think they need a support of some sort to back up the decisions they make, particularly when it comes to the process we're dealing with today. Even considering that there is an appeal process in place, arbitrators -- and we're concerned -- may be allowed to make the final decision.
Mr Tascona: But within the context and the rights that are provided under the act, that would be fine with yourself?
Mr Warmels: Certainly, but the act can always be interpreted differently by arbitrators from one to another.
Mr Tascona: With respect to the cap, up to 1991 the cap for claims was $4,000, and then it was changed to be unlimited. Now we're back at $10,000. Do you feel that's a reasonable limitation, given the balancing with respect to the ability to enforce the act and also deal with the resources the government has to deal with this type of legislation?
Mr Warmels: I'm not here prepared to specifically comment to the amount of a cap. I firmly believe that a cap is necessary. I firmly believe that providing a timely process, ie, within the six-month period, would allow for that cap to be administered much more effectively than if there was no time limit on the due process that's to be taking place.
The Chair: Thank you, gentlemen, for coming and making your presentation before us here today. We appreciate it.
Mr Warmels: Thank you.
HAMILTON AND DISTRICT LABOUR COUNCIL
The Chair: Our next group up will be the Hamilton and District Labour Council. Good morning, gentlemen. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit between your presentation or a question-and-answer period. Once you're settled in there, I wonder if you'd introduce yourselves for Hansard as well, please.
Mr Wayne Marston: I'm Wayne Marston. I'm president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council. With me today is Darren Green, who is the chair of the political action committee of the labour council. Darren's actually going to present the brief to you, but just prior to that, there's a couple of observations I would like to make.
First of all, I'd like to thank the committee, of course, for the opportunity to present to you. For the record, the Hamilton and District Labour Council represents some 40,000 workers in the city of Hamilton, of course along with their families.
But one matter I'd like to deal with, I'd like the visitors in the gallery who are not with labour unions to raise their hands. Would you, please? Now, those that are with labour unions, please raise your hands. The reason I'm doing that is to be very clear with you that labour hasn't somehow stacked this room. I just wanted to get that point across. What we do have with us are a number of concerned citizens that were at a breakfast with us this morning. We had a bit of a meeting with them in advance. I just thought that that was important for the record: to see that there is a balance between unionized and non-unionized workers' concerns with Bill 49.
I've been following this provincial government's actions in ramming through Bill 7 and attempting to do the same with Bill 26. It's not overly surprising to us to see Bill 49 surface and some of the changes that are proposed in it. But I wonder, for one, if this government has considered an action that took place here in the city of Hamilton in February, when 100,000 people came on the streets of Hamilton. Now, that was one out of every 75 people in the province of Ontario. You should ask yourself what would cause people concern enough to come out to protest. What they were trying to do simply was to get the ear of their government. Those concerns were based on what they anticipated would happen with this government, not what has come to fruition so far. Especially with these proposed changes contained in Bill 49, they're realizing some of their worst fears.
The labour council's brief points to the fact that the changes proposed in Bill 49 take away many of the basic rights workers have enjoyed for many years, rights which helped ensure them some dignity on the job. Unionized workplaces will continue to have, as a result of a strong collective agreement, that sense of dignity still.
There will be significant pressures put on unionized workers, and I understand just yesterday the minister deferred some aspects of Bill 49 to a later date. The more cynical people out there say that that was being done because of the fact that they felt that it would pull labour away from the table at these hearings. I can tell you very clearly that for those who may not know much about labour, we have a couple of defining principles, and one of those is an injury to one is an injury to all, and that does not mean simply unionized workers. Our concerns are across the community for all workers.
At this point I'll ask Brother Green to present the brief to you.
Mr Darren Green: I'll start with the background. When the Minister of Labour, Elizabeth Witmer, introduced Bill 49 in the Legislature, she advised members present that the bill was intended to only streamline the act and encourage compliance and simplify administration. The reality of Bill 49 is that it has far greater implications than simple housekeeping. The Hamilton and District Labour Council believes these changes will continue the trend established by Bill 7 and further erode the workers' rights, to the benefit of their employers.
The fairness and balance in the workplace sought by such groups as women workers, minority workers, food processors and servers, home workers and domestic workers will be dealt a serious setback by the provisions in Bill 49.
The Employment Standards Act was originally intended to provide a floor of rights for the workers of the province of Ontario, and with the passage of Bill 49, Ontario workers will find much of that floor has crumbled away beneath their feet. The Employment Standards Act, as it existed in the past, has been notorious for its weakness and also for the lack of enforcement by the Ministry of Labour. There are estimates that one in three employers violate the basic standards contained in the act. This can certainly be attributed to the lack of enforcement.
The Hamilton and District Labour Council believes that these same dishonest employers will, as a result of the provisions of Bill 49, have a relatively free hand to continue to coerce and abuse their employees.
Mrs Witmer said that the bill was simply housecleaning. We don't think so. The following is a short list of some of the impacts expected following the passage of Bill 49:
Bill 49 causes workers to forfeit their rights in order to simply keep their jobs. It gives employers an open season to continue to violate the act. It further neuters the act by wiping out the floor of basic rights for both non-union and union workers. It caps the amount of money a worker can claim from their employer to $10,000. It shortens the period a worker has to file a claim. It forces workers to seek a resolution from the courts without the support of a legal aid. It gives collection agencies a power to negotiate settlements lower than the minimum.
Employment standards are no longer seen as minimums. In the past, under the Employment Standards Act, in the areas such as minimum wages, public holidays, vacations, hours of work, notice of termination and severance pay workers had a guarantee of a minimum set of terms and conditions of employment. The employment standards set out in section 4 of the act were minimum requirements. It was not possible to waive an employment standard, and when the amendments proposed under Bill 49 are enacted, this will change significantly.
Under subsection 4(3) it will read, "A collective agreement prevails over section 58 and parts IV, VI, VII and VIII of the act if the collective agreement confers greater rights relating to hours of work, overtime pay, public holidays, vacations with pay and severance pay than the act confers, when those matters are assessed together."
The blatant loss for workers contained in this section is clear. As long as the overall benefit package is deemed to confer greater rights than currently contained in their existing collective agreement, it becomes acceptable that some areas of the package may offer less than the standard protections. This particular change, in the opinion of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, will open the door to tremendous pressures from employers for regressive changes to the existing collective agreements.
The Ontario government has set about deregulating the workplaces of this province, which begs the question, has anyone in the government really asked themselves why the regulations were enacted in the first place? And as well, why aren't workers across the province of Ontario celebrating the so-called flexible standards proposed in section 3 of the bill? The answer should be obvious. It is because they can clearly see a significant erosion of their rights.
Complaints become grievances under Bill 49. The changes to enforcement contained in Bill 49, section 20, will further damage relationships between employers and their workers when nearly every significant issue, such as workplace closure, severance and termination pay, must be subjected to the grievance process. The offloading to the union and the employer of the important investigative and enforcement powers of the Ministry of Labour will cost both parties dearly in terms of dollars and lost productivity.
Subsection 64.5(2) of the act will read, "An employee to whom a collective agreement applies...is not entitled to file or maintain a complaint under the act." This includes an employee who is not a member of a trade union.
When enacted, this section will mean instead of having access to the act to resolve a problem, both employers and workers must do so within the grievance procedure contained in their collective agreement. This change, in effect, will force unions and employers to resolve the most basic of employment standards disputes through the costly grievance and arbitration procedure.
Other enforcement changes for non-unionized employees have set into motion the prospect of workers having to seek a resolution of their problems in the courts. We, as workers, know that accessing our courts is very costly and without a legal aid plan to assist them, the average worker will not even be able to take advantage of this process. An example I would give to illustrate the problem would be the case of a clerical worker wrongly dismissed and who attempts to get restitution by going to the courts. Their lawyer fees alone may run between $800 and $1,200 a day, and should the case run three or four days, even if they win a settlement of three months' pay at $5,000, they would still lose. A worse case would be if they lost the case and faced the prospect of paying the legal fees of their employer. Ordinary workers faced with such risks will not be able to proceed with an action, even if they are in the right. Because of Bill 49, they'll find it necessary to accept the bare minimum as allowed under a claim to the Ministry of Labour.
The use of private collectors, as laid out in section 28 of the bill, will further remove the Ministry of Labour from its duty to enforce the act when employers refuse to pay for their violations. Now Bill 49 proposes to transfer the collection function of the Ministry of Labour's employment practices branch to private collectors. Such a move will further complicate the possibility of a worker receiving what is due them, and in some cases will ensure they do not receive any money at all. A case in point would be, a person close to or below the minimum wage could be expected to pay a collector's fee. In other words, they would have been victimized by the employer and now they are being victimized by their own government. The workers of Ontario deserve better from their government.
There are some positives to Bill 49 that the labour council sees in the area of vacation entitlement of two weeks and the fact it will accrue even if the employee has missed some time due to illness or a leave of absence. In addition, the changes to seniority rights and service during leaves of absence, such as parental and pregnancy leaves, which will now be included in the calculations of length of employment, service or seniority, are also positive.
In conclusion of my part of the brief, the Hamilton and District Labour Council strongly urges the committee to recommend the government scrap Bill 49 and then to work to provide education to employers and workers as to the rights under the Employment Standards Act as it exists and to use the resources of the Ministry of Labour to enforce workers' rights, not weaken them. We believe a critical piece to building and maintaining a solid and productive workforce is the development and enforcement of a progressive Employment Standards Act, not the erosion of the act as proposed in Bill 49 and certainly not by the Ministry of Labour abdicating its responsibilities to the private sector.
Mr Marston: Just a couple of comments to add to that. As the result of the changes proposed in Bill 49, workers in both union and non-union shops will be confronted by employers and managers who demand more flexible terms of employment. It's very clear that the minister withdrew some things yesterday that are addressed in this brief, but it's because those issues are important and the fact that the bill even looked at them in the first place that we decided to continue with our brief and speak to them.
The expectation of more flexibility would open the door to a deterioration of working conditions and relationships between workers and their managers. One of the things that we've had for a number of years is relative labour peace in the province of Ontario. We could, from different philosophical views of the reasons for that, propose that Bill 40 helped us extensively and there are other areas of legislation in the past that did, but clearly that is at risk with Bill 49.
The types of changes, if enacted, would succeed in sending labour-management relations in this province back to the pre-Second World War era. In this community, that era led us to the great strike of 1946. I, for one, am very saddened that we have in this province people, who 50 years ago stood in those picket lines to fight for basic human rights for workers, who see this government forcing their grandchildren back towards those kinds of rights. The question that I have to ask is: Just how far is this government prepared to go with taking away rights?
I will say one thing to you: If you're eyeing the idea of a free trade zone in the province of Ontario, you're in for one hell of a fight. We know, from the perspective of workers, that under the free trade agreement there was a certain call for harmonization of laws with the United States, but it even appears that this government's prepared to take that even further and perhaps harmonize with Mexico. The workers of this province, both unionized and non-unionized, deserve better than that. They deserve better than their government turning on them.
The Chair: Thank you, gentlemen. We have one and a half minutes and under the rules we had set up, that will allow one question. So, again, the first up this round would be the official opposition.
Mr Duncan: Yes, just --
The Chair: We've been doing the same thing. We went all the way around there, so we now start with them again.
Mr Duncan: Did you want a question? I'll yield --
Mr Christopherson: We ran into this yesterday too. We started with the official opposition, we had one presentation. Now we've had the second presentation, so in rotation --
The Chair: But we've been rotating so that the total time each day, reflecting that the 15 minutes in most cases won't allow three questions.
Mr Christopherson: Then could I respectfully request during the gap that's there in the schedule a quick meeting of the subcommittee to straighten this out --
The Chair: No problem.
Mr Christopherson: -- because I'm not satisfied with the way this is going.
The Chair: Fine. Mr Duncan has yielded to you in this round, if you like.
Mr Christopherson: I appreciate that very much, but I would still request a meeting.
Mr Christopherson: That's a valid concern.
The Chair: Okay.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for the presentation, Wayne and Darren. I want to ask you one question. There has not yet been an employers' group that's come forward, including the one from this morning, that hasn't said in their presentation that they believe workers' rights are being protected and therefore they're giving their full support to Bill 49. I'd like to give you an opportunity to go on the record with Hansard as to why you believe that minimum rights and standards are being lost under Bill 49 in a very direct way.
Mr Marston: It's very clear that there is a move to empower employers even beyond what they had traditionally in the workplace. The sad part of it is, from our perspective, that for many reasons under the existing legislation and the enforcement that was there, there were already abuses in the workplace, and this further takes away the dignity of workers in those workplaces.
Mr Christopherson: If I can then, to wrap up, I just want to compliment my own home-town labour council for the job it's doing representing the working women and men of this community. I think you do an excellent job and I appreciate everybody being here to explain it, Darren.
The Chair: Yes, and I'd like to thank you, gentlemen. As you put on the record, I'd like to put on the record that we appreciate the people who have taken the time to come out here today and participate in this process. That's the whole point of going around the province, and we appreciate the time you've taken to come and make a presentation before us here today.
Mr Marston: That opens the door to one more comment. I sure hope that this government continues to have public hearings on every piece of legislation. Thank you.
SOCIAL PLANNING AND RESEARCH COUNCIL OF HAMILTON-WENTWORTH
The Chair: That leads us to our next group, the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton-Wentworth. Good morning. If you would be kind enough to introduce yourself for the benefit of the Hansard reporter.
Dr Charlotte Yates: Perhaps to start with we should say that the name on the agenda of the presenter is clearly not either of us, as it's a man and there are two women sitting here. We are both executive board members of the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton-Wentworth. This is Sharon Smikle, and I am Charlotte Yates. We will be jointly presenting the SPRC's presentation.
Ms Sharon Smikle: The Employment Standards Act established in 1968 was introduced to ensure minimum labour standards. Since that time, the act has helped contribute to a level playing field upon which employees and employers can negotiate by establishing standards in employment agreements regarding hours of work, overtime pay, public holidays, paid vacation, pregnancy and parental leave and severance pay.
Originally, the employment standards were put in place to protect women, children and the most vulnerable of workers. Nineteenth-century legislation was initially implemented to ensure appropriate health and safety measures in the workplace. In the years following, the minimum wage was established for the protection of underpaid women and children. Hours of work also became regulated. These pieces of law were consolidated to yield the Employment Standards Act. This law not only benefited workers and their families but also profited employers, as workers proved to be more productive under good working conditions.
The provincial government is proposing to make slight changes to improve employment standards in Ontario through Bill 49, the Employment Standards Improvement Act. We believe these significant changes will erode the effectiveness of the act and diminish the rights of workers. The impact of flexible minimum standards, limitations placed on the rights of workers to back wages, the enforcement of employment standards and the use of private collectors to recover money owed to employees will do little to improve working condition or the productivity of the Ontario labour force. There is concern that this bill will make exploitation not only possible but legislated. The ongoing restructuring of our labour market continues to increase the amount of power employers have over workers, and Bill 49 further reduces the capacity of the worker to secure quality work and a living wage.
The government promises that Bill 49 will make the act more relevant to the needs of the workplace and protect the most vulnerable workers. However, in light of the current environment and the erosion of our social safety net, we insist that the strict enforcement of the existing Employment Standards Act is what is relevant to workers, more now than ever before.
Currently, Statistics Canada reports unemployment rates will continue to rise, but these statistics fail to count the large number of people who have been laid off or are no longer looking for work or the growing number of people on social assistance. This large pool of unemployed or underemployed labour acts to keep wage levels low and workers from leaving their jobs, regardless of the conditions in which they work.
Under Bill 49, the situation will worsen by diminishing the collective ability of workers to voice their concerns. Under Bill 40, employers are now able to bring in labourers to replace striking workers. This effectively eliminates the only tool workers have to reach fair employment agreements -- their labour -- and those workers without the protection of a union must be their own advocates, knowing that if they make too many waves, there are hundreds waiting for their own job.
The changes proposed in Bill 49:
Flexibility of minimum standards: Bill 49 will allow employees and employers to negotiate employment contracts below current minimum standards of hours of work, overtime pay, public holidays, paid vacation and severance pay. This is possible as long as the contract provided appears to have greater benefits than those under the Employment Standards Act.
This can be illustrated by the following example. Under Bill 49, employers will be given the legislated right to remove the two weeks' vacation in exchange for additional severance pay. This agreement may seem more attractive than the other under the Employment Standards Act, but upon closer examination, employers will find it easy to offer severance pay at the time when people are in no position to leave their current employment, and for workers who are desperate to find work, they are in little position to be bargaining.
This and other scenarios will be possible because there is nothing in Bill 49 that states how the value of a particular benefit will be determined over another, and there is nothing that states who will determine the value of what each benefit is worth. Although the province has promised to table this section of the bill until the fall, the following concerns need to be addressed, regardless of whether it is brought forth now or later.
Agreement on the value of non-monetary benefits is virtually impossible to obtain, as individual workers and employers will place different degrees of value on these rights and benefits. Who will determine whether an individual employee will have input into this contract, especially in this period of high unemployment when employers have significantly more leverage to make that call than their employees?
Employers need to carefully consider Bill 49. Studies have found that work hierarchy and organization has a profound effect on the health status of populations. By eroding the rights and control a worker has over his environment, an employer will face the costs incurred through reduced productivity and increased absenteeism. Moreover, this will cause unrest and ensure that the relations between employer and employee remain acrimonious.
Dr Yates: Maximum restriction on claims and enforcement of employment standards: Under the current act, workers can choose to file a claim against an employer for back wages under the employment standards branch of the Ministry of Labour, in civil General Division court or in both. While this system is far from perfect, requiring employees to wait unreasonable amounts of time for even the employment standards branch decision, it does ensure that an employee's right to receive all the money to which they are entitled is met.
Under Bill 49, the employee must now choose between filing a complaint under the ESA or with General Division court. The benefit of an ESA claim is that it will be processed somewhat more expeditiously, but the drawbacks are that this claim is restricted to six months of back wages and a maximum settlement of $10,000, regardless of the period of time for which wages are owing or the amount owing. Under a civil claim, these restrictions do not apply, but the length of time of a civil case, as well as the cost of hiring a lawyer whose services would not be covered under legal aid, are prohibitive to many employees. Therefore, the employee is forced to choose between receiving what is rightfully owed to them and waiting years for the money, or receiving less than they deserve if they are in need of the money quickly or if they can't afford to pay for a lawyer. This bill forces a resource-poor employee to file a claim under the act because they cannot afford to hire a lawyer to sue in civil court and cannot wait for the money that is rightfully theirs.
Since the government's stated purpose of this portion of Bill 49 is to streamline the process for cost-effectiveness, the question then becomes: Will this bill reduce government costs? In reality, it cannot. The added cost to the legal system will outweigh any savings to the Ministry of Labour, since the burden is merely being shifted from one body to another. Therefore, the changes to this section of the act do not appear to save taxpayers dollars but do appear to deny justice to the most vulnerable of workers.
Privatization of collection: Enforcement of employment standards decisions and the collection of money owing to employees has always been a major problem with the act and within the Ministry of Labour. In 1994-95, of the $64.3 million in wages found owing to employees, $47.8 million was not collected, mainly due to employers' refusal to pay and the weak enforcement of the existing Employment Standards Act.
The government proposes to privatize the collection functions of the Ministry of Labour, thereby absolving itself of the responsibility to recover what is owned to workers of the province. But there is no guarantee that private collection agencies will be more successful than the ministry in collecting money. There is the possibility that collection agencies will exert more pressure on employees to accept less than they are owed, even under the maximum limit, to expeditiously process the claim so that they can then collect their fee. In the cases where the collector is unable to collect the full amount of money from the employer, their collection fees are to be paid out of the money owed to the employee. Considering the maximum limitation on money claimed and the ministry's previous track record in collecting money, it is likely that not only will employees receive less than they are entitled to receive, they will have to pay a user fee to collection agencies when employers refuse to pay the full amount of the claim settled under the act. Everyone wins in this situation except the employee.
Our summary: Does Bill 49 improve work relations or reduce the cost of enforcement of employment standards? Our analysis shows that it does not. The Employment Standards Improvement Act is anything but an improvement. At present, there are 20,000 formal complaints made annually, alleging violations of the Employment Standards Act. We believe that with Bill 49, the number of violations will increase. Bill 49 will have a negative impact on working conditions and will erode the employment standards Ontarians have struggled to develop over the last 50 years. In a society battered by constant change and downsizing, it is essential that legislation protects the rights of all working people, who find it increasingly difficult to protect themselves. We feel that these changes, combined with anticipated changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Workers' Compensation Act, will make Ontario a harsh and a dangerous place to work.
The Chair: Thank you both. That leaves us with just over four minutes, and we'll start this round will the government.
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): Thank you very much for your presentation this morning. I have a question, though. In one of our presentations yesterday in Toronto, we heard a very serious and significant, impassioned plea by a woman who, quite frankly, has been mistreated by the system. I acknowledge in your presentation that we agree that collection hasn't been on the best side of the employee's benefit in the past. As a matter of fact, I think you used the number that $47.8 million last year remained uncollected. That's probably living proof that the system isn't working the way it was, and for the intervenor yesterday, that's exactly what she confirmed. She had an impassioned plea: "Please do something." This is a multi-year issue; it's not just yesterday.
Would it not seem reasonable, then, seeing as the responsibilities for collection were even minimalized in the last government's efforts because of layoff of staff on collection and absorbing that into other responsibilities of ministry staff, that perhaps attention wasn't being paid as it should? The government, as is presented in the bill, sees that perhaps there's another way to do this. Would it not seem reasonable to give that a try before somebody would say, in fact, it won't work, seeing as the other systems haven't worked in the past?
Dr Yates: I agree with you that there have been many problems in fact, not even in the last two but five or 10 years. There have always been problems with collections of employment standards since they were first developed. Part of that has been the low level of people responsible within the government for actually going out and dealing with employment standards complaints. Therefore, I think there is room for looking at new ways of doing things and doing them better so that you protect employees.
I think the concern, and I think a reasonable concern of the Social Planning and Research Council, is that to privatize the collection is not necessarily the answer. There are a series of anticipated problems, which we haven't gone into in great detail here, that we would anticipate from privatizing. For example, if there's a conflict of interest between a private collection agency and an employer, is there any body through which employees can ensure that their interests are being protected when you've privatized it to a business which may have links with other employers? Collection agencies are involved in all facets of business, not just in the collection of money, so that is just one example of a potential problem with privatizing the system.
Having said that, while I agree there's a need for experimentation, the question is how you experiment and the type of changes that you implement. It suggests to me that privatization is not necessarily the route to go, and to experiment without trying to anticipate a little bit what those effects will be would be seriously detrimental to employees.
Mrs Fisher: In closing, I would just add that her plea was, "Government can't do it for me, hasn't done it for me," and I'm not just talking about a government, I'm talking about government in general has not been able to do it for me." I think one of the reasons that we so strongly support the effort to try this otherwise is exactly that reason.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Thank you for your presentation. I want to follow up on the same line of thinking, that if the current system is not working well for employees, as you rather agree, in your brief you're saying that by reducing the benefits to employees in the hope that some other system will collect the moneys for them is not what you're looking for; 75%, threshold, user fees, as you mention, is not the answer you're seeking from the government in the hope that they can get some moneys rather than the current system.
Dr Yates: I'm not sure what your question is.
Mr Hoy: If the current system is broke, the government's suggestion of going this route, with private collections, is not the answer you're seeking to a broken system. Is that correct?
Ms Smikle: I think that in the interest of fiscal responsibility, we've seen over the years that the government has been downsizing. So the people who are enforcing the employment practices legislation, the collections end of things, have been regionalized. With that move, I don't necessarily think that all of the collections effort or the effort to see if we can collect more expeditiously and go after those employers who are trying to get away from making payment to these employees has been exhausted.
I don't necessarily think that all the options that perhaps are out there have been exhausted. I think that regionalizing that end of things, in terms of the collections component, has not been the most effective. It wasn't effective before when it was done centrally, and certainly being spread out among the regions has not proven to be effective either. I think there might be other options, though, within government to do that.
The Chair: Thank you both. We've gone over our time, but we appreciate your taking the time to make a presentation before us today.
HAMILTON AND DISTRICT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair: The next group presenting this morning will be the Hamilton and District Chamber of Commerce. Morning, folks. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit, if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourselves for Hansard, please.
Mr Lee Kirkby: Welcome to Hamilton. We're very pleased to have the committee here. Please come back in November for Grey Cup. We're trying to celebrate 150 years of success in this community and we like as many guests as we can through the course of the year.
My name is Lee Kirkby. I'm the executive director of the Hamilton and District Chamber of Commerce. With me is Sharon White, a member of our human resources committee and one of the people who has assisted us in putting our material together.
The Hamilton and District Chamber of Commerce is the largest general business association in greater Hamilton. Its 975 members employ in excess of 50,000 persons within the regional area, ranging in size from one-person organizations to some of the area's largest employers, both public and private. We are pleased to be able to make comment upon the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act and the process undertaken to address this important legislation.
In the past year and a half, we have seen our membership grow substantially. This expanded base of involvement has brought with it a sense of promise, excitement and new enterprise which has been coupled to the substantial expertise and success of the restructured organizations which were the traditional base of greater Hamilton. There are several characteristics of the organizations we see today which have application to the issues covered under the employment standards legislation.
Today's businesses are generally smaller than those of the past decades. We see businesses of from two to 25 employees as a much larger part of the general economy. Most of these organizations do not have specialized human resource professionals involved in their operations.
Many organizations are virtual corporations. This type of organization is more of a cooperative than a traditional company. There are no employees, only contract individuals and groups who carry out specific functions for the organization. Some are groups of individuals who bond together for marketing purposes but operate independently for other aspects of the enterprise.
Increasingly those enterprises which focus on export markets or which provide services to enterprises with an export focus are the ones which are growing and prospering. They find that their operating hours and time frames are very different from our traditional models.
The chamber is supportive of the government's action in initiating a two-stage reform of the Employment Standards Act. This presents an opportunity to redefine this legislation, taking the realities and new needs of today's economy into account. The first steps which are proposed in Bill 49 are reasonable beginnings to a more comprehensive review in the second phase. We will be pleased to participate in that process as it unfolds.
We have been told by our employers and the professionals who advise them that the act as it currently operates is cumbersome and leads to unnecessary delay and expense for all parties. Revisions are needed.
It is difficult to object to the government's first objective, seeking for improved resource utilization by ministry personnel in administering the act. Proposals to use commercial processes for such items as collection of unpaid judgements are good examples of methods to utilize expertise appropriately.
The second objective, to promote self-reliance and flexibility among the workplace parties, is critical in light of the changed nature of today's workplace. The ability for the parties in the workplace to be able to determine the working relationship, to be able to effectively respond to their customers' needs, is a vital part of expanding our economy. In absence of revisions to the legislation, the tendency to contract relationships will continue to grow. Recently one of our members described the unfortunate view which employers sometimes take in the following way, "The decision to hire an employee has become one which is a managed risk." If we do not make changes, this view will grow and prevail.
The third objective is to simplify and improve some of the act's language. This is a critical element in order to meet the first objective. Confused language and precedents make it impossible for the parties to understand and manage their relationship in light of the law. Administrative procedures for enforcement of the legislation must also be clear and understandable; otherwise we will see an increase in litigation, not the lessening, which everyone would desire.
Under the proposed amendments, employees in workplaces without a collective agreement will have to make a choice of whether they wish to commence an action before the courts or lay a complaint with the Ministry of Labour under the act. Only one of the two remedies will be available in each case.
We note that in the case of unionized employees under the proposals, where a collective agreement is in place, the amendments provide that only the grievance procedures under the collective agreement will be available for action. This effectively shifts the cost of the administration of the act on to the affected employer and union and stops the individual employee from seeking action through the ministry.
We have a question: Is it intended that the provisions of the act are to form a part of all collective agreements in the province? In other words, does it become an underlying clause within every collective agreement if this is the procedure to be followed?
While we strongly support the provisions which stop the use of multiple forums for the pursuit of individual cases, we would suggest that consideration be given to permitting the choice, in the case of the unionized employee, to be exercised as to the method of remedy at the commencement of a claim. This would parallel the choice which is provided in the non-union case.
There are several sections of the amendments which we think might benefit from further thought and review before enactment. Generally they relate to issues which appear to create the potential for confusion and subsequent litigation to clarify the application of the procedures.
1. Language relating to vacation entitlement: Section 8 of Bill 49, amending section 28 of the act, adds the clause to the first paragraph, "whether or not the employment was active employment." We are not certain whether this amendment is intended to provide that for every instance where an employee is absent from the employment environment, vacation entitlements shall be continuous. As the amended section is worded, an employee on extended educational leave, even by agreement with the employer under some specific terms of that leave agreement, long-term sick benefits or other agreed absence, could be granted a claim for vacation pay upon application. We suggest the added wording may cause more problems and more litigation than it solves.
2. Arbitrators in lieu of employment standards officers: The amendments provide for instances where the actions of an arbitrator shall have the same powers as those of an employment standards officer. We are not certain that the differences in the relevant powers under other statutes and procedures of these two types of officers have been adequately dealt with in the amendments. Considerable concern is raised that the clauses which deal with these powers will lead to substantial litigation as the different provisions of the two types of officers are resolved. We would urge the committee to look seriously at the implications of these provisions and make them clearer before the legislation is enacted.
3. Greater right or benefit: We have concerns about the greater right or benefit in the manner in which it was presented in the original provisions. We note that the minister has indicated that this has been put over to the second phase, but have commented on it and will leave those just for the written submission. You may refer to them. The major concern is that we need to make sure that we understand the scope of those and how the evaluation in value will come about.
In conclusion, the chamber supports the two-stage approach to Employment Standards Act reform and in principle supports Bill 49 as that first stage. We submit that with refinement through this hearings process many of the concerns that have been raised about reforms can be addressed and we have attempted to provide some assistance in that regard. In light of the rapidly changing forms and needs of our current places of work, it is important to employees and employers alike that the legislative environment be adjusted to provide as much flexibility and responsiveness as possible.
We thank the committee for the opportunity to appear and for your consideration of our submission.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have six minutes, which means we have two minutes per caucus. This round will start with the third party.
Mr Christopherson: Lee, Sharon, welcome. It's good to see you both again. I've looked through a couple of times and listened carefully and I didn't see a reference -- if there is one, maybe you can point it out to me, but I didn't see where you addressed the issue of whether you believe workers are losing any minimum standards or rights that they now have in the existing Employment Standards Act. Can you comment on that or refer me to the part of your brief that does?
Mr Kirkby: We didn't make direct comment on it. I guess, in reviewing the proposals, we do not see substantive reduction in existing rights. The minimum standards that are provided in terms of basic entitlements are provided in the bill and we did not see major issues of reduction.
Ms Sharon White: There does appear to be some scope for balancing, but the basic minimum seems to --
Mr Christopherson: I'd like to pursue that a little because I see it somewhat differently. Right now there's no cap on the amount of money a worker can claim through the Ministry of Labour for money that's owed. This is money they've worked for, that they're entitled to, it's owed to them, and there's now a limit on how much they can claim through the Ministry of Labour.
There's also going to be, or at least there's a provision for, a regulation that cabinet can enact that would provide for a minimum threshold that you must cross before you can make a claim. That's new; right now that doesn't exist, and the time frame that you can claim for is being reduced from two years to six months. I would submit to you that's a loss of a right that a worker now has. Can I have your comments on that?
Ms White: Years ago, when the employment standards legislation was codified into the current employment standards code, the types of claims that were followed through the employment standards process tended to be of a fairly small monetary value. I know in recent years, given section 3 of the current Employment Standards Act, officers have an ability to enforce the larger employment standards contract, which tends to get, can get into much larger claims on an individual basis. That sort of enforcement of a private contract of employment through the employment standards legislation was probably never the intention in the legislation when it was first envisioned.
When I read the proposed Bill 49 amendments now they appear to require an individual to go to the courts with claims in excess of $10,000, but all statutory entitlements -- the severance pay and termination pay, that sort of thing -- are still enforceable through the employment standards branch of the Ministry of Labour. Sometimes those claims can add up to quite a bit more than $10,000.
It strikes me that the proposed amendments are a nice balance between the original aims of the legislation and the need not to be using bureaucracy to enforce contractual provisions that were never really intended, originally, to be enforced through this mechanism, anyways.
Mr Christopherson: I would argue that when we lifted the cap, because there used to be a cap of $4,000 and we made it unlimited, clearly we were wanting to ensure that all those situations were captured by the legislation.
You talk about a balance. We certainly see where employers are gaining a lot, because there hasn't been an employers' group yet that hasn't bumped into Bill 49 and fallen in love with it. There also hasn't been a workers' group, either a community group or a labour group, that hasn't come in and pointed out time after time, and we've already seen it this morning, that workers are losing minimum rights.
I fail to understand where the balance is and I would submit to you that clearly there's a tilt here and that workers are indeed losing rights and benefits they now have.
Ms White: I'd just suggest, in response to that, it's not so much a matter of losing rights as a change in the enforcement process, but we may differ on that.
Mr Christopherson: Oh, believe me, we do.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Thank you very much for your presentation. I just want, in the opening comment, to commend you for the excellent overview of the changed context of employment and work. I think it's very envisioned and certainly looks at what is the reality out there.
The organizations you represent are indeed the future types of organizations. The large Stelco types, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, are downsizing, as the government is. But certain things that have to be done and services that have to be provided are the new era. Many of those will be unrepresented in the traditional union representation mode. That's also a change for unions, where they need to look at what types of services and advocacy actions they take.
I like your last line that says they're finding their hours of work and time frames and traditional models are changing -- the seasonal work and the changing demands in the market and the economy. People still need security. I'm making my point here kind of obliquely but, "The decision to hire an employee has become one which is a managed risk" -- at that point employees and employers both have responsibilities. Wouldn't you agree?
Mr Kirkby: Certainly.
Mr O'Toole: I think, just drawing on a previous presentation earlier this morning, that productivity increases with harmony in the workplace, so why would a prudent employer create disharmony in the workplace or try to create some kind of agitation in his small, hands-on entrepreneurial business of 25 or 50 employees? Don't you see that price and quality and harmony in the workplace are really how to get productivity in?
Mr Kirkby: Certainly. It's a major part of what many businesses are doing, both in their training plans and in working, the whole concept of team building etc. Legislation doesn't build teams.
Mr O'Toole: The current system with its bureaucracy and vertical structures -- large organizations don't function well, that's proven; that's why they're crumbling. Whether they're union or non-union isn't really the issue; it's that the current structures aren't versatile enough to respond to changing markets. Those versatile structures, be they unions, the Brotherhood or the corporation itself, have to respond. Would you not agree?
Mr Kirkby: Certainly.
Mr O'Toole: This whole amendment, don't you see that it's absolutely critical that they examine not just these minor amendments but the broader context of the employment standards, given the traditions of work themselves are changing?
Mr Kirkby: That's why we have agreed and support the concept of the two-stage process, because we think that looking at the relationship of employment to what's going on in the economy becomes a critical part of being successful.
Mr O'Toole: That's the reality. That's a really fine statement. Your opening comments are right on; they're very germane, and you're right. This is the kind of input the minister is looking for: What is going to happen in the year 2000 and beyond. We're not looking at the status quo as serving anyone, so it's a tough one. Did you realize that technically less than 25% of actual orders are collected? The system is in gridlock.
Mr Kirkby: We were aware of that and it's one of the reasons why we thought it would be almost across-the-board acceptance; the concept of using some form of commercial collection process to get the moneys people are due seemed to be almost a given as being a better solution than what we have today.
Mr Duncan: Lee, just one question: Would it be your view that the vast majority of your members are good employers and follow the laws of the province both in the labour market and in terms of their taxes and everything?
Mr Kirkby: I would suggest that the vast number of employers across the province are probably typified by the description you've given. One of the difficulties is that we tend to write legislation for the 3% or 4% or 5% who create problems and everybody else then gets wrapped up in them. There are times when people, inadvertently or by not understanding the exact letter of the rules and regulations, may violate them even if they didn't intend to.
Mr Duncan: So what's the big deal? Most employers aren't affected by this statute in any event. The official opposition, by the way, agrees with the government's initiatives to try and streamline, do a better job on collection and make the act work better. We applaud them for being the first government to take a step in that direction, but why would we want to reduce minimum standards? It makes no sense because standards, when they're enforced, only apply to the bad actors anyway, and in my experience the vast majority of employers in this province are good employers. So why in streamlining the act, which I don't think any thinking person would disagree with, would we want to reduce minimum standards?
Mr Kirkby: I'm not sure there's an answer to your question. Our read of it is that minimum standards aren't being reduced. What we're talking about is how we enforce those standards. We can talk about the method of enforcement and whether there are more efficient enforcement methods -- we happen to think there may be -- that doesn't mean you've changed the standard that people are being asked to meet.
The Chair: Thank you both. Mr Kirkby, in your opening comments you mentioned celebrating 150 years of success. You must be doing something right, because one of my colleagues discovered that the Sheraton was completely sold out last night, so something was happening in downtown Hamilton here.
Mr Christopherson: There's always something happening in downtown Hamilton, Steve.
The Chair: Congratulations on having such a thriving economy, and thank you both for coming in here today.
While the next group, the Hamilton-Wentworth Coalition for Social Justice, comes and settles at the desk, I wonder if the subcommittee members could come up and we'll just discuss this for two minutes. Nobody leave their chairs. We are not taking a formal recess.
Mr Baird on a point of order?
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I just have a quick motion to make, if I could, that in Belleville on September 13 we change our time from 9 to 5 to 10:30 to 6:30. We had all-party agreement on it.
The Chair: To accommodate the transportation.
Mr Baird: Because there's a bus leaving from Toronto and that will just make it easier.
The Chair: Seeing no further comment, I'll put the question. All those in favour of the changes proposed? Contrary? The motion carries.
With that bit of housekeeping, back to the task at hand.
HAMILTON-WENTWORTH COALITION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
The Chair: Good morning all. We have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit between presentation and question and answer. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourselves for the Hansard reporter.
Ms Andrea Horwath: My name is Andrea Horwath. I co-chair the Hamilton-Wentworth Coalition for Social Justice. With me are two other members of the coalition: Jim Mulvale, who is a PhD student in social welfare policy at McMaster University; and Dr Peter Archibald, who has many areas of specialty at McMaster. Two that are relevant to our presentation are that he specializes in industrial sociology and in labour relations.
We want to begin by thanking the committee for giving us an opportunity to make this presentation. I believe Jim will begin with a bit of an introduction and our general concerns, I'll move into more of the substantive kind of issues, and Peter will conclude.
Mr Jim Mulvale: As Andrea mentioned, I'll just give a bit of an introduction and some general observations. Our comments on Bill 49 primarily address the effects this legislation will have on non-unionized workers. Over half of Ontario workers are not represented by labour unions, and therefore their terms and conditions of work are essentially defined by the Employment Standards Act.
In terms of some of our general concerns and observations, this legislation has been introduced by the minister and it was touted as making parties more "self-reliant in resolving disputes." One of our primary concerns is that it is not a level playing field in labour relations to begin with, that there is an imbalance of power, skills, education and access to information and resources, with employers having the advantages in all those regards.
An observation to make along that line perhaps, or a bit of an irony, is that even as we look around this table at this legislative committee that's hearing about proposed changes to the legislation, I think the committee as such is overwhelmingly male and also white and high-income, as members of provincial Parliament. Of course, this legislation is meant to protect all workers, but it has a special importance for women workers, for workers from visible minorities and workers at the low end of the income scale.
We feel this legislation will reduce access to justice for these vulnerable workers, particularly workers in sectors where abuses are currently rampant, in such areas as garment and textile, food preparation and service, cleaning services, domestic work and homemakers. Of course, as has been mentioned in previous briefs, we've seen an increasing splitting in two of the labour market between a small number of people who are continuing to have high incomes and the declining middle class, and the increasing number of people who are falling into the secondary labour market at low wages, few benefits and without the benefit of representation of labour unions. These are the people who will be most adversely affected, this growing sector of the labour force.
Another concern we have is that this legislation will have a negative impact on people in small workplaces. In Hamilton in 1993-94, over half of the employment standards claims filed were against employers with fewer than 10 workers. We feel this legislation will make access to routes to justice even more difficult for workers in small work settings and small firms. So it is the most vulnerable workers who are going to be most adversely affected.
We feel also that this proposed legislation puts us on the downward spiral. There's this race to the bottom in terms of working conditions, wages and access to basic rights in the workplace. To reiterate the point made by other presenters, including the labour council, we don't want Ontario to be part of the race to the bottom. We don't want to follow the route of the so-called right-to-work states in the US and certainly not the kind of gross exploitation that occurs for workers in developing countries and so-called free trade zones.
With that, I'll turn it over to Andrea to talk about some more specific issues.
Ms Horwath: We wanted to start with a positive note -- I guess it's too late for that -- to mention that we do agree with the amendments that clear up issues of entitlement to vacation time as well as the clarification of accrual of service time during parental and pregnancy leaves. Unfortunately, that's where we start to differ, however, on the remaining amendments.
We were concerned particularly about enforcement, because, as you might guess, the social justice coalition is concerned about social and economic justice. We see the ability for workers to obtain justice in the workplace being eroded by this legislation, particularly the time frame for workers to be bringing a complaint being reduced from two years to six months after an alleged violation takes place. What that does basically is it reduces a worker's access to justice. Although we understand why statutory limitations exist, we believe they should provide the greatest opportunity for Ontarians to access justice. We would submit that a two-year period is neither excessive nor modest. It coincides well with the employer's obligation to preserve records and accords the worker a fair window of opportunity to obtain justice.
Similarly, we are concerned that the bill reduces the period for which the worker can recover money from two years to six months. Basically, we think the bill tells employers that they will be able to steal from workers for extended periods of time, knowing that even if the workers were to file a claim, employers would only be required to pay six months' worth of wages owing. This is a calculable risk which we think unscrupulous employers would no doubt feel great comfort in taking. Workers, on the other hand, will be forced to decide whether or not to take employers through the civil courts or through the employment standards system to get some kind of justice.
We're concerned that the discretion of the director of the employment standards branch to obtain up to one year in cases where there are recurring violations does little to deter the employer and again provides some workers greater justice to access earnings. This is not a scenario that provides equal access to justice for workers.
In stark contrast to the tightening up of time periods for workers whose rights are being violated, the Ministry of Labour, under this bill, would be given an additional two years to initiate prosecutions against employers who don't pay. This is on top of the initial period where the ministry is going through the initial recovery procedures. This additional two years will in no way streamline or expedite enforcement, a stated goal of the amendments.
The next issue is maximum and minimum claims. Again, capping any claims to moneys that are owed to workers by an unscrupulous and unlawful employer is unconscionable. If an employer is intent on ignoring the laws of Ontario, that employer should be responsible for every dime that was stolen from the exploited worker. This section of the bill puts a cap on access to justice for workers.
A similar case will occur if through regulations the minister sets minimum claim amounts. Employers will have basically an incentive, in our opinion, to "nickel and dime" workers out of millions of dollars.
Procedures for violations: We're discussing a little bit in this section the issue of whether or not to file a claim or whether to proceed in the civil court system to seek redress. Of course, the decision that the worker makes initially is a binding decision, but they're only given two weeks to find a lawyer and obtain legal advice. We find that two weeks is a rather meagre time period for making a binding decision that's going to affect their ability to access justice. We think it's prejudicial against workers who have claims for wages owing for longer than six months or greater than $10,000, as they will undoubtedly have to wait longer to get their settlement through the courts and will be forced to incur considerable expenses to obtain legal representation. The only other option, of course, is to forgo any amount which falls outside of these parameters, again denying them full recovery of moneys owed and again not accessing full justice.
Privatization of collections: We don't agree with the government that the contracting out of collections to private collection agencies will improve the current dismal record of collection of wages owed to employees by employers. In fact, in our conclusions we'll provide some suggestions on how to address this. What we fear is that the major effect of this change will be that workers will be pressured by collection agencies to settle for less than the value of their claim, again leading to denial of justice for the worker. The government itself recognizes that this is likely to take place, which is precisely why the legislation allows for the nullifying of settlements that are the result of coercion or fraud. The remedies suggested are all but non-existent, however, as there is no requirement for review of settlements of at least 75%. The bill in effect entrenches the recovery rate for employees at a basic level of 75% of moneys owed. Again, workers are denied full restitution, denied justice.
Dr Peter Archibald: In conclusion, we would like to restate our concern that the amendments to the ESA contained in Bill 49 will encourage employers to violate the law while curtailing workers' access to and realization of justice. We believe that workers will be forced to choose between their jobs and their rights and that their basic rights will erode.
I'd like to deviate from the script here to give an example from Hamilton, a home-spun one. For years, Stelco has forced workers in Hilton Works to work excessive overtime, even illegal amounts of overtime. The United Steelworkers has twice tried to get the Ontario government to enforce those standards of overtime and twice has failed to get them enforced.
By the way, I find it kind of distracting that I'm competing with the chairman while I'm trying to speak here.
The Chair: Forgive me. The chairman doesn't vote, so the chairman has other duties he has to take care of. But thank you for the lecture.
Dr Archibald: Well, he should do them elsewhere. But at any rate, when students in my classes at Mac do this, I kick them out. Unfortunately, I guess I don't have the prerogative here, but --
Interjection: Why not?
Dr Archibald: Why not? Good question.
What happened in Local 1005 was that many workers were encouraged to work excessive overtime. They made incredible amounts of money, sometimes $60,000 or $70,000 a year, while a huge proportion of 1005 were unemployed; they were laid off and couldn't get work. It was in the interests of the employer to keep this situation, because of course they didn't have to hire on more of those laid-off workers and pay them benefits. They could simply work these workers 70, 80, sometimes 90 hours a week overtime. Again, Local 1005 was not able to stop this.
Now, if Local 1005 can't have the act enforced, what's going to happen with a weakened act? What are non-unionized workers going to be able to do if unionized workers can't enforce that? By the way, the ramifications in terms of weakening the union were incredible. Stewards who were opposed to overtime were voted out of office and Local 1005 is a lot weaker as a union in part because those original standards weren't enforced.
We would like to see the current act maintained and strengthened. We would like to see it enforced. This government instead has cut back on inspections, which is going to weaken that. We've heard a lot of talk here about making the system more efficient, saving money. I would question whether this government is serious about saving money. There was a study summarized in the Globe and Mail about six weeks ago by an independent research organization which indicated that government bill collectors, including getting money from employers, were three times as effective and three times as efficient as private bill collectors. This study was published around the same time this government announced that it was moving to private collections. Is it serious?
I live in Dundas. A halfway house for young offenders was closed down there, and two thirds of those were sent back to jail at six times the cost to taxpayers that they were paying in that halfway house. Is this government serious about saving money, or does this government want to reward its friends in business? I ask the audience, you make your own decision.
The Chair: Thank you. Well, that only leaves us 45 seconds, so if anyone has any closing statement or a very, very quick question -- 15 seconds each.
Mrs Fisher: Very short. I would concur with you, being the only woman on this panel. There's only one solution: Elect more of us and we'll have the representation we need.
Mr Hoy: We don't have much time at all here, but I do want to make the remark that you talked about the balance that's on the committee, who the members are etc. I have family members who have worked and are working for minimum wage. I am a farmer, previous to coming to Queen's Park, and we made less than minimum wage in certain years. So we try very hard to understand what the people are discussing when they come forward and I appreciate your input today.
Mr Christopherson: I would just like to thank Andrea, Jim and Peter for their continuing leadership on issues of social justice, not just for what they're doing here today. For the benefit of committee members, this coalition has worked hard and is consistently there for the most vulnerable people in our community of Hamilton-Wentworth and they deserve an awful lot of credit for the leadership they show on behalf of those people. So thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you for coming to make a presentation here before us today.
BURLINGTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair: That leads us to our next group, the Burlington Chamber of Commerce. Good morning. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit, and if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourself for the Hansard reporter.
Mr Stan Lang: I'm Stan Lang. I'm the current president of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce. To my right is Mr Scott McCammon, our executive director.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak to the standing committee regarding the proposed improvements to the Employment Standards Act, or Bill 49. As president of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, I represent approximately 900 companies that are members of our organization. These companies, representing large and small business in a variety of sectors of the economy, employ over 33,000 people, or 60% of the total labour force in our city.
The Burlington Chamber of Commerce joins with chambers and boards of trade across the province in welcoming the proposed improvements to the Employment Standards Act. We congratulate the provincial government for yet again trying to lessen the bureaucracies of government and the burdens on business.
The need for reform is clear. Ontario has an Employment Standards Act which is antiquated, bureaucratic and not reflective of the workplaces of 1996. This is confirmed by the fact that the current act did not foresee the advent of computers and can be interpreted to only allow access to written records, not ones stored on a computer. It is time for the Employment Standards Act to find the 1990s.
As we understand it, the general intention of the proposed amendments is to increase the efficiency of the Ministry of Labour in administering the Employment Standards Act, to reduce the role of government by allowing increased self-reliance and flexibility, and to simplify the language found within the act itself. These seem like admirable intentions. In fact, with chambers of commerce having preached the need for governments to get out of the way of free enterprise, it is hard to show anything but support for Bill 49.
The Burlington Chamber of Commerce also applauds the government for its two-stage approach to the reform of the Employment Standards Act. Since the issue of standards in the workplace can be a tremendously sensitive one, it is appropriate to deal with reforms in smaller, easily understood parcels. We understand that the provisions for greater rights or benefits will be moved to phase 2 of Employment Standards Act reform. We fully support this move.
Of course, change creates uncertainty, confusion and differing opinions. There may be people who shun Bill 49, viewing it as an attempt by the government to reduce or eliminate standards in the workplace. These concerns, though, would not be justifiable. In fact, enhancements such as section 12, the ability to accrue rights during pregnancy or parental leave, are simply formal acknowledgements of current rights and practices.
The Burlington Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the sections of the bill that eliminate duplication. It has been an unnecessary burden to have wrongful dismissal action disputes dealt with by the courts as well as by the employment standards branch. Employers spend time and money having to defend the same dispute in different venues. Of course, this burden is also felt by the public, whose taxes must support the duplicated efforts.
It has also been difficult for employers to present a fair and accurate defence when many disputes are not filed for years. Older disputes usually lead to longer, more difficult and therefore more costly ministry investigations. We strongly support the provision of Bill 49 which limits the entitlement to recover money under the act to six months rather than the current two years. This places the responsibility for timely filing where it belongs -- with the employee.
The Burlington Chamber of Commerce is also very supportive of the proposed change to increase the time limit to appeal employment standards officer orders from 15 days to 45 days. The increased appeal period provides a more reasonable time in which to (1) allow the parties to negotiate a settlement in lieu of an appeal; (2) more fully consider the merits of filing an appeal; and (3) make the necessary payment of the amount of the order and administration cost to the director in order to apply for the appeal. In many cases, the current 15-day period in which to make the payment causes a hardship for employers.
There are some provisions of Bill 49 that we feel need clarification. Our concerns are mainly focused on the difference in authorities granted employment standards officers versus arbitrators.
Employment standards officers have the power to investigate complaints, require production of documents for inspection, and make inquiries relevant to the investigation. Is it intended to give arbitrators these same powers? We do not feel this is necessary. Since collective agreements have procedures for grievance resolution and arbitration, it seems redundant to then also have an investigation. The grievance procedure replaces the ministry investigation.
Under the act, the orders of an employment standards officer can be appealed. It is unclear whether this also applies to the orders of an arbitrator. If an arbitrator has the authority to make the same orders as an employment standards officer, then it seems only reasonable to allow a parallel system for appeals.
It is also unclear from the proposed amendments whether an arbitrator can award damages beyond the six-month recovery limits. We believe that all employees should be treated equally, and the remedial action of arbitrators should also be restricted.
There is also clarification needed in the area of timeliness. Collective agreements have negotiated time lines for the filing and processing of grievances. These time lines can often be different from those in the act. Which is to prevail? We believe, in order to give the greatest consistency and to avoid problems with grievances that allege violations of both the act and the collective agreement, that the time lines of the collective agreement should prevail.
The bottom line, as we see it, is that Bill 49 embraces the current level of employment standards while ensuring the process and legislation are clear, simple and effective for all parties concerned. The bill also acknowledges current workplace realities, such as pregnancy and parental leave and, of course, computers.
The Employment Standards Act reforms create a balance of change for both employers and employees. We are pleased to be able to offer our chamber's support. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That leaves us with about nine minutes, so three minutes per caucus, and this time we will be starting with the Liberals.
Mr Duncan: Thank you for your presentation. I want to come back to this notion that minimum standards don't need to be reduced to improve the efficiency of the statute and the efficiency of the way the statute is enforced. I don't think the official opposition would disagree that we need to look at non-traditional ways, for instance, possibly even the privatization of debt collection.
But where I'm having some difficulty with the presentations I've heard from the business community is, given the very small number of employers who have orders issued against them, why is it necessary to reduce those minimums? If the agenda isn't really rather one of reducing overall a macroconcept of wages, what's the concern? Frankly, as someone who was an employer and someone who dealt with the Ministry of Labour, I would submit that the Employment Standards Act, on a daily basis, was probably the least intrusive of statutes. It only applied where you had a rogue employer.
Mr Lang: I think some of that is obviously a matter of interpretation. We don't see a lowering of the minimum standards. We see flexibility being given under the act to deal with different issues as long as the present minimum standards are met. I'm certainly not going to argue with you. It's just that my interpretation is that the minimum standards aren't being eroded.
Mr Duncan: But the present minimum standards, in most cases, are being changed. There's a couple that we support, as you have as well. But, for instance, the maximum of $10,000 on six months is about 400 bucks. We are really reducing, in my view, the standard.
Now the minister has withdrawn section 3 of the bill, which dealt with this notion of negotiating collective agreements that may trade off some sort of comprehensive set of standards in exchange for reduction of one standard or another. But again, don't you think that we could achieve the kinds of efficiencies that you have talked and I think others have talked about without lessening standards for employees and workers who are in vulnerable situations?
Mr Lang: A couple of issues: Number one, a number of employees deal in different legislations, not only in Ontario but in other provincial areas. Some of those have a six-month provision so it's, for lack of a better word, trying to balance some of the provisions that one employer has to deal with across different jurisdictions.
While certainly there's been a lessening of the opportunity within the act to deal with the $10,000 issue, that has not taken away from those employees the right to go to litigation. In the past, they had both opportunities. That opportunity is still there. You're right, it's taking some of it from the act, but it's certainly not removing the opportunity for any employee or any employer who believes they've gone outside the law to seek restitution through the courts.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. On page 2, the fourth paragraph, you state: "We strongly support the provision of Bill 49 which limits the entitlement to recover money under the act to six months rather than the current two years. This places the responsibility for timely filing where it belongs -- with the employee."
We've heard evidence, yesterday in particular, in Toronto, that there are situations where workers are faced with an employer that is in the bad boss category, one of the unscrupulous types that unfortunately cause us to need legislation like this in society, and I know you wouldn't support those kinds of activities in any workplace any more than I would. However, they do exist, and many of these people are the most vulnerable in our society. A lot of them are new Canadians, visible minorities, and they don't have any real options in terms of where they can go. Sometimes it takes them a long time to find another job so they can live a place that is, quite frankly, horrible, all but a sweatshop. In other cases, they just can't afford to quit that job because they need the money, as bad as it is, and the evidence is there that the only time they file for what they're owed is after they've already left, if they've quit or been fired.
If that's the reality, then it does fly in the face somewhat of the submission that you're making in that statement, and I wonder how you would reconcile those two when we talk about the reality that workers are facing as opposed to just the intellectual approach to it.
Mr Lang: I think there's a fine line there. I certainly don't disagree with you. With unscrupulous employers or unscrupulous employees, in either case, where there's an abuse being made to the employer or by the employer, I agree 100% those have to be dealt with. They have to be dealt with and eliminated. Whether this piece of legislation will assist that -- we're again I believe dealing with the minority. However, certainly there has to be a vehicle for those people to get dealt with.
Six months, two years, I think is, again, a matter of interpretation. In your case, isolated or otherwise, it's going to be a small percentage, and some people may fall through the cracks. At the same time, I believe the two-year time frame we were dealing with before in costs also led to abuses on the other side where records, due to no fault of anyone, were rather incomplete, caused a lot of taxpayers expense, caused a lot of heartache for both the person bringing forward the claim and the employer involved.
Mr Christopherson: But if at the end of the day that worker is entitled to that, my problem with it is --
The Chair: Mr Christopherson, you've gone over the time already. Mr Tascona.
Mr Tascona: Thank you for your presentation. The basis of Bill 49 is to deal with administrative and procedural changes. In effect, there are no changes in the minimal standards; in fact, there are improvements for vacation and pregnancy leave. But one area of administration that I just want your comment on in terms of efficiencies is, would you agree with electronic filing for orders to pay and also the appeals by employers?
Mr Lang: I don't see any reason why we shouldn't follow through with the progress, to use that word in quotations, I'm afraid, but the electronic filing, eliminating of paper, that's throughout industry. I would be surprised if any company is not into the computer age. The filing of electronic is no different from paper. It just saves time, in many cases; saves costs. Electronic filing just makes good sense to me.
Mr Tascona: The other part of the act we're dealing with, and I think one of the major focuses, is that collection is a problem; 44% of employees received the money owed and in fact what's actually collected is 25% of the dollars. So the focus is on collection, and what we're looking at are measures to improve the collection so that employees get the money they are owed.
One of the problems is insolvency with respect to the employers, and for 67%, that's the reason they don't pay, because of the fact they're insolvent. We've heard some measures with respect to, "What could you do to assist us in collection?" We heard yesterday from certain groups who said, "Why don't you just put on payroll taxes to make everyone pay for these bad employers?"
One other suggestion is maybe the federal government could do something about bankruptcy to ensure that we have measures to protect employees, rather than the provincial government funding the bill for the federal government's not acting. Do you have any comments on that or do you have any ideas on what other measures we could take to improve the collection process to help workers?
Mr Lang: Certainly in our view, again, the six-month time frame, that's the entry level which leads to the collection, but I think timely filing -- companies that are unscrupulous and that are abusing their employees need to be dealt with. I would guess, and this is certainly a personal view, those companies going bankrupt may be going bankrupt because of the abuses they've got to, to the point if they were treating their employees badly, they were probably also treating their suppliers etc, leading to financial problems for them.
But if the filing process is speeded up, I would hope that would lead to quicker resolution of the claims and therefore a quicker collection period to be starting. Under the old scenario, it was many years into the process. Not only did that give the company a longer time to become insolvent, but it allowed them to continue to deal with those employees in a bad manner, and more and more people would be -- again, this is the example with the unscrupulous employer -- treated badly. It needs to be dealt with quicker. I believe, in my own experience from a collection point of view, the sooner you act, 99 out of 100 times, the more you will get and you will be able to deal with the issues. The longer you wait in any collection procedure, the less money you recover. I don't think that any collection agency or office or whatever will dispute that. You have to deal quickly, you have to deal decisively, and I think shortening up the time frame will lead to better results in the end. Whether private sector is going to be better --
The Chair: We've run over our time. Thank you, Mr Tascona. Thank you both, gentlemen, for coming and making your presentation before us here today. We appreciate it.
ONTARIO NETWORK OF INJURED WORKERS' GROUPS
The Chair: That leads us to our next group, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups. Good morning. Again, at the risk of repeating myself --
Mr Karl Crevar: Good morning. My name is Karl Crevar.
The Chair: Yes, Mr Crevar, and we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit here this morning.
Mr Crevar: I will most certainly try and leave some time. I'm the president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers, which represents organizations in 34 communities across the province of Ontario. I do not have a brief with me. I was up until 3 o'clock in the morning trying to figure out how to make a presentation to this committee to outline our concerns at the proposed changes.
First of all, let me just say I'm very disturbed, and all the citizens in this province, in a democratic country, should be very concerned, when we're sitting here faced with a bill that's being introduced that had no consultation with the people who would be directly affected with it prior to its inception and sitting here and trying to wrap up in 15 minutes. That, to me, is wrong. The consultation should have taken place with workers in Ontario, because this bill is strictly an attack on workers' rights in this province, and as we've seen in the past, it's just a continuation of previous actions by the government of the day.
The Premier of the province, Mr Harris, has made it very clear, and I'm sure you heard news reports of Mr Harris overseas, stating that Ontario is open for business. It's open for business at any cost, the way I see it when we take a look at this bill.
Bill 49 again demonstrates the Conservative government's agenda, which is in the interests of profits for corporate Ontario before the workers who gave their lives, their sweat and blood to make Ontario a better place to live. Bill 49, this bill, will do exactly the reverse. It will take us back 30 to 40 years to where we were many, many years ago.
As we have previously seen, the cuts in health care, education, social assistance and the future proposed cuts, changes in workers' compensation, health and safety are cuts that will be paid for by Ontario citizens through tax increases, user fees etc, and this is at the expense of the most vulnerable people which is our future generation, our children, injured workers, workers and disabled and elderly, and Mr Christopherson has mentioned the minority groups that will be affected, the minority workers who will be affected and their rights.
The purpose and intent of the Employment Standards Act was to protect workers by improving workplace standards, not by diminishing them.
Bill 49 limits and will deny access to fairness and justice. Many workers will not be able to afford the high costs of litigation and will be forced to settle for far less than they would otherwise be entitled to under the current act. They will be forced further into poverty. They will be forced to apply for UIC, social assistance or other income replacements. They'll have to turn to food banks, to shelters if they lose their homes or families, which in many cases we have seen happen. This is reality. This has happened in other areas. The costs will be borne by the taxpayers of Ontario.
I know we talk a little bit about some of the provisions in the bill when we talk about putting the responsibility on organized labour to negotiate contracts. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the reality is that in employment relations, in this province particularly, there's a wall that's built up between both parties. When we see items to be putting on the negotiating table, is the employer going to deny the right to negotiate? That's ludicrous, to put a statute on the bargaining table. What we will see is more problems, and they will be more costly than anything else.
I want to say that people elect governments to protect, to protect all of us, not just a few, because we all have a stake in our future here. We all have to protect the rights of all citizens, whether they be employers, whether they be workers, whether they be the elderly, the disabled, the injured. But we do not see this in this bill.
This bill will not protect workers; it will only give justification to further exploit them. Some comments were already made. Workers will be harassed in the workplace. They'll be forced to quit. This attack on workers and citizens in Ontario cannot and must not be tolerated.
I want to just say in closing, as I indicated when I started, I did not prepare a brief. I tried to put together some notes. I don't want to be angry, but I am. Premier Mike Harris and his government, through their neglect of the most vulnerable in our society, stated prior to the election that he would not hurt the most vulnerable; well, he did. Your government has broken that promise. I call on the Premier to resign. That's the most decent thing that he can do: resign, as he stated he would.
The questions I have on enforcement have been talked about before, the enforcement provisions. We know -- we did some research into compliance issues -- that the insolvent corporations are not being followed up on to collect the moneys that are owing. What will Bill 49 change? It will not change a damn thing. You will continue to lose money. The cost will be put on the workers of Ontario and the citizens of this province.
The shortening of the appeal time: What will happen? Questions have to be asked. Many workers will abandon; they'll just simply say, "I don't want to go through this." Many workers will not even know. I ask the question of the government, how will they know what their rights are, when we all know, around this table, that the majority of workers in this province are unorganized? How will they know what their rights are? They most certainly will not. That is a question that has to be answered that Bill 49 does not answer.
I think, Mr Chair, I will leave that. Again, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address and express my views.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That leaves us two minutes per caucus. This round will start with the third party, Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Karl, for another excellent presentation. I think it's important to underscore the note that you struck when you talked about the fact that this is not just about unions, this is not just about those who already have; this is about an ongoing attack on the most vulnerable, on the disabled and, in your instance, in your area of expertise and who you represent, injured workers. I wonder, in the context of this being one more piece, if for the record, for Hansard, you could paint the picture you see that Bill 49 forms a part of in terms of the attack on injured workers and disabled citizens in the province of Ontario, which, as you have pointed out, is a direct violation of their promise.
Mr Crevar: We've had discussions with the government on injured workers' issues, on workers' compensation. We know that there's a high rate of injured workers who have not returned to work. We know that they've been harassed in the workplace and we know that Bill 49 will continue to do that. It's just another step. Injured workers who have returned to work will give an employer the opportunity to say, "We no longer have work for you." They will use whatever means, and that is a reality, ladies and gentlemen. That's not just hearsay. They will just say, "I'm sorry, we have no work for you; therefore you're out of work." What avenues do they have available? We see Bill 49 as just another step towards that.
Mr Christopherson: In your opinion, some of the changes that are proposed by the government in WCB -- and we know that some of those changes are going to force people to stay at work longer than they need to, because they don't have the protection of the WCB. Does Bill 49, in your opinion, further erode the rights that workers have and feed into that whole idea that workers who are injured will actually have to stay on the job for fear that they don't have the protection in WCB, and now they may not have the further protection in the workers' bill of rights, which is the Employment Standards Act?
Mr Crevar: You're absolutely correct. We foresee that. We saw it before and we can see that as a continuation to continue on.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation; we appreciate it. You mentioned in your remarks that you were concerned about the appeals process being shortened. Is that correct?
Mr Crevar: Yes.
Mr Baird: This bill lengthens it from 15 days to 45 days.
Mr Crevar: What I was referring to is the time to launch an appeal or to launch for a claim. If I misrepresented in terms of words, that is what I meant.
Mr Baird: I think it's the latter. The appeals process is extended --
Mr Crevar: Because it went from two years to six months.
Mr Baird: Yes, you're right on the former part. I just wanted to clarify that.
Mrs Fisher: I have just a short question. I appreciate some of your comments. Obviously, some of them I won't agree with. But I do have a question for you. One of the nice things about these hearings is that we get to hear some of the solutions from the points of other people, of which you are one. Could you please tell us how better to handle the collection on outstanding dues owed to employees who have not been able to collect same under the past government ways in which they did it? When government was involved in it, all governments -- this is a non-partisan statement -- have been unsuccessful in earning back the rights to the workers' money. Could you please give us an idea how you would do it?
Mr Crevar: You've brought up an interesting point. What I do not see in Bill 49, again, is the enforcement issue, and that's a reality issue -- the reality issue of how employees can get what they're due, how they can actually get what they are owed as a result of any action by their employers. What you have to do is strengthen that enforcement.
You have to get away from this idea that simply because -- and it's well known; the research is there. Many employers who become insolvent through either bankruptcies or the statements that have been made -- "If you force us to pay any money that's owed, we will close," and they use that as blackmail. That's blackmail, and governments have shied away. The Conservative government, I'm afraid -- I shouldn't say I'm afraid; what I see -- will even step up that procedure and forgive those employers, and this puts the workers at risk. This is what I see in Bill 49.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation this morning. You would know that the caps are limited to $10,000, and that on average that's about $400 a week. People have the recourse to go to the courts for retribution under part of the act. What's your feeling on the ability of workers to use the courts as the avenue for their claim?
Mr Crevar: Again, my comments before were that many workers will abandon because they simply cannot afford civil litigations. The cap that's being proposed, the limit of $10,000, I believe is unfair. If it takes two years to file a claim for a person earning $30,000 to $40,000 a year who is unjustly let go and all they're going to get at the end of that day is $10,000, I ask anyone around this table whether that's fair. It will be a costly venture and many people will just not go into it.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Crevar, for coming and making a presentation before us here today.
HAMILTON STEELWORKERS AREA COUNCIL
The Chair: That leads us now to the Hamilton Steelworkers Area Council, Mr Adamczyk. Good morning.
Mr Bryan Adamczyk: Good morning. I'm a staff representative with the United Steelworkers of America working out of the Hamilton office. I'm not going to read the brief verbatim. I will refer to it and maybe read a couple of comments I've written down in the brief. At your leisure, if you get a chance, if you care to read it, we've addressed the issues of contracting out of employment standards, enforcement under a collective agreement, enforcement for non-unionized employees, private collection agencies and decreasing employer liability.
I will say there are a few things that are minor positive changes. One is that we can support the amendment dealing with the entitlement to vacation pay whereby vacation entitlement of two weeks per year accrues whether or not the employment was active. We can also support the amendment that provides for the calculation of service and length of employment to include time while on parental and pregnancy leave, and the issuance of termination pay seven days after the person has been terminated.
Those are probably the only minor changes that we would see as -- I think the term that has been used by the government is "housekeeping." The rest of the amendments that are being proposed under Bill 49 are just a gutting of the Employment Standards Act, in our view, really a brutal attack on working men and women.
Let me explain a bit to you who we are. The Steelworkers area council represents approximately 14,000 men and women in the Hamilton area. We represent people who work, for example, at Stelco's Hilton works, Lake Erie works and small units. We're the bargaining agent for the people who work at the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers, which are under attack right now. We're in fear and jeopardy of losing them.
I understand that this process is the first phase of a two-phase process of reform. I looked up the term "reform" in the Funk and Wagnalls dictionary. Normally, reform means a change for the better; normally, it means a moral improvement and a move to improve social conditions. The Bill 49 amendments are not doing that. They're regressive, not progressive. They would like to take us back maybe past the 50-year mark. The last introduction to changes in labour legislation took the labour movement back to the 1930s and this would take us back even further.
I'd just like to comment on two areas of our brief. One is the contracting out of employment standards. Let me start off with that. Our concern is that the bill would eliminate the basic standards with respect to minimum standards covering hours of work, overtime pay, public holidays and vacation pay. The bill erases the standards for people who work in organized workplaces. It's just a matter of time; perhaps in your phase 2 you'll want to have these amendments applied to people who do not have the benefit of being represented by a union.
The contracting out of the employment standards has an impact in two areas. It has an impact on the worker's quality of life, family obligations and health and safety. Let me give you an example, if I can. Let's suppose under the Employment Standards Act you increase the hours of work a worker could be scheduled to work up to 56 hours. I understand some months ago General Motors wanted the government to address that issue and increase the hours of work whereby a person could be scheduled seven days, forced to work that. That has an impact on a person's quality of life as far as dealing with their family, health and safety issues, and other implications are concerned.
Let me give you an example of a health and safety issue: We have a foundry here in Hamilton, Dominion Castings. They have about 700 workers there and it's a tough job to do, a real tough job to do. Foundries, by their nature, are just ugly. This time of the year we get a lot of phone calls down at the hall because the heat is bad and people get real miserable. In wintertime it's cold, brutal. A good group of men, and we've got some women; some women operate the cranes there at the foundries.
They are scheduled to work 48 hours a week. At times people don't mind making some extra money, but normally they are scheduled to work Monday to Saturday. Because of the way families are, we have people who have split up from their spouses. It's not unusual -- I had a couple of cases when I serviced that local union where a fellow would phone me up and say:
"I just got disciplined by the company for not showing up Saturday. I was scheduled to work."
"Why didn't you go in?"
"Here's the problem: For the last six months I've been working six days a week. I've got two kids, and in the past I might get them maybe once a month, on the weekends. Normally, I have to get somebody to babysit them. But damn it, I've been working too hard and I want to be with my kids. I decided, when my wife dropped the kids off, I couldn't make any other arrangements. I made a judgement call, to spend time with my kids whom I don't see that often because my wife has custody, or to go in to work."
He made the right call to stay with his family, but from his employer's point of view he was supposed to show up for work. It has an impact on the quality of life for our members. Also, when somebody starts making those kinds of judgement calls, it could put them in jeopardy with their employer.
Health and safety is an issue too. Some jobs you could probably do dancing on your head in some workplaces. Other jobs -- you're talking about foundries, people working in the retail and wholesale sectors, people who work in steel mills and other workplaces -- it's tough to get through just an eight-hour day.
The other issue is that if an employer right now was to bring to the bargaining table changes to negotiate less than what the act provides for, I could hit him with bad-faith bargaining, because we have what I understand is termed the "floor." But rather than having employers and unions work in a labour relations climate that is one of cooperation, partnership, with this legislation we're going to be on a collision course. Working people have fought long and hard for the gains. In the past in the steel industry we've had to give up some concessions at the bargaining table, but to negotiate anything less than what is there by law is going to put us on a collision course and we're going to end up in an adversarial situation in many cases. I can't see that. Talk about a message you send out to anybody who's thinking about investing in the province of Ontario. I don't think anybody wants to invest in this province if there's the potential for a lot of labour turmoil.
Enforcement under the act: What you're proposing, I understand, is that if you're in a union you can't go to the employment standards branch and lay a complaint; you're going to have to use the agreement and arbitration procedure. We have a couple of problems with that. First of all, unions are going to be drawn out in long, lengthy litigation. The other problem with that is if a disgruntled member isn't happy with maybe the outcome of our investigation, whether or not he has a complaint, he'll file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board saying that we misrepresented him.
I can't see the logic in where you're going with this, because if I end up at the labour relations board with a misrepresentation complaint, so does the employer, because the employer will be involved in addressing a concern about a violation of the Employment Standards Act; they would have violated it. If the disgruntled employee, our member, didn't like what he heard, he'd go after us, and also the company would be dragged into it. A lot of money; it's costly for companies to hire their lawyers, to book their plant manager, human resources personnel, their assistants, general foreman -- everybody -- to go down to the labour board. That's not very cost-effective. The current system is, in our view, expeditious and inexpensive. It provides for an officer to come out and investigate the matter before it goes any further and probably most times it's nipped in the bud.
Non-unionized employees will have two routes to go. One is to pursue the employment standards route and the other one is to go to civil litigation. As the previous speaker addressed that concern, some people just won't have the financial resources to go out and hire a lawyer to represent them to go after their money.
The only other thing that puzzled me a bit has got to do with these hearings but not with the act. I got a call in my office last week from somebody from the Ministry of Labour who wanted to know what the Hamilton Steelworkers were all about and what our, as I think her term was, mandate was and what we do, our guidelines. I found that puzzling because I would think that anybody in the Ministry of Labour and anybody who would be on this panel would do some research and find out about the labour movement. With the Bill 7 amendments and these amendments you're proposing, I don't think you've done a good job finding out what the labour movement is all about and what working people are all about and their concerns and their issues.
Those are my comments. I'll try to answer any questions you may have.
Mr Tascona: Thank you for your presentation. I just want to deal with one aspect of it, though, the enforcement under a collective agreement. As you're aware, under the act currently, under section 58 for severance pay, unions have the power and have been given the rights to settle severance pay claims with an employer. Bill 49 essentially is extending the union's role to resolve all claims under the Employment Standards Act. What is the problem with giving the unions greater rights to represent their workers with respect to these types of claims when the history is that there are very few claims which involve unions and the employment standards branch?
Mr Adamczyk: Let me put it this way: In some cases we put in language that talks about severance pay in the event the plant closes down and how much severance pay people would get. Normally, it's better than what the law provides for.
Mr Tascona: I know, but you've been given that right already to deal with severance pay claims under a collective agreement. That's a precedent that's already set. We're extending that right for you to get involved and deal with your members' claims. The average claim time is seven months to turn around under the Employment Standards Act, I understand. You have a grievance procedure. You have expedited arbitration under the Labour Relations Act. Arguably, you've got a faster procedure to resolve the claims if the union decides to take that claim and represent its members.
Mr Adamczyk: Normally, when we're talking about severance issues in a lot of cases we're talking about a plant shutdown or a partial cessation of operations. Yes, we do have expedited arbitration; that's true. One of the difficulties with that is that we used to have the use of settlement officers but you're going to be laying off all the settlement officers. They'll be out of a job November 1. That was a good way to try to mediate any type of an issue. Again, we have a system. The Employment Standards Act has been there for some time. In our view it's a system that works, it's inexpensive and it's quick. If it ain't broke, why do you have to go out and fix it?
Mr Duncan: I'd just like to pursue that for a moment. One of the things that strikes me about the debate is the notion that the system works; I don't think it works at all.
Mr Adamczyk: But the --
Mr Duncan: If I can finish by putting a question, I had a chance to read your presentation about the privatization and use of collection agencies, and one of the things that strikes me about the failure of our current system is our inability to collect wages owing. Yet in what I read here you seem to be saying that things are fine the way they are. I would be curious to know what proposals you might be able to offer that would make the collection of wages owing, increase the percentage, rather than simply defend I think a process which demonstrably isn't working and I think demonstrably was lowered when the collection agents of the Ministry of Labour were let go in previous years. Do you have any suggestions along that line? I don't think the present system works.
Mr Adamczyk: What I think you have to do is go out and enforce it. If somebody owes you money, if the Ministry of Labour is acting on behalf of a claimant -- is that what you're asking?
Mr Duncan: No, I'm asking you how would you enforce it. We all agree we have to enforce it. I guess the real question is how. What methods are available? It disturbs me when I hear progressive forces in our society such as the Steelworkers suggesting that the status quo is adequate. I don't think it is and I'd be curious to know what suggestions you would have, because I don't think necessarily the government has the right ideas. I'm really curious as to what kinds of proposals you have.
Mr Adamczyk: Why isn't the money being collected? Because employers just don't want to give it. Right? Why do you stop there? That's what I would ask the government. Why do you stop there?
The Chair: Sorry, Mr Duncan, we're running over time. Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: Thanks very much, Bryan. It was an excellent presentation as always. I just want to talk a bit about the issue of, as you've called it here, the contracting out of employment standards. You speak in the brief of the fact that your union, the Steelworkers, which is certainly one of the strongest, most-established unions in the country, is not prepared to relinquish rights that were obtained through, in most cases, long, hard fights. I suspect that even you could see with some of your larger locals that you'd have a struggle, depending on the situation the company found itself in, to fend off those attacks on the basic rights.
Mr Adamczyk: That's right.
Mr Christopherson: Recognizing that, what chance do you think smaller locals or isolated local unions would have, faced with an employer who's not merely putting concessions on the table as they relate to improvements that have been negotiated into a collective agreement, but now the fundamental bill of rights that workers have had for decades? What do you think their chances are of holding off against an employer that comes after them that way?
Mr Adamczyk: Slim to none. It would destroy them. It would out-and-out destroy them.
Mr Christopherson: Would you agree that that's the slippery slope taking us back to the point where there are no minimum standards, that if you do that often enough and if you had checkered rights in some places and not have the rights in other spots on the checkerboard, eventually the rights don't mean anything and it's a free-for-all?
Mr Adamczyk: Exactly. I deal with employers some of whom we're trying to drag, kicking and screaming, out of the 19th century. We're heading into the 21st century, and this legislation wants to take us back on that slippery slope. Oh, yes, the intent is to take us back farther than -- as I indicated initially in my opening remarks, past the working conditions and whatever rights people had 50 or 60 years ago.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Adamczyk. We appreciate your taking the time to come before us today.
LABOURERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA
The Chair: Our next group up is the Labourers' International Union of North America, Local 837. Good morning, folks. Again, 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit, if you would be kind enough to introduce yourself for the Hansard reporter.
Mr Joe Mancinelli: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I am Joe Mancinelli, regional manager for the Labourers' International Union of North America for central and eastern Canada. To my right is Paula Randazzo, who is an industrial representative for LIUNA Local 837 here in Hamilton which represents approximately 3,000 workers.
The Labourers' International Union is an international trade union affiliated with the AFL/CIO, the CLC and the Ontario Federation of Labour. We represent 770,000 members across North America, 40,000 in Ontario, and about 3,000 in this very fine city, Hamilton. We represent a very wide variety of workers, precast workers, construction workers, workers from many different sectors, and we also represent a very significant portion of our membership that is non-construction which is in the cleaning, maintenance sector. We have caretakers in the public sector from the Hamilton-Wentworth separate school board, industrial workers from factories in the area, plants, airport workers and other sectors.
LIUNA is one of the most innovative trade unions in North America. We have recognized the need to partner with our contractors and work together to find innovative solutions to our industry. I know that our next speakers are the Hamilton Construction Association. Cam Nolan is coming up, a good friend of LIUNA, we get along very well. Even though our opinion on this bill may differ, and you'll hear that today, we get along very well with our contractors.
LIUNA has gotten involved in a number of projects where we've partnered with our contractors. The Garden River Reserve project in Sault Ste Marie, where we've partnered with the native Canadians in that area, Keiwit Construction and ourselves, to work on a $100-million project which will be financed by the consortium is a display of our innovation. The 407 highway is another display of our innovation. Of course, the Prince Edward Island fixed-link bridge between PEI and New Brunswick and the Hibernia project where we're very active show the kind of innovation that we're involved with.
We have provided unprecedented service to our members and their families and have achieved the harmony and progress I have briefly outlined because of the stability in the workplace. But also stability in the Legislature has given us the opportunity, of course, where for decades a delicate balance was achieved by keeping companies profitable and competitive and of course, our workers protected. We are concerned that Bill 49 will once again erode that delicate balance that has made Ontario unique.
The Minister of Labour, the Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, has indicated that the changes to the Employment Standards Act embodied in Bill 49 will cut through years of accumulated red tape. In fact the effect of these amendments will be to cut even further the currently inadequate protection found in Ontario's employment standards legislation.
The minister has said that these amendments will encourage the workplace to be more self-reliant in resolving disputes, where in fact we feel that the proposed changes will encourage employers to take advantage of their employees. The minister has said that these amendments will make the act more relevant to the needs of today's workplace, where in fact these amendments ignore the needs of today's workplace.
The minister has also said that these changes are designed to focus the attention of the government on helping the most vulnerable workers. In fact with these amendments the government is preying upon those who are most vulnerable and rewarding those employers in Ontario who operate outside the standards demanded by Ontario workers and demanded by Ontario law.
Many of the presenters here today will be voicing their grave concerns with this proposed legislation. In some instances I will echo those voices. However, and I know the workers in Ontario would agree, such an important message cannot be conveyed too often.
Over half of employment standards claims in Ontario are from workplaces with 10 people or less. Traditionally, labour has found these small workplaces the hardest to organize and service. The changes in Bill 49 will make it even more difficult and far more expensive. The result will be to discourage those same workers from joining the very unions that traditionally have been able to negotiate far better working conditions and job protection and which have protected the rights of those employees currently codified in employment-related legislation.
With global competitiveness as the rationale, our government is reducing the standards that encourage the most productive use of our workforce. This rationale ignores the fact that in Canada, our exports, primarily produced by union labour, who enjoy standards far above those provided for in the Employment Standards Act, continue to be competitive in the global market. Furthermore, this rationalization based on competitiveness and the global economy ignores the reality that those members of our domestic labour force who most need the protection of the Employment Standards Act do not compete in the global market because their services are not and cannot be performed offshore.
Clearly, the government's attack on Ontario workers cannot be justified in the name of the global economy. Clearly, this is a veiled attempt to undermine the bargaining strength of Ontario's workforce and the unions who represent them.
Bill 49 contemplates collective agreements where terms respecting hours of work, overtime pay, public holidays, severance and vacation with pay will be below the minimum standards currently prescribed by the Employment Standards Act. The only proviso is that these rights as a package will confer a greater benefit than the comparable employment standards as a package. These proposed changes are merely a back-door attempt at eliminating Ontario's minimum employment standards. Minimum standards -- and make no mistake, these are the minimum standards to be tolerated in a democratic society -- serve a number of purposes, all of which are frustrated by these amendments.
First, the employers and unions will have to agree to the package. With employers attempting to push back currently established minimums in the name of competing in a global economy, unions will have to rely on strikes and work action in order to protect the interests of their members. By placing long-established employment standards on the table, Bill 49 makes the settling of contract issues more difficult, again adding to Ontario's industrial conflict. In fact the resulting labour unrest will be detrimental to Ontario's economy, and not further the government's stated objectives. In the view of this obvious fallout, one is left wondering as to the real motivation of this government in proposing such an erosion of the rights of unionized workers in Ontario.
Second, experience with the current legislative scheme shows that determining whether a contract confers a greater right or benefit is not a precise science. Making such a determination under the proposed scheme will require the comparison of apples to oranges, and the legislation provides no guidance in making this determination. Employees of Ontario do not deserve such uncertainty in their workplace. What the employees of Ontario deserve, and what Bill 49 does not give them, is security in knowing that certain conditions and terms of employment are not subject to dispute. Although I understand it is the intention of the minister to defer this particular provision until later this year, its shortcomings will continue to exist, no matter when it is introduced.
For unionized employees, Bill 49 shifts responsibility for the investigation of employment standards breaches to the unions and to the employees they represent. By doing this, the government is abdicating its responsibility to the workers of Ontario. Many employees and their unions, particularly in those job sectors where employment standards breaches are most prevalent, will not have the resources to take on the added responsibility. This is especially true with the demise of previously available ministry mediation services.
In fact the question remains whether the Labour Relations Act confers sufficient jurisdiction on arbitrators appointed under the act to fashion the remedies needed in an employment standards context. What this means is that employees in Ontario will not be able to enforce their rights. What this means is that the most vulnerable of Ontario's workers will be denied access to justice. Our society demands a remedy for all workers in Ontario. The scheme contemplated in Bill 49 will erode and destroy decades of hard work by both business and labour.
Let me put it into real terms for you. The Labourers' International Union currently is leading a claim to the employment standards branch on behalf of a number of cleaners who, through the actions of a successor employer, were replaced in their jobs with workers earning minimum wage. This successor employer has not fulfilled its obligation under the Employment Standards Act, and the displaced employees have not been paid termination pay in lieu of notice, nor have they been offered meaningful work.
Under the current system these employees do have a remedy through the employment standards branch. Under the system proposed by Bill 49 the cost to the union of investigating this complaint and taking it through grievance procedures would be prohibitively high. In essence, these employees would be unable to recover the two weeks' wages presently owed to them. This may not seem like a lot of money to some of us in this room who are fortunate enough to earn a decent income, but to unemployed cleaners who earn $8.50 an hour, this amounts to their food and housing.
The bottom line is that unions will simply not be able to pursue the valid employment standards breaches complained of by their members if they have to use the arbitration process. Again, justice for the most vulnerable and marginalized workers in our society will be denied, while dishonest employers will be rewarded for their illegal, unjust actions and honest employers will be denied the right to a level playing field.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill 49 essentially privatizes the investigation of employment standards complaints for unionized workers. It also goes further in its privatization of the protection of Ontario's workers. By virtue of Bill 49, responsibility for the collection of amounts owing under the act will be surrendered by the ministry to private collection agencies. Simply requiring employers to pay for collection costs would vastly improve the ministry's ability to collect amounts owing under the act, but such a course of action is not being proposed. Instead, the minister proposes to turn over the fate of Ontario workers to an unaccountable group whose sole motivation is profit. Altruism is not known to run rampant in the private sector. It is therefore not hard to see that such a scheme will result in collection agencies acting in a manner which is most profitable even though it may be at odds with the affected employee's best interests.
Today we will all hear a great deal about the shortcomings of Bill 49. I've briefly covered those issues which will affect organized labour in Ontario, including the members of LIUNA, which I represent. I would, however, like to quickly touch on a few remaining issues before closing.
Bill 49 proposes to limit employees' recovery to six months in the name of increased efficiency and fewer evidentiary problems. If this was the government's true objective, why does Bill 49 not include provisions to expedite the ministry's investigation and enforcement of employment standards claims? Bill 49 does not address the current four-year period available to the ministry to investigate and enforce a claim. In addition, why must this alleged increased efficiency be borne on the backs of Ontario's employees? Limiting an employee's recovery shifts the enforcement of Ontario's minimum standards to the individual by pushing employees to use Ontario's civil courts to recover money owed to them because of the employer's employment standards violation.
Some might ask: With all these employees seeking their remedy through the courts, won't the cost to Ontario taxpayers actually be higher than under the current enforcement mechanisms? If that's the case, why would the minister propose a change that would actually increase costs? The answer of course is obvious. An overwhelming majority of employees cannot afford a lawyer and therefore will not pursue their claims. The minister is in fact counting on this and aims to save money at the expense of those who really need it most. The result: For all practical purposes, those employees who cannot afford legal representation will be left without remedy. In Bill 49's Ontario, employers are winners. There can be no excuse for this unjust enrichment and imbalance.
The yet-to-be-prescribed minimum claim will have much the same effect. For those to whom every penny counts, and that's most people in Ontario, if their claim is below the minimum set by the minister, they will be forced to head to Small Claims Court to enforce their rights.
For those whose claim exceeds the maximum, they are forced either to abandon that part of their claim in excess of that maximum or hire a lawyer and initiate costly litigation. Again, for most, making a civil claim is not financially viable. Most will be forced to accept less money than they are owed. Since a small percentage of the claims actually exceed $10,000, there is no improved efficiency here. All that is accomplished is to deny justice to those who are wronged.
In conclusion, the innumerable complaints currently handled by the ministry confirm that the protection afforded by the current act is weak and its provisions are not effectively enforced. The fact is, this legislation should be bolstered, not eroded. Changes to the Employment Standards Act which address preventing employment standards violations and expedite their investigation and enforcement should be introduced, not the current amendments which simply reward the unscrupulous employers in Ontario who violate these minimum employment standards with impunity.
We have worked hard as an organization, together with our companies and our contractors, to achieve progress and stability in the workplace. I find it disheartening that this type of regressive legislation continues to be introduced.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to express our views on Bill 49, and we look forward to some positive changes to the bill as its progresses.
The Chair: Thank you for your submission. You used the magic words "in conclusion" just before 15 minutes. Actually, we've gone to about 16 and a half, so I'm afraid we won't have time for questions, but thank you very much for taking the time to make a very detailed presentation.
HAMILTON CONSTRUCTION ASSOCIATION
The Chair: That means the next up will be the Hamilton Construction Association. Good morning. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit.
Mr Cameron Nolan: My name is Cameron Nolan. I'm the executive director of the Hamilton Construction Association and I'm very pleased to be here. I'm also quite pleased to follow my good friend Joe Mancinelli because it gives me an opportunity to critique everything he said, but I won't do that because we have a good working relationship.
I want to emphasize, however, because I do follow his presentation and do have a somewhat different perspective to present to you, that I don't think the goals and objectives between management and labour are different necessarily; they perhaps are just achieved in different ways. For those companies that operate with good standards and good wages and pay their employees according to the act or in superior performance to the act, they know the importance of having the competitors that are in their industry paying at the same rates, dealing with their employees in the same manner and at the same cost, because that creates a more level competitive playing field. So I don't think we have different objectives. Perhaps it's just a question of some differences of approach.
The Hamilton Construction Association represents some 380 firms that are working in the non-residential construction sector. Our members employ anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people over the course of a year in terms of actual persons, but based on the number and volume of construction activity in our area, which presently is about $200 million, that represents a fairly substantial number of employment years in terms of activity within the non-residential construction sector.
I'd like to start off by saying that the overall assessment from the construction industry is relatively positive to the government initiatives. The essence of that is that these kinds of initiatives where increased flexibility is going to prevail and the ability of employers and employees to set their own tone for how they're going to work and make themselves more competitive in a global economy are certainly of benefit.
I will tell you that we are most appreciative of the overall government emphasis on handling its finances and cleaning up its red tape and various other aspects of the legislation that intend to be changed. We are supportive of the agenda, and I want to tell you that we are despite the fact that the current economy is killing the construction industry and the current initiatives are killing the construction industry in the province of Ontario.
We have seen in the Hamilton area, for example, a decline in non-residential construction activity from a high of $450 million for the year ending December 1990 to a low of $210 million roughly for the year ending December 1995. That's significant. That changes the number of employed persons from employed person-years in the order of 10,000 down to roughly half of that. It is significant. So while we are hurt, we certainly are appreciative of the kinds of general directions because I think that has long-term stability and importance for long-term economic health and benefiting the province of Ontario and the people of Ontario.
I'd like to touch on just a few general comments, then some specific comments, and hopefully leave time for questions.
The construction industry has exemptions within the act. It probably doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that inclement weather and the problems of being able to put construction works in place in times of poor weather conditions, whether it's rain or snow or cold, means that in order to take what would hopefully be a year's worth of employment, we have to crunch that down into a smaller period of time in the good weather months. There's a recognition within the Employment Standards Act of this particular fundamental aspect of the construction work, and we appreciate that recognition. We need the recognition, both labour and management, in order to be able to ensure we have a productive period of time in which to complete the work that is required of us and provide an opportunity for our companies and our employees to profit from that through wages and salaries and other forms of profit.
While we appreciate that, we want to remind the committee that as you go into the second-stage review there will be more discussion about these types of flexibility arrangements for construction, and we want to encourage you to enhance them.
The second issue I wanted to address with you is one that relates to a specific segment of the act which is not addressed, to my best knowledge, under Bill 49. It's clause 58(6)(e) of the act, which relates to construction workers who may be working in a shop or a fabrication shop for their employer under the terms of a collective agreement; for example, a sheet metal worker who is a member of the sheet metal union, working for that union as a member of the union employed by a sheet metal contractor, but who works on a day-to-day basis at the location of the office of that sheet metal contractor fabricating the components that will eventually be installed on a construction site. That employee is under the collective agreement, just as the employee who is out at the site installing the fabricated works -- fabricated works which could be fabricated onsite, I might add, but are done more efficiently in a plant at the site of the employer, all under the one collective agreement. The employee in the shop, because of the terms of clause 58(6)(e), has greater severance rights under the present act than the employee on the site. They're both paid the same wages. They have the same terms and conditions of their employment contract. They essentially do the same work; it's different parts of the same work.
So that's a problem with the act and we are proposing that it be amended. It's in the brief; you can read the details. If you have questions about it, I'll address those.
The remaining comments relate to some of the concepts within the act. I'd like to support the reduction to six months. I also think it's prudent to place upon the Ministry of Labour and the Employment Standards Act officers a duty of care that recognizes that six months. I didn't say that in the brief, but I think when you heard from Mr Mancinelli, that's only a fair and equitable position to take. If we're going to speed up the process and constrain the time period, we have to place performance standards on our government employees that will meet those standards of performance that we're expecting of the general public and the employers and the employees. I might add that we have to furnish them with the resources to make it happen properly too. So we would certainly encourage that.
With respect to the minimum and maximum claims authority and increased authority of officers, once again Bill 49 doesn't recognize -- and we do say in our brief that you must provide proper training; you must take a look at your hiring practices and examine what the best way is to make sure we have employees who become officers and have the capabilities of carrying out those new responsibilities. Adjudicating responsibilities are different than fact-finding responsibilities; with them comes a greater duty of care as well. So it's incumbent upon the minister to put the resources in place to make that happen as well.
With respect to the courts or the ministry, my understanding is that the minister wants to preclude parties from doing both at the same time and "double-dipping." That makes eminent sense. If there are some deficiencies in that in terms of constraining a person's ability to make ends meet or to in fact have the money to hire a lawyer, right now they can follow the Employment Standards Act line of thought. They can do that after this change. I don't see the difference there particularly.
Dispute settlement before investigation that allows the employment standards officer to let the parties come to a resolution before a completed investigation seems prudent. It reinvests in the parties to a dispute the rights that are theirs to begin with, the right to come to a settlement so that we don't have government intrusion where two parties come to an agreement. That seems to make sense to us.
With respect to the privatization of collections, once again, standards can and should be put in place that ensure that private collection agencies do have the employee's best interests at heart and they only make money when those objectives are met. It does have the advantage of separating the investigation and adjudication responsibility from the collection responsibility, and that frees up the employment standards officers to do their job with more focus. We agree with that.
With respect to grievance procedures being used as a means to address Employment Standards Act disputes or disputes between an employer and an employee, there are some issues raised by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce that I think are relevant. You should pay attention to those questions and address them at the end of the day. It's going to be critical that there be some very clear guidelines set. I think the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has identified, for example, the time limits. If the minister and the government put in place the six-month time limit, that may not exist in certain collective agreements. Which prevails, the ESA amendments or the collective agreement amendments and time periods? That's something that the minister will have to pay fairly close attention to.
I agree also with the clarification of the pregnancy and parental leave, but I want to tell you one other thing that I don't think is in the act, and I'm not sure the change that's proposed really addresses this: an employer who has chosen weeks in lieu of, so weeks of service in lieu of 4% or 6% or whatever that is. An employer who is in that situation will pay to an employee who takes parental and pregnancy leave the full weeks in lieu of. That's the Ministry of Labour interpretation brought to bear on that language. So if I, as an employer, have chose that route, I have to pay two weeks' vacation to my employee despite the fact that they may have only been in my employ for six months, while they took the balance of six months for parental and pregnancy leave. That seems to be an improper balance and definitely should be addressed in terms of changes.
There are several other minor items that are in the brief; you can read them. We do acknowledge the minister's tabling, if you will, of the proposal that employers and employees can set terms and conditions which differ and vary and maybe are less than the Employment Standards Act. When they come up under the second-stage review I think will be an appropriate time to spend more discussion on those points.
With that, at the end of our brief there's a brief synopsis of who the Hamilton Construction Association is. I've appended to it some statistics on building permits to validate my comments earlier. That concludes my formal remarks. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That leaves us with four and a half minutes for questioning, so one and a half minutes each. I guess because we didn't have any questions last time, we'll commence this round with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation. We've heard from a number of people, and you cited here, courts or the ministry. There are a number of citizens and workers who can afford to do that, I would suppose, but I've been meeting with people who quite frankly are meeting with more costs in their life rather than reduced costs. I cite tuition increases which are happening and which I'm hearing about quite a bit right now; that school is about to go back and user fees are proliferating through universities. These people are hardworking, they see their costs going up, and the suggestion is that they will not be able to pursue through the courts any claims that they may have. Do you believe that to be true? Should there be some onus on the ministry to assist those people, rather than forcing them to the courts?
Mr Nolan: I have no knowledge of whether that's true or not. I don't know how that circumstance distinguishes from the present circumstance. I have some great difficulty understanding. If they can't afford it now, presumably they're not pursuing through the courts now and presumably they're using the ESA as their methodology for achieving some satisfactory result. If they're doing that now, I don't see how they're not going to be able to do it in the future. There are certain elements of the proposal which constrain parties, clearly, and those have been identified. I think I acknowledged that if we're going to put those constraints, we have to put some more resources in place to make sure that they are properly adhered to.
Mr Christopherson: Cam, thanks very much for an interesting presentation. What I'd like to do, because you opened up by saying you'd listened to Joe Mancinelli's presentation, and I wanted to ask him a question but time didn't allow it, I'd like to run it by you.
Mr Nolan: Oh, I can answer for Joe.
Mr Christopherson: That's what I thought, interchangeable. I don't want to break up this great love-in you two have, but I found it really interesting because it's the first time that I've seen it put forward, and the fact that it was put forward by a labour organization I thought deserves to be underscored. Joe said in his presentation, "Again, justice for the most vulnerable and marginalized workers in our society will be denied, while dishonest employers will be rewarded for their illegal and unjust actions and honest employers will be denied the right to a level playing field."
Mr Nolan: I've said the same thing.
Mr Christopherson: I thought that was an excellent point. I wonder how you would comment on that.
Mr Nolan: I think Joe is absolutely, 100% on. Those employers, whether they're union or non-union -- and that's quite irrelevant; there are many employers in both areas of our economy who operate in the most legitimate way because they understand the long-term value of that. There are some employers who will be able to get away with it.
I think when you deregulate, when you lessen regulation, when you reduce the power of government to intrude in the relationship, you risk that side of the equation being exacerbated, where the most vulnerable can have difficulties. My sense of it is that the minister just has to put the resources in place to make sure that the Employment Standards Act officers are spending their time in that area of the sector rather than the area that's already performing well.
Mr Christopherson: I would interpret the statement that Joe made, that "justice for the most vulnerable and marginalized workers in our society will be denied," to mean that it will be denied as a result of the changes in Bill 49, and that will lead to the inequity that you agree will be there. So I see a little bit of inconsistency.
Mr Nolan: I think the inequity already exists, because I don't believe that the Ministry of Labour or the Ontario government or any government has the resources today to enforce to the degree that is necessary. So it's a question of reallocation of resources. I think that's where Joe and I may have a somewhat different emphasis in terms of the philosophy that's here. I see the opportunity for reassessing where the resources go; they see it differently, and that's their call.
The Chair: Questioning moves to the government benches. Any members?
Mrs Fisher: If we follow up on what Mr Christopherson was just asking -- and I don't disagree with your comment, by the way, because right now it's not working competently and it's not serving all of the workers of Ontario; so we together have to do something to fix that. I believe that's the goal of the changes to the act right now.
In saying so, however, as you've noticed through the course of the morning and ourselves yesterday through the hearing process, there's consistently this issue with regard to the collection of outstanding moneys owed to workers. If we were to reallocate it so that the responsibility of enforcement of the act other than the collection was there, do you think we can actually resolve the issue that way?
If we continue to leave it merged, it seems to me, taking off party colours here, all governments of the past have unsuccessfully been able to protect the workers that way. Could you see that private collection on behalf of the workers would benefit the worker?
Mr Nolan: I understand the distinction between private collection and government collection is the government employee has perhaps a greater duty of responsibility or has a greater accountability to the government agency. I think that's the issue. The government must put in place the proper accountability channels and enforce them properly and fairly. Anybody can do the enforcement. Why couldn't I do the enforcement? Whether I'm a government employee or a private employer, why can't I do that enforcement, as long as the standards and duty of care that I'm required to meet are the same, regardless of whether I'm an employee of the government or whether I'm a subcontractor contracted out to do that particular role? The issue I don't think is who's doing it; it's what's the accountability process?
The Chair: Thank you very much for taking the time to make a presentation here before us today.
CANADIAN AUTO WORKERS, LOCAL 199
The Chair: The last presentation of the morning session, Canadian Auto Workers, Local 199. Good morning. Is it Mr Allen?
Mr Malcolm Allen: Yes, it is.
The Chair: Good morning, sir. Again we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit.
Mr Allen: First off, I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to make a presentation before you. My name is Malcolm Allen. I'm the recording secretary of Local 199 in St Catharines. At the present time we represent in excess of 7,000 CAW members working in diverse industries, not just including auto. Personally, I work at General Motors, and part of the brief will deal with General Motors' attempt to see the ESA changed concerning the hours of work, which is extremely crucial to those of us who work for the Big Three.
First off, a brief explanation of who the CAW is, where we come from. We are a labour organization with a membership in excess of 210,000 members, with approximately 143,000 members working in the province of Ontario. What probably is the most misunderstood part is that we are not only auto workers; in fact, we are in a minority as auto workers. I being one who has been in the auto workers sector for 20 years, we have shrunk over the years to the point where we're in a minority in our own union but yet we're still an integral part. So when the auto workers union represents workers in Ontario, we don't speak solely for auto workers. I think that needs to be made clear up front because there's a misinterpretation in the public and sometimes by the government that the CAW is auto and auto only, and in fact we are not.
The brief before you is one that's been compiled by the CAW with numerous people and that all the locals concerned had input into. It's taken great time and consideration by the CAW and the members by looking at their concerns and their needs as far as the Employment Standards Act is concerned. The CAW may be looked upon as having, in the auto sector at least, contracts that seem rather, shall we say, nice. That's not always the case. I go back and talk to my father who was employed for 29 years in the auto sector and he reminds me of the collective agreements that were signed in the early 1960s that weren't so nice. Without employment standards, there was hell to pay when you worked in that sector.
Basically we have four crucial points that we want to look at. Our position is that Bill 49 dismantles the long-standing guarantee found in the Employment Standards Act against any person contracting out of workplace standards. We believe that Bill 49 seriously limits and in some circumstances denies worker access to justice and the proper enforcement of the standards that remain in the statute.
We also believe that Bill 49 continues this government's destructive agenda of privatizing public services without regard to the consequences upon the community at large and the government's employees who are terminated from employment as a result of that privatization.
Bill 49 fails to address the desperate need for progressive improvements to the current set of workplace standards found in the statute. It's surprising to us in the CAW that we, as a progressive union, seem to be watching a new government which is taking us back in time. For us, that's dismaying, to say the least.
We look at the economy of Ontario and we look at a business sector, at least the auto sector, that shows immense profits and yet wages that are stagnant. In some cases they're actually below real levels of where they were five years ago. Those of us in the Big Three who had collective agreements signed three years ago, in real terms, have not accelerated to the point that equals our productivity gains inside the Big Three, which for us is a step backwards.
Just to point out some of the statistics, the GDP has grown by an average of 1.9, versus 1991's 3.1, and yet consumer spending is lagging. I know in the city of St Catharines, when you go downtown it's like a death bed. The businesses in the downtown area are closing even though the MTO has relocated; mind you, in smaller numbers than anticipated. St Catharines is a dying town and it's only because wages of workers in the real economy have stagnated. The Employment Standards Act, according to what the changes in Bill 49 are looking at, would probably drag them even further. It seems to be a race to the bottom for St Catharines' people, at least, and for no other.
My own employer, General Motors, as most are well aware, reported an obscene profit last year and yet it continues to downsize. There were 9,000 employees in the GM St Catharines facilities 10 years ago; there are now 5,200. We make more product now than we've ever made before, with fewer people. We haven't shared in the productivity gains that GM has enabled itself to derive its profits from, and yet it continues to do so.
It continues to sell plants. It leaves us with the threat of another 1,500 employees who may be out of work in another two years, and yet it turns around and asks the ministry to look at opening up the hours of work from eight to 10 a day, from 48 per week to 56 or more. Yet it's still shrinking. It wants to take a shrinking workforce, under the Employment Standards Act, according to the amendments it would like to see, and work those who are left excessive numbers of hours; those who are older an excessive number of hours, because there's one thing that's true: We don't get younger, we only get older.
In the plant I work in today you need 10 years to be there. You're not a young employee any more, you're an older employee. The recovery time for your body day to day takes longer as you age. I think that's a given for most of us. I don't see any teenagers around the table. I think we all fully understand that, excluding possibly the parliamentary assistant. The bottom line is, the older you are, the harder you recover. Yet here's an employer who has done remarkably well by all standards and by all accounts, by any economist in the province of Ontario and by its own accounts -- it trumpeted quite highly last year how much money it made -- yet it continues to whittle away the number of employees it has while it continues to make money.
Now it turns around in the most draconian fashion and asks people to work more than eight hours a day and then asks the government to have the right to do that legally. Not only is that an economic impact on those of us who remain as far as our wellbeing is concerned, there's a legal aspect. Myself, as a parent -- I don't quite fall into that chasm now, but I did a few years ago. Living in rural Ontario, as I do, outside of St Catharines, when my children go to school they go by bus. If my employer has the right to keep me beyond eight hours and my children are under the age of 10, as they were not long ago, and my wife's at work, who takes care of the children when I had anticipated that I would arrive home at 3 and my employer told me at 2:30, "You're staying until 5, Malcolm"?
Now I'm faced with the dilemma that the Employment Standards Act says the employer says I can stay and the Child and Family Services Act says I have to be a responsible parent, have to be home to care for those children or I could be charged under that act. Now I face the dilemma of a job to keep the roof over the heads of my children and food on the table or no job at all, and yet being delinquent in my responsibility as a parent to look after my own children. I find that absolutely heinous in the utmost, that an employer would force parents into that type of situation.
If we look at the regulation aspects, Bill 49, in our opinion, restricts and adversely regulates a worker's right to recover what is owing to him or her pursuant to the statutory enforcement process. We believe the bill denies workers the right to make a claim pursuant to the ESA to the Ministry of Labour under as-yet-unspecified minimum dollar limits.
We believe the bill puts a new, more restrictive time limit on workers who wish to file a claim. Workers will only have six months to do so. Representing workers in the workplace, as I have done over the years as a committee person and as a UI rep, I understand time limits, but I also understand what workers need to do to decide for themselves if they wish to follow a course of action. Whether that's an appeal process to the UI commission, whether that's a grievance procedure which has time limits, they need to decide internally, within themselves, do they wish to pursue it?
That process can be timely and there are mitigating circumstances that make that time limit sometimes protracted and drawn out. It could be fear, it could be the fact they're not aware of the time limit and they let it drag on because they have family responsibilities or other responsibilities that enables that process to take so long. The bottom line is they need to have a fair and equitable time limit to make a decision that is unfettered by any sort of fear or coercion, and by dropping the time limit the way the ESA is suggesting here in Bill 49, I truly believe that places a burden on the employee.
We believe the real objective the government has for the ESA is that improvements are needed in the way it is enforced and administered, beyond a question. In 1994-95, when we look at collection, 29% of the orders to pay against employers were not collected and 74% of the total sum of dollars assessed against employers went uncollected. A third of the cases were unsatisfied orders to pay. It seems that you look at one after another after another.
The bottom line is, if the amendments had looked at how we get just severance pay for those who are denied and then have the ministry write an order against an employer and then not be able to collect it, it seems if the ministry had spent more time looking at this aspect rather than the hours of work, which seem to me are going to open up to the point where we no longer can adequately look after families and spend quality time at home because we're going to spend it in the workplace -- I think this committee would have taken a great step forward if it had looked at this aspect and cleaned it up to the point where workers collect money equally as well as banks collect loans that are outstanding. It seems that as workers, if we were on equal footing with the rest of the debts that are owed, we'd be better off.
The brief is extensive. I leave it to you to read the rest. I thank you for your time. I know the workers I represent in St Catharines are appreciative of the fact that we were able to come, and I'll take any questions.
The Chair: Actually, we've got barely 45 seconds left, so if anyone just has any quick statement they'd like to make at this time. The questions would have started with Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. This is probably the most comprehensive presentation in terms of written analysis and backup material that we've received to date, and I intend to read the entire document. I just want to thank you for coming forward. I particularly want to thank you and a lot of the other leading unions for continuing to stay in this fight, representing not just unionized workers and people who pay union dues but a lot of the vulnerable workers who need your help too.
The Chair: Any other quick statements?
Mr Duncan: Thank you for your presentation today.
The Chair: Yes, thank you, Mr Allen. We appreciate your taking the time to come in and appear before us. With that, this committee will stand recessed until 1 o'clock back in this room.
The committee recessed from 1205 to 1301.
The Chair: I call the meeting back to order for the afternoon session of our second day of hearings on Bill 49.
HAMILTON-BURLINGTON CUPE HEALTH CARE WORKERS JOINT ACTION COMMITTEE
The Chair: Our first group up this afternoon, the Hamilton-Burlington CUPE Health Care Workers Joint Action Committee. That was a mouthful. Good afternoon, folks. We have 15 minutes, just as a reminder, for you to divide as you see fit between your presentation and question-and-answer period. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourselves for the Hansard reporter, please.
Ms Michele Columbus: My name is Michele Columbus. I'm coordinator for the Hamilton-Burlington CUPE Health Care Workers Joint Action Committee. With me are Pat Whitfield, president of CUPE Local 794; Mike Tracey, president of CUPE Local 786; and Fran Borsellino, a member of CUPE Local 786. I'm just going to read through my brief and if there's any time left we'll have questions.
The Hamilton-Burlington CUPE Health Care Workers Joint Action Committee welcomes this opportunity to make a submission to the standing committee on resources development regarding Bill 49 amendments to this province's most fundamental workplace standards legislation.
The Hamilton-Burlington CUPE Health Care Workers Joint Action Committee represents 4,000 hospital workers in the Hamilton-Burlington area. We are seven locals, part of CUPE, Canada's largest trade union, representing more than 450,000 members. Our national union is organized into more than 2,650 local unions situated in nearly every major city and town across the country. CUPE members are employed by boards of education, municipalities, hospitals, universities, nursing homes, homes for the aged, electrical utilities, voluntary social agencies, the Ontario Housing Corp and the Workers' Compensation Board.
It is the position of the Hamilton-Burlington CUPE health care workers that the employment standards legislation is among the most fundamental pieces of labour legislation for ordinary working people in this province. The purpose of this legislation has been to establish vital minimum standards designed to protect workers from the exploitation handed out by the province's worst employers. Furthermore, we submit any amendments to this legislation must enshrine a basic principle of continued improvement in the employment standards of workers so that they may be protected from the excesses of the labour market.
The Minister of Labour has portrayed the changes found in Bill 49, the Employment Standards Improvement Act, as housekeeping amendments that would facilitate administration and enforcement by reducing ambiguity, simplifying definitions and streamlining procedures. On the contrary: The Bill 49 amendments are significant changes designed to frustrate the legitimate claims of workers under the act by undermining workers' most basic rights. Bill 49 attempts to effect major changes to the law as it currently stands. Bill 49 places several new obstacles in the path of workers seeking to enforce their existing statutory rights. The new act alters the manner, substance and duration of a worker's claim in order to frustrate an individual's ability to obtain a just result in the face of a violation of the law.
Although the current Employment Standards Act has proved to be a relatively weak piece of legislation, the Bill 49 amendments dilute this legislation even further. The improvements in these changes are reserved almost exclusively for this province's employers.
The primary effect to unionized members will be to transfer the cost and responsibility of enforcing public law issues relating to employment on to the shoulders of labour unions covered by a collective agreement. Unions like CUPE will shoulder the hardship of investigation and/or enforcement of all additional cases generated by this procedural change in the law. The reality of this is that labour unions simply will not have the same financial wherewithal as the provincial government to investigate and enforce every claim. Some employment standards claims, despite their legitimate basis and a union's best efforts to proceed, will have to be discarded for financial reasons with no guarantee that the director will exercise his or her discretion to allow the claim under the Ministry of Labour's process of enforcing the act. Unions will have to stretch resources to cover the costs of grievances arising under the collective agreement and the added employment standards claims.
Complaints that are heard before an arbitrator under this aspect of Bill 49 will be heard in a forum that requires the parties to pay for the costs of the adjudicator along with other associated costs of the litigation. The cost aspect puts greater pressure on the parties to settle, which in turn will result in less favourable settlements than would result in the full hearing under the current act. At the end of the day, labour unions will be required to investigate, enforce and fund complaints that the government currently maintains but is now unwilling to address.
In addition, labour unions will face new claims against them by members for whom the unions did not pursue an employment standards claim to arbitration and by other members who were not satisfied with an arbitral ruling concerning an employment standards grievance. Although the duty of fair representation has not in the past been seen as requiring a trade union to represent employees in respect of employment standards claims, this amendment will expose unions to such claims. This could mean that a failure of enforcement under a collective agreement will be seen by the labour relations board as constituting a breach of duty of fair representation. Moreover, for those individuals whom a labour union does represent at an arbitral hearing but were not satisfied with the representation of the union at the hearing or the ruling generated by that hearing, a complaint under section 74 of the Ontario Labour Relations Act may still be filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Thus a union like CUPE might be placed in a number of situations where it will face a duty of fair representation complaint whether or not it proceeds with an employment standards claim.
In effect, unions will be faced with organizational challenges as a result of the government's privatization of the enforcement of this act. The added burden of these financial costs, along with the new legal liability placed on the union, may well exacerbate CUPE locals' abilities to effectively represent their members. CUPE locals are being given new financial and legal responsibilities along with the new legal liability at a time when their ability to fund these tasks is reduced by the increasing demands of the memberships to counteract many of the government's actions related to the elimination of public sector jobs.
These changes force unionized workers to fund complaints against their employers so that these employees will only be able to enforce their rights if their unions can afford to grieve the dispute. It is surprising that Bill 49 would require unionized workers to privately finance claims enforcing employment standards rights when the government itself will not spend needed funds to enforce these fundamental rights.
In summary, our brief has mainly focused on the amendments related to the new legal, financial and liability issues proposed by the provincial government. It has stated that this amendment is not beneficial for workers and their unions. The changes proposed to this act in general have the effect of reshaping the Employment Standards Act in several important ways.
As previously noted, these changes negatively alter the manner, duration and substance of claims under the act. All these changes seek to limit the ability of workers to enforce their rights under the law. The method by which an employee may recover against an alleged violation of the Employment Standards Improvement Act is significantly changed to limit the worker's ability to obtain full redress under the law. The substance of what may be claimed has been limited under Bill 49 so as to set a minimum and maximum amount that a claimant may obtain as a result of a violation of the act. Finally, the duration of acceptable claims has been shortened in order to reduce the amounts that may be recovered against employers who have violated the law. These changes will reduce the total amount workers may claim from their employers under the act.
As well, these changes will have the effect of forcing many non-union complainants to abandon the Ministry of Labour's dispute resolution system and opt into the court system for resolution of their disputes. Many workers will be unable to afford the financial expense and time required in private litigation. As a result, workers will simply not be able to enforce their employment standards rights and abandon their claim. Union members will be barred from launching a complaint under the investigatory and enforcement powers of the Employment Standards Act. As a result, unions will be faced with new financial and legal obligations that cause difficulty for unions attempting to enforce all their members' employment standards complaints. In summary, employers will face fewer complaints as a result of these changes.
Several underlying themes arise throughout these amendments. The Ministry of Labour is attempting to rid itself of the cost and responsibility of enforcing the act. All the changes designed to channel complaints into the court or grievance arbitration system seem to help the ministry reduce its budget. The alteration to the collection system also aids the ministry in eliminating the cost of funding the enforcement mechanisms of the act. The outcome of this reduction of tasks is a parallel decline in the Minister of Labour's obligation to enforce the law. Clearly the government has signalled that it has little interest in maintaining employment standards for all its citizens.
Bill 49 repeatedly differentiates claimants on the basis of a worker's labour union status. Workers who happen to be union members are treated materially differently in terms of their substantive and procedural rights from non-union members. The changes to all workers' rights based on union membership is a beacon indicating an end to the universal basic workplace rights enjoyed by all workers in this province for approximately 30 years. Unionized employees will have their rights enforced through a procedure separate from their non-union counterparts. This change has negative implications for the equality of enforcement of employment standards legislation in unionized and non-unionized workplaces.
Finally, the elimination of the universal floor of rights for unionized workers, along with the numerous amendments limiting non-unionized employees from fully enforcing the law, indicates an effort by the government to erode the general level of employment standards in this province. Allowing employers with a bargaining agent the opportunity of setting workplace employment standards will only lead these employers to actually erode current safeguards. Employers will attempt to copy lower workplace standards of their non-union counterparts or attempt to contract out their services to private sector, non-union workplaces, which is currently happening to our health care services. These changes are detrimental to workers and unions alike.
The Hamilton-Burlington CUPE Health Care Workers Joint Action Committee stands in opposition to the changes proposed as briefly outlined. We ask the committee to seriously consider our submission during the process of redrafting this legislation. All of the above is respectfully submitted for your consideration. We thank you for your time.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much for a very interesting, thorough presentation, fairly significant and well researched by the four competent people here today, a very detailed report eminently able to represent its 450,000 members locally and nationally. In that respect I think you portray your position as somewhat weaker than it really is. I think you very ably represent your constituent groups.
I don't think this act is intended to deal with that. What it's trying to do under section 3 -- the minister has indicated that she will move to part two of the review of employment standards. Right now you make many decisions in your workplace. For example in health care, very few health care workers actually work a 40-hour week. How come it's in the act that it's 40 or 48 hours required? I'm saying there's all kinds of vacation, day-off entitlement, relief time, training time, all those kinds of working conditions which you more than capably represent.
I think what they're trying to do is give you more empowerment to work with your employer. I'd ask you the question -- you deal in the public sector primarily -- are those unfair employers? The municipal governments, the hospitals, the volunteer boards of those hospitals, libraries and other facilities -- are they what you would call unfair employers?
Ms Pat Whitfield: What do you mean by that? For instance, my local union is in a hospital. I'm the president of a local union. Currently, we have 700 outstanding grievances on violations against the collective agreement. That's a huge amount; that's just for this year.
Mr O'Toole: Those are grievances with respect to employment standards?
Ms Whitfield: No.
The Chair: We've got to stay on schedule. It was a very generous one minute.
Mr Hoy: I'll ask that question. Could you very quickly categorize what those grievances might be?
Ms Whitfield: In my case, it's violations against our collective agreement. If you then dump employment standards on our local, we'll have I don't know how many more.
Mr Hoy: We don't have much time; I'll pass.
Mr Christopherson: Just to pursue that a little further, because I think it's an interesting road Mr O'Toole starts to take us down, you say that you have 700 outstanding grievances, and that's with a public board, to the extent that there is some accountability. You have a collective agreement which gives you rights and strengths and you have labour relations experts, supposedly, on the management side who understand the rules, and yet you still end up with 700 grievances. That's the kind of trouble you're facing. What do you suspect some of the workplaces must be like where there is no collective agreement, where there are just a very few employees who are perhaps immigrant workers, new Canadians, English isn't their first language, no collective agreement, and all they have is employment standards? What will their life possibly be like under this new law?
Ms Whitfield: I think there's a potential that it would be absolute hell, depending on the employer. I'm not saying that all employers out there are going to be violating the act, but we know there's a potential, and when there's no protection like a collective agreement, it's going to be worse.
Ms Fran Borsellino: I'd like to make a comment.
The Chair: Very quickly, please.
Ms Borsellino: With all the grievances that we have in Hamilton, we do have guidelines to follow under our collective agreements and the employers are having a very difficult time trying to follow our guidelines, as it is right now. Once you make these changes to the act, it's going to be much more difficult for unions and non-union employees to work out their disputes.
The Chair: Thank you all for taking the time to make a presentation before us here today.
TURKSTRA LUMBER CO LTD
The Chair: Our next presenter up is Mr Carl Turkstra from Turkstra Lumber Co, a fellow retailer. Good afternoon.
Mr Carl Turkstra: Let me begin briefly with some background information. My name is Carl Turkstra. I operate a lumber company in Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula, along with three manufacturing companies. We have 150 full-time employees. The average length of service is just about nine years. I believe we pay above-average salaries for our industry. We have a good benefits package and a profit-sharing policy. Our people work hard to help the company make a profit and we work hard to avoid layoffs and terminations.
Let me say that I have prepared two pieces of paper here. One of them is the statement that I'm reading and the other is a two-page summary in case you don't have the patience.
My company is not unionized. I have very little experience with firing anyone, let alone people who have worked for the company for many years. I can safely say that any employee who was forced to leave the company carried a good deal of responsibility for his situation. He may have built up his own business so that it conflicted with his performance in a serious way. He may have been promoted to a position which he was unable or unwilling to do properly, or to accept training to do that job. His job may have changed to become more complicated and he was unable or unwilling to adapt. He may have refused to take an alternative position even if we did not reduce his salary.
Except for cases of employee theft, we do not want to dismiss a long-term employee for cause within the very narrow definition of the act. It is too inhuman and too brutal. I believe the act should recognize an employee's responsibility for his own situation and not assume the fault is entirely with the employer. I do not know how this could be done, but it would be much more equitable than the present all-or-nothing situation.
In most cases, my company has been prepared to offer a termination settlement as specified in the act even though we do not think it is fair. After all, we and our employees have paid a fortune in unemployment insurance over the years and almost never used it. As a practical matter, I can live with the payment specified in the act to help a person find a new job. However, a person who has failed in a position, perhaps intentionally, should not be able to pocket a large sum of money for doing nothing and walk into a new job. Why should a person who does his job badly receive twice as much pay as someone who does his job well?
A very troubling situation is when someone finally leaves to operate his own successful business. For some time, his behaviour caused serious problems to us as he built up his business on our time. If he will not resign, we have to force the issue. We have to find and train his replacement. We are the injured party, not the employee.
I had two cases where I believe an individual deliberately set out to be terminated and even hired a lawyer to plan strategy before we initiated discussions. In my opinion, severance payments should be seen as damages under the law and paid out on a regular basis until they run out or the recipient finds a new position. During this period of severance an employee should be required to look for a new job, and when the severance runs out the employee can of course start to collect unemployment insurance.
An even greater problem than the amount and method of payment of severance is the poisonous environment in which termination now takes place. Like divorce, termination of a long-term employee is a traumatic experience for everyone, including all the other employees. Through newspaper articles and the advice they give potential customers, some lawyers are systematically undermining the act.
The act sets minimum limits on company payroll and length of service before severance must be paid. Some lawyers tell their clients that everyone is eligible no matter how short a period they may have worked or what they have done to cause their dismissal. The act sets a standard of one week's pay per year of service. Some lawyers state in newspaper articles and advise their clients to expect one month per year.
In situations where employees have individual contracts or collective agreements, business is protected from civil action as long as they honour their agreements. Businesses without labour contracts are fully exposed to the machinations of ambulance chasers.
In the few cases I have dealt with -- and I must say I am not a major victim of this problem; I'm simply objecting here on principle -- we've had grounds for dismissal for cause, but would rather reach an equitable settlement. If negotiations fail and lawyers get involved, I have little choice but to dismiss for cause since they will sue me no matter what I do. So far, no former employee ended up with more money than the amounts we would have offered in the first place. However, lawyers on both sides did very well, in one case receiving more than the former employee.
The most pernicious wrinkle now being promoted by the legal profession and apparently being supported by the courts is "constructive dismissal." This theory holds that if an employee does not do his job well or if his job no longer exists, an employer cannot give him a lesser job or lower his status below his former peers even if his income is maintained. Essentially, one is not allowed to hurt an employee's feelings, even if he richly deserves it. Under such principles of constructive dismissal, a Premier could not shuffle his cabinet.
If I understand them correctly, the proposed changes to the act are a significant improvement. They reduce time limits for complaints under the act and prohibit employees from filing both a civil action and a complaint under the act. I would suggest that these limitations be broadened in two ways:
First, a person who accepts a cheque for severance pay as prescribed in the act from an employer should not be able to go to the civil courts later for more money. The director should not always have to be involved to prevent separate civil action.
Secondly, the concept of constructive dismissal should either be prohibited or clearly defined. An employer simply must have the right to demote supervisory personnel who perform inadequately and to offer alternative employment when reorganizations occur.
Those of us who do not have formal contracts with our employees depend on the Legislature to set reasonable rules that are fair to all parties. We also depend on you to protect us from predatory professionals who are making a very difficult situation even worse.
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): Thank you, Mr Turkstra. I want to congratulate you for your presentation. A man like you deserves to be congratulated for the type of business that you're operating, especially in the lumber business.
With regard to the fact that this law will give or authorize the employer to extend the number of workweek hours, do you think there's a chance that accidents would happen more often and then your WCB fees would increase by the fact that being at work longer hours there's definitely a chance of more accidents?
Mr Turkstra: It depends to a certain extent on the job. A retail sales clerk would not be a problem. I would think that in some of the manufacturing operations the longer hours increase risk when we have overtime and so on. People get very tired. We're not supposed to say this, but especially the older people find they cannot work as long as some of the younger people can. Yes, I would say there is a risk of that. As a policy, in my company we discourage it.
Mr Lalonde: What's your feeling on the fact that we want to privatize the collection of the arrears or the other --
Mr Turkstra: I'm not a lawyer or an expert. My judgement would be that an individual should be able to look to the government to help him force his employer to obey the law, if that answers your question.
Mr Lalonde: But at the present time will be able to hire the private collection agency instead of going through the government.
Mr Turkstra: I would say that most of the people I deal with are not able to deal with that financially. They're not qualified as people to deal with that kind of process. I think they really have to depend on the government; otherwise they'll have no recourse.
Mr Christopherson: Interesting presentation. Two questions only: One is rhetorical and I don't expect an answer. Your thoughts on the other would be appreciated. The first one is, given some of the shots you've taken at lawyers, I just wondered if your relative Herman Turkstra, the lawyer, had a chance to see this before you presented it.
Secondly, on page 4, the third paragraph from the top that begins, "In situations where employees have individual contracts or collective agreements, business is protected from civil action as long as they honour their agreements. Businesses without labour contracts are fully exposed to the machinations of `ambulance chasers.'" Would not one solution to that be to encourage employers and employees to enter into a collective agreement by forming a union in the workplace?
Mr Turkstra: That's a very deep question. Essentially, I'm one of those people who runs my business very much in detail. I really do not find room in there to share that responsibility and authority with anybody else, so I would rather not have to deal with an official union organization. But if that's what my employees chose to do, that's what I would do.
With respect to my brother, he practises litigation of a different kind and he always disagrees with everything I do.
Mr Christopherson: I'm glad you have answered.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you, Mr Turkstra. It would appear to me, from reading and listening to your presentation today, that you are indeed a very progressive employer. I would suggest also that with your conservative approach with employees and the outlook, it would appear to me that you're looking after your employees. I guess the question I want to ask you is, workplace harmony, getting along with the people who are working for you -- like profit-sharing, that progressive move -- does that motivate and encourage productivity?
Mr Turkstra: The answer's yes. I think that everything you do to establish good communications with staff at all levels and kind of an open organization and the idea that they have a vested interest in the success of the company, all of that encourages commitment to hard work, and in my case the commitment to looking after the customers, which of course is what we're all about.
Mr O'Toole: That's just excellent. I can't compliment you enough, and I mean that sincerely. I'm sure you had it in here, but how long has your business been in operation?
Mr Turkstra: Forty-two years.
Mr O'Toole: Forty-two years, and you intend to be long. Do you see the world of work and the nature of work -- you're trying to respond to customers, right? Have you altered your hours of the business being open or provided service to the customers by having to respond to the demands of customers?
Mr Turkstra: We responded to the movements of the competition and then we did a survey to see whether it did us any good and decided that basically it doesn't. We never open on Sundays. Nothing will make us open on Sundays.
Mr O'Toole: Isn't that the right place to make decisions, in the specific workplace? We were speaking earlier with CUPE workers and those employers and employees don't have the option of, say, closing a hospital on a Sunday. In your case as a person of private business, you're able to make those decisions, it would appear, in cooperation with the employees. You consulted with them.
Mr Turkstra: We don't have a very formal structure so it's very hard to say. Do we talk about it before we do it? The answer's yes. We talk to the managers, the managers talk to their people, and we have never had any problem whatsoever with employees having a problem with our hours.
Mr O'Toole: I think the employment standards is really trying to get into that very kind of empowerment for the participants in the workplace.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Turkstra. We appreciate it.
Mr Baird: If I could, just on a point of order, Mr Chair, indicate to Mr Turkstra, all of the Hansard will be going for the full review of the Employment Standards Act. Many things you mentioned aren't in the bill, nor that of presenters earlier today, but that will be going in and there will be a complete review of the act over the next eight months.
GOLDEN HORSESHOE SOCIAL ACTION COMMITTEE
The Chair: Our next group up will be the Golden Horseshoe Social Action Committee. Good afternoon. As you've heard me say countless times, 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit, and please be kind enough to introduce yourselves for Hansard.
Mr Gerald Diffin: I'm Gerald Diffin and with me is Rev Robert Wright. We're going to jump right in. Who we are is part of the package. You can read it if you're interested.
Thank you, Mr Chair and committee members, for the opportunity to comment on the bill. I'm not going to comment on any individual clauses in this bill but will give my opinion on the message this bill sends.
First, if business leaders have requested this type of legislation from the provincial government, it tells me that they aren't skilled enough to compete without exploiting their employees.
Second, the government, by entertaining this type of bill, admits it doesn't have the skills required to govern a province where both business and workers can prosper.
Third, the government spin on this bill and Bills 7 and 26 is that the province is open for business. But what it attracts is business that exploits not only its workers but also its suppliers, customers, the environment and governments that it deals with. This type of business usually doesn't prosper and when it closes creates financial chaos in the community. In the small community I grew up in and worked in for 60 years, the business that had the reputation of exploiting its employees and the environment didn't last very long.
Fourth, when the Premier goes on a sales junket to countries he is hoping Ontario can export to, he is telling them that the quality of Ontario goods is suspect. In my working life I have worked in retail, construction, heavy industrial, some places unionized and others not. Even in unionized shops some people for various reasons are more vulnerable than others and get abused and exploited, but in almost every instance these people get even. Unhappy workers produce products of varying quality. Evidence the days of protest and withdrawing of services of doctors.
To sum up, Bill 49 allows employers more leeway to exploit the most vulnerable Ontarians. My feeling is that government that isn't committed to protect all of its citizens from unscrupulous employers, retail sales people and criminals, supply them with a clean, safe environment and help them to live a healthy and fulfilling life isn't fit to govern.
Bill 49 does nothing to address the issue of abuses in the workplace. Thank you.
Mr Robert Wright: As my friend Mr Diffin has indicated, my name's Robert Wright. I'm a minister and also a community development worker, at present unemployed in both capacities. I shouldn't say I'm unemployed; I just don't get any wages for what I'm doing. I've indicated in the personal comments which I've made by introduction why it is I happen to be in this situation.
I was asked to just reflect a little bit on my experience as a pastor within a congregation that's in the city of Welland. I served there for 26 years between 1959 and 1985 before going west to work with my denomination out there on a regional basis, then had a year and a half in Jamaica.
When I came to Welland in 1959, I found that there were many people who had gone through the experience of the Depression years and the early war years who were subjected to all sorts of exploitation and discrimination. Abuse is the only word that can be used for it. They worked hard to build up their unions and the churches worked with them, other community groups, and business people worked along with them to see that they had unions and the protection which unions could give.
Although the Niagara region has a high percentage of the population who are unionized, there were a lot who fell outside that. So those who enjoyed the benefit of union membership wanted to share that with other people within the community and they worked hard on the legislative front by electing representatives to various levels of government who would represent them and also by trying to see that laws were enacted which would give protection to the most vulnerable.
There are many stories that are very unappetizing of the kind of things that happened in those early days before people had unions, before they worked for those kinds of legislative changes, stories of people who would be forced to make their wives available to their foreman in order that they could preserve their jobs and be able to put food on the table for their families -- virtual slavery in the situation. That's the kind of background that we come from.
We worked hard and we worked passionately to see that changes came about. As a pastor, on a daily basis I was having people come who were subjected to terrible conditions in their employment but who were unable to speak out safely because of threats and intimidation from employers. In order to protect their families they had to knuckle under to their bosses and not raise any complaints. So it was necessary to build some organizational, structural protection by which they would not be subjected to that, by which they could have protection.
We worked therefore in setting up different organizations, and I've listed those on the third page of my introductory remarks: a youth home; a cooperative nursery and day care centre; cooperative housing, and that's been well-established through Niagara Peninsula homes; Community Legal Services; Community Resource and Action Centre; Women's Place, all of which are dedicated to enhancing the wellbeing of people in community.
However, we are seeing increasingly these very important institutions in our society being undermined and destroyed. Just yesterday in the Welland paper it was noted that the housing help centre funding is being taken away by the provincial government. This means an agency which was helping people, the homeless people or people who were threatened with homelessness, that service is being taken away from them. The proposed changes to the employment standards legislation are just one more in a long series of attacks on the people of this province and this country.
We've been sitting through the hearings this morning and listening to various presentations, and I listened to everything that's said here from the point of view of the people who are subjected to that sort of attack. I myself, as I said, am presently unemployed because of cutbacks in the various agencies and areas. The type of work I have done all my life is even more badly needed than it has been, yet there isn't the funding to do it.
Yes, there is a new economy. I've heard that expression, a new world of work. But for those who are at the bottom of the economic scale, that new world of work does not bring any hope of a future. We meet people daily who are subjected to that situation. As I say, the changes that are proposed to the employment standards legislation seem to me potentially harming those very people for whom they were set up.
I would make the claim that far more is being done to destroy our country, Canada, by these actions of governments such as the Chrétien-Harris axis than by actions of separatists in the province of Quebec or anywhere else. The attack on our sovereignty as a highly respected country in the world family is coming from the fiscal and corporate separatists who are attempting to destroy the humane and caring social order we have built in Canada.
I've chosen my words carefully because the kind of separation that they are promoting, instead of the harmony of our society, which we have worked for over these years, the separation between the wealthy and the poor, those who are outcasts of this society and those who enjoy increasing affluence and increasing wealth, is doing more to destroy our country than any of the other things I've referred to.
It's because of my commitment to these ideals that I'm proud to be a part of the Golden Horseshoe Social Action Committee and that I'm pleased to be here today with my friend Mr Diffin, who has joined me in this presentation.
The brief of the Golden Horseshoe Social Action Committee is before you, and I think we'll just stop at this point in case there are any questions any of you have. Some people might have bits of disagreement with some of the things we've said.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have four and a half minutes, so one and a half minutes per caucus, and this round of questioning will commence with the third party.
Mr Christopherson: A couple of quick questions. I want to thank you both for your presentation. I noted that much of yours, Mr Wright, dealt with the issues of the Judaeo-Christian values as they apply to society and how one constructs a society. I wanted your opinion on why you think so many churches in Ontario, churches that normally try to stay at arm's length from the formal political process, have been speaking out more and more about, quite frankly, a democratically elected government's use of their majority to take the province down a certain path. I know they don't do that lightly. Can you give me your thoughts on why you think that's happening?
Mr Wright: You certainly are right when you say it's not done lightly. It's because there is in the basis of our Judaeo-Christian heritage the whole concept that because of the sinful nature of humankind, there's a tendency for the rifts between the poor and the rich to develop greater and greater -- the rich to get rich and the poor to get poor. So in the foundations of our faith, there's the principle of the year of jubilee, for instance, which is a time when everything will be redistributed, when there'll be an opportunity for everybody to start over again and sharing to take place.
Of course, in the New Testament, in the beginning of the Christian era, Jesus took up that concept and the whole concern for the poor. Those who were marginalized, in the terminology we use now, got priority. In the Roman Catholic Church, there is the emphasis on the preferential option for the poor, it's called, which is contained in the Scriptures, within the traditions, and it's this kind of motivation which is back of the emphasis which there is.
Just from a practical point of view, I've had ministers say to me they desperately need help because they've never experienced a situation where there was so much unemployment, so much hardship being experienced. They don't know how to deal with it. The various denominations are trying to give some guidance and support in that. I had a Roman Catholic priest who told me that within his congregation he has never seen so many middle-class, middle-income, middle-aged people who are leading lives of quiet desperation because their whole life is being destroyed by what's happening in our society.
Mr Baird: I listened very intently to your comments and I enjoyed your brief and appreciated the time you took to come out. I appreciate more than anything, though, the orange paper that clearly lists the groups that are members of your network. Often we don't find out whom people are speaking for, so I certainly appreciated that, everything ranging from retirees to religious and other social groups.
Maybe just a comment, if anything, on your presentation, as to what our motives are as a government. You mentioned briefly some broader political issues and economic issues and what not and the work you've done on them. Certainly our motivation is to try to turn the province around. We can certainly disagree, as I do with my friends on the committee, as to how we do that, but I think it's very important, just to respond to your comments, that it's very much our goal too.
We may go about it in very different ways, but certainly our goal is to create an Ontario that's prosperous, first and foremost one that creates jobs, because it's our very strong view that the best social program out there is a job. We realize that even a year after the election there are far too many people looking for work, and that's really the focus of many of our efforts. While we may share many of the end goals, maybe the means to the end are somewhat different, but that's very much our goal.
I think we all suffer, as a community, with economic and social programs and very much want to see them rectified. That's basically our motivation as a government. We spoke of the cuts. I don't know if there's a point to getting into a broader political debate. We have one way of doing it. We felt the way that was used, the status quo, wasn't working and that we had to try a different way. I suppose we'll be held accountable to that with the voters. Anyway, thank you very much for your presentation.
Mr Wright: Mr Diffin had a comment on that.
The Chair: I'm afraid Mr Baird used his whole time, so you can incorporate it in your answer to Mr Hoy, perhaps.
Mr Hoy: Perhaps we'll be able to do that. Thank you for your presentation. I appreciated it. It's a philosophical and realistic look at what's happening today as it pertains to this bill.
In my conversations particularly with nurses I find that the stress levels, they tell me, among the public are rising almost to a point of mental disabilities, so I appreciate much of what you said. If you care to make that last comment on the record, go ahead.
Mr Diffin: All I want to say is that I keep hearing, "We have to fix it." We don't agree with what you're doing. We think it's wrong, but you have the position to implement what you do. Are you willing to commit yourself? In a year or two years, if what you're doing doesn't work, will you try and fix it again or will you stay down the same path? Somebody's going to be right in this and somebody's going to be wrong. Are you going to be man enough to admit that you're wrong if you are wrong? I'll admit I'm wrong if I am.
Mr Baird: We're very fortunate that we not only have to admit it, but the ultimate judgement will be made by the people, rightly or wrongly. The people of Ontario will make the ultimate judgement as to whether we've been successful. I do hope though, taking your point well, that we have the courage to admit --
Mr Diffin: I don't want the people to make the decision. I want you to stand up and say that you are wrong. I'll say it if I'm wrong. You will say it if you're wrong.
Mr Baird: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you both for taking the time to come before us here today.
CANADIAN AUTO WORKERS, LOCAL 504
The Chair: The next group up will be the Canadian Auto Workers, Local 504. Good afternoon. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit between presentation time or questions and answers.
Mr Andrew Paterson: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you. I will read through the brief. The brief is not as large as it appears. There are some logistics at the back that you can study at your leisure.
As an introduction, who are we? We are Local 504 of CAW Canada. We represent close to 2,000 families that have members working in the following companies: in Hamilton, Camco, Westinghouse and Brown Boggs; in Burlington, BIW Cable, Hoover, Fisher and Ludlow, Northrop Grumman and Tallman Bronze; and in Dundas, El-Met Parts. I have been the president of this local for some 15 years now. We, as a local, were chartered by the United Electrical Workers in 1937 and merged with CAW in 1993. As you can see, we've been around for almost 60 years.
We understand that our national organization, CAW Canada, has presented a comprehensive brief to this standing committee on resources development. We merely wish to add our support to the CAW brief in its entirety and present some simple views from the local's perspective.
History teaches us, or should teach us, that to understand changes to or introduction of legislation to govern a people, one should be conversant with the conditions extant during that period of change to allow for knowledgeable conclusion as to the necessity and/or justification of the action.
Our position: The written brief and the attendance before this committee are designed to clearly and unequivocally communicate our opposition to the contents of Bill 49. Our opposition to this proposed legislation is based on four crucial points of contention:
Bill 49 dismantles the long-standing guarantee found in the Employment Standards Act against any person contracting out of workplace standards.
Bill 49 seriously limits, and in some circumstances denies, workers access to justice and the proper enforcement of the standards that remain in the statute.
Bill 49 continues this government's destructive agenda of privatizing public services without regard to the consequences upon the community at large and the government's employees who are terminated from employment as a result.
Bill 49 fails to address the desperate need for progressive improvements to the current set of workplace standards found in the statute.
As a background to the circumstances we reproduce here, as you can see, a small synopsis from the Spectator as to the deterioration of real wages in the 1990s.
We now refer to Ontario's stagnant economy: Are labour laws really the problem? What is the rationale for weakening employment standards in Ontario as we approach the 21st century? Underlying the government's proposal is the claim by many businesses, although not all, that labour laws are impeding their efficiency and competitiveness and hence undermining business investment and employment. Relax the constraints and obligations governing employers, the argument goes, and they will be better able to thrive in the competitive marketplace. Investment, jobs and growth will be the payoff. Workers will have to do their jobs in less hospitable and less safe work environments, but at least more of them will be working.
Little evidence beyond the unsubstantiable claims of particular business leaders is offered, however, to support the argument that Ontario's labour laws and employment standards have in any measurable way stood in the way of higher employment or faster economic growth. Indeed, it is highly questionable that Ontario's economic problems have anything do with the alleged lack of competitiveness and flexibility of business whatsoever.
Ontario's employers are already highly cost-competitive within the Canadian and continental marketplaces, at least with regard to labour costs. It is not a failure of competitiveness and profitability that is constraining our further growth. If anything, it is a failure of the business sector's success to spread through the rest of the economy that is holding back growth and employment. The further erosion of employment standards, by ultimately forcing workers to work harder and longer for less pay, can only exacerbate this problem.
There is a figure 1 on page 46 which indicates the already lopsided nature of the current economic recovery in Ontario. Since the trough in the last recession, Ontario's real GDP has grown at a sluggish annual rate of 3.1%. Only two major sectors of demand have grown faster than this annual rate: business investment in machinery and equipment, annual growth rate of 6.9%; and Ontario's booming exports, annual growth rate of 11.2%. These are the sectors of our economy that are most sensitive to considerations of cost-competitiveness, flexibility and profitability, and it has been in these sectors that our weak recovery has been rooted.
Domestic demand, on the other hand, has been weak and continues to act as a drag on further economic expansion. Consumer spending has grown more slowly than GDP as a whole. This is quite unusual, since consumer spending typically accelerates during the recovery phase of the business cycle. The government sector has been stagnant and during the past year has shrunk notably. Investment in housing and non-residential construction has collapsed. These domestic sectors of our economy, accounting for 85% of total demand, depend not so much on business competitiveness and flexibility as on wage and salary incomes, the taxes that are paid from those incomes and consumer confidence. These have all been undermined by downsizing and layoffs in both the private and public sectors and a continued atmosphere of impending doom among many consumers.
Other direct evidence verifies the enhanced competitiveness of Ontario on grounds of labour costs. As indicated in figure 2, which is attached, hourly total compensation costs, including wages, fringe benefits and payroll taxes, in Canada's manufacturing industry, centred in Ontario, are almost 10% lower than in the US. This represents an improvement of close to 20% since 1991, when an overvalued exchange rate priced Canada's manufacturers out of the newly unified FTA marketplace.
Indeed, the improvement in Canada's cost position is due primarily to the subsequent correction of the exchange rate to a more sustainable level. This suggests again that business leaders are barking up the wrong tree when they call for weaker labour laws in order to ease the competitive constraints they face. The big-ticket, macroeconomic issues such as exchange rates, interest rates and aggregate demand conditions are the dominant factors that deserve the main attention.
Within Canada, Ontario's labour cost-competitiveness has been almost exactly stable, again as illustrated in the attached figure 3. Real wages in Ontario have only kept pace with wages elsewhere in Canada; a continuing small but stable wage premium in Ontario of about 60 cents per hour reflects only the higher cost of living in this province, as well as the concentration of higher-productivity industries here. There is no evidence that changes to labour laws or employment standards enacted by previous provincial governments in any way undermined Ontario's cost-competitiveness within Canada. The recent rebound in Canadian manufacturing output, and to a lesser extent manufacturing employment, has been concentrated in Ontario-based industries, notably auto assembly and parts production. This further testifies to the continuing attractiveness of Ontario as a site for the location of mobile industries.
Perhaps the most notable feature of recent wage trends in Ontario, as well as in the rest of Canada, is the continued stagnation of real wage levels, a development unprecedented in post-war economic recoveries. As summarized in figure 4, real hourly wages in Ontario have increased by a feeble 0.7% since 1992. In contrast, the real value of output per employed person in Ontario, a standard measure of productivity, has grown by over 5% during the same period: over seven times as fast. If anything, workers are receiving far too small a share of the output they produce with greater efficiency year after year. Even many business economists now admit that this weakness in real wages is a dominant factor undermining growth. Weakening employment standards legislation so that for example some workers will no longer receive holiday pay for working on statutory holidays or that other workers will have greater difficulty obtaining back pay owed them by employers will only worsen this problem.
Growing productivity, enhanced competitiveness and stagnant wages -- all this translates into a tremendously lopsided distribution of the gains of economic growth. As shown in figure 5, the growth of total wage and salary income has considerably lagged the growth in total GDP, growing by an average of 1.9% per year since 1991 versus 3.1% for GDP. It is little wonder that consumer spending has stagnated. Corporate profits, meanwhile, have exploded by an average of 17% per year during the same time. The argument that the corporate sector is shackled by burdensome regulations is completely at odds with the empirical evidence. Business is the only sector doing well in our present economy, and making things still easier for employers will hardly redress this imbalance.
In sum, what net impact will the erosion of employment standards have on the precariously unbalanced Ontario economy? Any purported improvements in the business sector will be more than outweighed by further weakness in wages and hence further weakness in both consumer spending, especially on big-ticket items like homes and cars, and income tax revenues. Domestic spending by consumers and government, and hence our overall economy, will continue to stagnate.
Of course, business leaders promise that more jobs will be created if their power over their employees is further enhanced. In responding to the demands of a competitive, stagnant marketplace, their lives are probably not made any easier by having to obey the rules and regulations governing fair employment practices. It is always easier to respond to competitive pressure by simply tightening the screws on the workforce than by developing more innovative products, new production methods, new marketing strategies etc. But the experience of the past five years has shown that business profitability and competitiveness do not translate automatically into a vigorous, well-rounded and sustainable economic recovery. Ontarians have been waiting a long time for the trickle-down effect; there is no reason to believe that undermining remaining legal protections in the workplace will do anything to hasten its arrival.
Given all of the above, the case has not been made for decreased protection but rather increased protection.
While we could agree that perhaps the preceding synopsis is all too short, we can reasonably conclude that if there was a need or rationale for change, a government with the welfare of its people as a priority would strengthen ESA rather than weaken it.
By the way, all of our employers named in our introduction are profitable; as a matter of fact, some of them have posted record profits each succeeding year in the 1990s and are heading for record profits in 1996.
We finish with just a thought: Confucius said, many years ago: "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of."
I thank you for your indulgence.
Mr Baird: Just a quick thank you for your presentation. I enjoyed particularly the charts in the back of your presentation, certainly something I'll take back.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation. There are various economists around the country who pinpoint certain areas of why the economy is going bad, but I'll tell you one that a man on the street told me is causing problems in the economy. I had not met him in many years and I said, "How are you?" He said, "I'm an OPSEU worker and I don't know if I'm going to have a job in the future." That's stifling the economy somewhat.
Mr Christopherson: Andy, thanks very much for the excellent presentation. In the few seconds I have I would just underscore the last bullet point on page 2, where you note, "Bill 49 fails to address the desperate need for progressive improvements to the current set of workplace standards found in the statute." I think the message there is that yes, there need to be changes made to this law, but they need to be progressive changes, which this isn't. Indeed, what needs to happen is a reversal of Bill 49, which is going to take away some of the rights that are already in there now.
Mr Paterson: I thoroughly agree.
The Chair: Thank you again, Mr Paterson.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 3906
The Chair: That leads us to the next group, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906. Good afternoon.
Ms Catherine Hudson: Good afternoon. By way of introduction, my name's Catherine Hudson. I'm the president of CUPE Local 3906, which represents 1,500 teaching assistants and part-time instructors at McMaster University. I'm also chair of the Ontario University Workers Co-ordinating Committee, which represents about 15,000 CUPE university workers throughout the province in diverse occupational groups: physical plant, library workers, foodservices, support staff, teaching assistants, sessionals, part-time instructors.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to make this brief presentation on Bill 49 and bring my concerns about this proposed legislation to your attention. I'll be looking at a specific aspect of this bill in the context of the Conservative agenda for Ontario.
I'll stray from what's written here to note with interest what I learned from the paper yesterday and today about certain proposals being temporarily withdrawn, as I understand it; that is, proposals that would allow employers and unions to negotiate standards for work hours, statutory holidays, overtime and severance. The minister apparently told the Legislative committee that while the provision is being dropped she still supports the idea and it will reappear later this fall when a more comprehensive review of the act is launched. She is quoted as saying, "Given that there will be a fuller discussion about the framework of employment standards during the upcoming review of the act, we believe this provision should be considered in the context of these future discussions." So clearly "temporarily withdrawn" is what I understand from the information here.
I'm going to speak specifically to those aspects of the proposed changes because I certainly think they will reappear in the fall. I would like to take the opportunity to urge the government and this committee not to reintroduce these particular aspects of the proposals in the fall. Currently the law forbids a collective agreement to maintain any provision that's inferior to the working conditions contained in the Employment Standards Act. This measure maintained a historic notion of an overall minimum standard of workplace rights for all workers. Prior to the enactment of legislation that regulated aspects of the workplace, employers and employees were governed by common law. Individual parties to an employment relationship were entitled to enter into any negotiated employment relationship that was not considered illegal. In practical terms, this meant that employers used their superior economic power to impose poor working conditions on their employees.
In the 19th century that started to change. A long time ago it was recognized by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that this was a clear imbalance of power, and action was taken to begin, at least, the long, slow process of changing that imbalance of power by creating workplace standards in areas such as health and safety and minimum wages for women and children. Various pieces of minimum workplace standards legislation were consolidated ultimately into the current Employment Standards Act in 1968.
The philosophy behind the legislation grew with the inclusiveness of its statutory terms. The law accepted the inalienable right of all workers to labour in a workplace that provided minimum standards of decency. Thus, the legislation now provides basic employment standards for the vast majority of Ontario's workers relating to specifically minimum wages, maximum hours of work and overtime, public holidays, paid vacations and severance pay, among other items.
The Bill 49 proposals, which I'm given to understand have temporarily been put on hold, should they be reintroduced in this comprehensive overview, will erode this historic development in Ontario's labour law by permitting the workplace parties to contract out of important employment standards guarantees. The ESIA proposes to allow a collective agreement to override the legal minimum standards concerning all those aspects of work if the collective agreement "confers greater rights...when those matters are assessed together." Employers would be enabled to disregard this previous floor of rights and have the opportunity to attempt to manipulate such provisions as overtime pay, public holidays, vacation and severance pay in exchange, for example, for increased hours of work. This change, should it be brought back into the proposals, effectively would allow private parties to create a set of employment standards, a task traditionally -- and for good reason -- reserved for the Legislature.
The question -- and this is one of many -- of how labour unions and employers are to measure whether or not a negotiated agreement confers greater rights when assessed together is unanswered in the law which introduces the idea. This will become an issue in its own right. Collective agreements which already have enhanced rights could theoretically have concessions imposed on them and yet comply with the new ESA. Parties are being asked to value and compare non-monetary rights, such as hours of work, with purely monetary rights, such as overtime and severance, with mixed rights, such as vacation pay and public holidays.
Thus, by statute, concession bargaining is encouraged and as a result different parties, private parties, will be legislating different sets of employment standards rights for each workplace. What were formerly minimum benefits protected by law will now become permissible subjects for bargaining, labour board hearings, arbitration hearings, as well, of course, as strikes. This is a prescription for poor labour relations and increased conflict. In small bargaining units particularly, with relatively little bargaining strength, the erosion in minimum entitlements will negatively affect standards of living and working conditions for families throughout the province.
For university workers, these amendments, whether temporarily on hold or not, are particularly provocative. Universities are at the mercy of this government. The quality of mercy in this case has been very strained -- to the tune of $400 million in cuts to the post-secondary sector so far. To date, the universities have responded by using the tools handed to them by this government, raising tuition as one example. I have no doubt that as employers the universities will also find that these amendments to the Employment Standards Act have handed them yet more tools with which to deal with the crisis invented by the government. Many of us are going into bargaining where we will find out whether or not the concessionary amendments to the ESA will be utilized.
In the context of the overall Conservative agenda this particular aspect of Bill 49 adheres faithfully to the philosophy of privatization, as do other aspects that I'm not addressing here. Employment standards will be privatized since this piece of legislation provides no basic floor of rights on the issues I've highlighted. Bill 49, in some of its other aspects, also coincides with this government's desire to downsize itself and leave matters previously held to be public in the hands of private interests -- specifically employers' interests. Government is apparently no longer interested in guaranteeing basic workplace standards for working people. Working people will now have to negotiate those standards for themselves, to the best of their ability and collective strength.
In Bill 49, as in previous legislation such as Bill 7 and the comprehensive enabling legislation of Bill 26, the government has shown clearly that it has no interest in furthering the public good of the many; it has aligned itself firmly with the private gain of a few. In this respect, it is redefining the role of government as it has existed in Ontario for many decades.
To conclude briefly, in the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act, as in other legislative changes already completed or contemplated by this government, we are indeed seeing a revolution turning back to the 19th century.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation. We don't have much time here for questions, but I noted that you said there would be different sets of employment standards rights for each workplace. If that is the case, would there not over time be a domino effect where eventually we could move to the lowest denominator of employment standards?
Ms Hudson: Clearly, and I think that would clearly be the effect.
Mr Hoy: That's of concern?
Ms Hudson: Obviously of concern, and I'm speaking from the position of a unionized group, to the non-unionized employees, I think collective agreements may be, through this concessionary encouragement by statute, negotiated down to non-union and the general level should decline, I would think.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Catherine, for an excellent presentation. I wanted to ask you about the middle paragraph on page 5 where you state that "the government has shown clearly that it has no interest in furthering the public good of the many. It has aligned itself firmly with the private gain of a few." Could you expand on that in the few moments that we have?
Ms Hudson: In a few moments I don't know how much I could expand on that. I think I addressed this more specifically in my Bill 26 presentation, where it seems that the downloading of the agenda of downsizing itself seems to be specifically aimed at the private good of a small minority.
Generally speaking, if the public services are cut and more privatization takes place, the trickle-down effect is clearly to the vast majority of people, whether they feel it in the form of non-access to services through user fees or the non-existence of services. Try to get through on some of those phone lines, for instance, if you're a parent looking for support from a delinquent spouse. These kinds of things are just disappearing, and they affect broad numbers of people. Who do they benefit? Ultimately, who benefits by this? It's very difficult to see, in the case of this specific amendment to the ESA, who benefits other than employers, and the greater benefit will go to the larger and more powerful on the whole.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): You begin with an interesting background of the history, and I appreciate having that put before us. Behind this I have the submission made by the information technology group yesterday in Toronto. As I listen to your presentation, something that I'm troubled by, and I've heard it again more this morning, is the difficulty -- I can relate to the arguments that you're putting forward and I can empathize with them in part as they relate to traditional kinds of employment. One can talk in terms of whether you're on the smelter floor, whether you're in the sawmill, wherever you may be, or university office, but there's a significant change taking place.
Like Mr Christopherson, I'll turn you to page 5, because the phrase that suddenly hit me against what they had said was "workplace standards," and indeed the whole issue of "workplace" is now becoming a major concern. The minister is trying to sort of read the future as change of work takes place, and I'm wondering how you address that, because the attempt to deal with what you call concession bargaining is trying to recognize the fact of the traditional modes of labour changing, and the traditional ways of interpreting the standards of employment also being attacked. How do we deal with that in a way that recognizes distance work?
Ms Hudson: Many of my members are engaged in delivering distance education. What standards don't change are standards that people need to pay the rent, need to be able to pay for the groceries. Whether they do that by working out of an office in their basement or they do it by working on the shop floor, guaranteed minimum standards must exist. And I haven't even addressed the issue of enforcement, which is a whole other thing. Whose responsibility is it to guarantee to the public that there are minimum employment standards? In my view and in the historic behaviour and interpretation of government's own role in this province, it has been the government's developed responsibility to guarantee minimum workplace standards.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate you coming before us here today.
The Chair: That brings us to Mr Ed Gould as the next presenter. Good afternoon.
Mr Ed Gould: Good afternoon. I'd like to thank the committee for giving me this time. My brief will probably be brief. I don't have much detail; I have four pages here. I'm just here today representing myself. I'm not paid by any business group or union. I'm here on behalf of my family. With what I've been reading in the papers lately and looking over different notes, I think what this government plans to do with these changes to the standards act is just terrible.
Anyway, there was no day care today, so I had to bring this fellow up here. He's the future. So I'm a little bit upset at that. I can understand why some of the women with no day care can't participate. The other thing is that I don't see anything here on this agenda about evening. I had to take time off work to come here today. Unfortunately, my daughters and my wife had to work and their employers wouldn't let them have time off. So I can definitely see how this standards act could be changed and could be detrimental to the workers of this province in the future.
I'm also here because when I first called up to make some time, I realized that the Niagara region was basically cut out. There was no time given or dates or anything in the region of Niagara, and there's over 400,000 people there. But like I said, I'm just here today representing myself and my family.
Bill 49, as far as I'm concerned -- I've got the act here; I was going through it. It would be nice if they put it in plain English, just plain English. Common sense would be plain English. Could you tell Mike that -- plain English? Because it would be nice for us plain people.
Anyway, I'd like to say that basically Bill 49 would weaken workers' rights all across Ontario. Big, powerful corporations that make profits, that have the dollar advantage, along with the law firms to back them up when it comes to stepping on workers on the shop floors and across the hallways of the offices -- I believe the Minister of Labour, the Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, is wrong when it comes to the Employment Standards Act and making any kind of changes. It took many years for workers to build on the previous act, and I hope this one doesn't pass.
I can just see by going through this here right now that you're putting a ceiling on claims. I don't know if you're a worker or not, but when you don't have money, it's pretty upsetting. If you can afford a lawyer, you're stuck with somebody else defending for you. Maybe they decided to defend for a little less. I notice there's something about a cap at $10,000, rather than the whole amount. I notice that you're trying to squeeze the time from two years to six months, which I believe is basically really inappropriate, considering looking at the Small Claims Court. Really, can this be true that workers deserve less? Is this government willing to give us less protection as workers? It's shame on you.
I actually believe that you should be stepping forward into the future and looking at the common sense. The common sense would tell us not longer hours of work, but shorter hours of work. You can obviously see if 300 workers working three shifts could be combined into 200 workers working two shifts, it would be a net loss of 100 jobs. It will be hard to explain that there will be 100 people out of work because other workers are working 12-hour shifts or 10-hour shifts. I believe the unemployment in this province is a shame and a shambles. You've got the 10% unemployed out there looking for jobs. I think it's this government's duty to actually shorten the workweek to 32 hours, which would better shorten the UI lines in this province. The old 48-hour week hasn't worked. A mandated reduction by this government would immediately, at once, put thousands of Ontarians back to work -- thousands -- and the level playing field would be 32 hours a week.
I believe this government is playing fastball in a pool of sharks. We as workers are being left in the water without a life support system to defend our rights. Shame on you again. What about the persons who can't defend themselves because of human barriers? I see nothing in this bill about that at all.
The word "housekeeping": That's a shame. It's just a new buzzword which is only a play on words by this government concerning the Employment Standards Act. This word is being used to reduce workers' rights in this province by the Mike Harris government. Shame on you again. And let me tell you something. If I was to tell you today that tomorrow you're coming to work at 4 o'clock and you don't have an option, what would you do today? Can you answer that question? Because my daughters are going through this right now, for all this part-time work that you guys are making.
Again, you want to decrease the size of government; you're going to leave a pool of workers out there trying to defend themselves with millions of dollars lost in wages. I can personally sit at this table here and talk about incidents with my daughters and my entire life.
And now you want to turn it over to private collection agencies that will charge money to find money that I already should get? It's a shambles. It's a disgrace.
Like I said before, I'm sitting here for my family. They couldn't be here today because they couldn't get time off work. I don't see that in the bill there, where it says I can demand time off for family activities or even coming here today and speaking on this.
What about public holidays? Under the past, at least you had them. What about the protection for any worker who doesn't want to work Canada Day? Would you defend Canada Day off, with the employer saying, no, you are going to work Canada Day? Can you answer that today?
Where's the protection for employees who are abused concerning shifts? I also believe that the crimes that some of these corporations are leaving in businesses to individual employees, the fines are not big enough. I think they should be tripled so they'll stop doing it.
It's only the government with law and order that's able to enforce Ontario labour laws. What you're doing as a government is you're putting the wolves in charge of the chicken coop. That's what you're doing. And that's my short brief.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Mr Gould, for your presentation. We had someone earlier who came forward saying they didn't represent any particular organization, either corporate association or union, but did go on to espouse the virtues of this bill. It's good to see a private citizen come forward and make the similar case that they don't represent anyone other than their own family.
I think it's also, quite frankly, sir, a good example and lesson for the government members to begin to see some of the frustration that is beginning to take hold as the lack of common sense in the Common Sense Revolution is beginning to become clearer and clearer to the general population.
I don't know that I have any particular questions for you, other than to say that there's very little you said that I and my colleagues don't agree with in terms of the impact of the overall agenda that this government has for the people of Ontario and its implications for the average working person and their family. All I can say to you quite frankly is that we will continue to share those beliefs and will continue to do what we can.
You talked about the lack of the legislation helping you and your family to be here today. You need to know that this government not only thought this was only minor housekeeping; they didn't think this bill was important enough to have public hearings. They were going to ram it through in a few weeks before the summer recess of the Legislature and it was only because we pushed them and embarrassed them and forced them to admit that there's more here than just minor housekeeping that we even got these public hearings. So there's a lesson to be learned in terms of the process around Bill 49, not just the substance. I thank you, sir, for taking the time and making your deputation the way you have.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you, Mr Gould, for your sincere presentation. I sense a degree of frustration. I just want to ask a couple of specific things and maybe draw some things to your attention, outside of rhetorical comments.
In the act, those workplaces that have a collective agreement would not be able to negotiate less than the current standard collectively, when you look at it. When you're looking at overtime entitlements, it could mean time off in lieu, depending on the workplace, which could address the issue of your daughters and your family needs and individual needs, as opposed to setting provincial standards that "thou must."
Many workplaces are changing, would you agree, today? Firemen work 12-hour shifts; police, nursing, public service, the service sector industries, universities -- I'm not sure what they've been doing for the past four months. My daughter goes to university. She only goes six months. I'm not sure what they're all doing for the other six months. Do you understand? The world of work is drastically changing. Would you make that concession?
Mr Gould: I would certainly say that it's changing, but not for the better, sir. I would also like to remind you --
Mr O'Toole: No. We've only been in for a year. We're trying to improve it.
Mr Gould: -- I'm not speaking here on behalf of unions. My daughters do not work in any unionized facility. They work in places where they can't stand up to their employer now because their shifts are changed daily. They don't know next week what they're working. They don't know whether they're working the holidays. That's why I'm here. I'm upset. They couldn't come here today because, I'll tell you, one of them would rip the skin off your back.
Have you ever been terminated at 9 o'clock in the morning on Friday? You go in, everything's peachy, and then that's it on Friday morning. Then you've got to go through and find lawyers and you've got to go through the department, which quite frankly wasn't good enough in the past.
Mr O'Toole: It's frustrating, there's no question about it. I guess the other thing I wanted to talk --
The Chair: Sir, that's the last outburst I will tolerate from you.
Mr O'Toole: I have five children and they're all working. In fact, they were laid off and the rest of it too. It's difficult. There aren't enough jobs.
Your point I would like to perhaps pursue there would be, you mentioned a 32-hour week, which is widely touted in much of the labour literature you read. Would you be prepared to take a proportional reduction in pay? Let's say, as an employer -- and I think unions have a challenge to examine alterative work week arrangements.
For sure, job security, that's their mandate. I worked in a workplace, and I'll tell you, if you took one hour's overtime entitlement away from the employee, you'd be in trouble. They want the 48 and 50 hours a week. I've worked for a large company, both hourly and salary, and if you were to entitle people to 32 hours a week -- what's happened in the last 30 years since employment standards is, both members of the family are working, and they're working to pay the taxman to keep the social system and all the other demands of society in place.
So it's changing. I think you have to look at it realistically. The world of work is changing, and the regulations that guide that through the process have to respond.
Mr Hoy: I want to thank you for your presentation today. I did take note that you are concerned with the cap at $10,000 as a maximum. It gives me concern as well. We had a presentation the other day where the people were owed $23,000, not executive-type employees. It was suggested that perhaps those were the only type of wage earners who would go over that cap, so it's clearly not the case. People on incomes substantially less than what we'll call the executive wage can make claims for more and have in the past made claims for more than $10,000.
As well, there's been a great deal of concern about the enforcement of the act. I think, clearly, from your statements, that would be something that you would want, and certainly from your whole presentation, one can see that you are interested in maintaining minimum standards. I appreciate your comments.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Gould, for taking the time to come before us here today. We appreciate it.
UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 1005
The Chair: The next group up will be the United Steelworkers of America, Local 1005. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourselves for the Hansard reporter, please.
Mr Bob Sutton: I'm Bob Sutton, chairperson of the committee. This is Gary Howe.
Mr Gary Howe: Local 1005, United Steelworkers of America represents over 10,000 active and retired members at Stelco's Hilton works in Hamilton. On behalf of these members, the local is pleased to have the opportunity to present our concerns regarding the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act as proposed by the Minister of Labour in Bill 49.
When introducing Bill 49 on May 13, Labour Minister Elizabeth Witmer made the following statement: "...encourage the workplace parties to be more self-reliant in resolving disputes and make the act more relevant to the needs of today's workplace." She also stated, "They will also focus ministry attention on helping the most vulnerable workers." Nothing can be further from the truth than these statements.
The changes proposed -- and they are major changes -- will clearly benefit employers and deny justice to both unionized and non-unionized employees in this province. There is nothing in these proposed changes that will protect the rights of the most vulnerable workers. The changes will, however, make it easier for employers to deprive workers of their basic rights. The existing employment standards, which we consider minimal, have protected Ontario workers for several decades.
Mr Sutton: I want to comment here that in putting this brief together, our local's PAC only commented on a few of the issues. Quite frankly, we just don't have time in 15 minutes to present all of our concerns, so we've kept things short and are just dealing with a few issues. Go ahead, Gary.
Mr Howe: One of the major concerns that the local has with Bill 49 is the fact that it will allow companies to pressure unions to negotiate away minimum standards, providing the contract provides greater rights when all standards are assessed together. Will severance pay be negotiated away during good times, when workers feel they will never have to depend on it? This amendment will also allow employers to pressure unions to negotiate away rights which many new employees may be expecting to be part of their employment contract.
Mr Sutton: I want to comment on this too. A person takes a job and they can pick up the Employment Standards Act and they know what they should have at the workplace. However, if you switch jobs, maybe get a little better wage increase or you change jobs for a reason, you work there for five or six months and it gets to be summer, they're really busy and all of a sudden you find, "Hey, the union here has agreed to seven days a week work when we're busy," and you've got no way to balance your family and work life. There are just things you've grown to expect that may not be there, thanks to this kind of a bill.
Mr Howe: One of the most bitter strikes in recent Ontario history was the Radio Shack-Steelworkers' strike in 1981. One of the main issues of this first-contract strike was a wage increase of 10 cents an hour above minimum wage. If 10 cents an hour over minimum wage can be such a major issue, it would be easy to see all of the other standards, such as vacations, hours of work, statutory holidays and severance pay, becoming major bargaining issues as many employers try to reduce these basic rights. If Bill 49 is passed, Ontario will be the only province which will allow basic employee rights to be negotiated to below the legislated minimum.
Mr Sutton: Just on this Radio Shack strike, if, for instance, they were successful in getting a dime, that would be $200 a year. What would be stopping Radio Shack from also putting on the bargaining table, "Hey, we're going to take away the minimum vacation"? At that time, it was less than $4 an hour minimum wage; that would only be $160. "So you guys can have a dime raise, providing you give up a week of your vacation." That's the sort of thing that's going to be wide open, and there will be all kinds of bitter disputes over it.
Mr Howe: Unions may in the future, when trying to achieve some improvements to employment standards, find themselves being met with an employer demand to reduce one of the other standards to below the provincial minimum. The changes proposed in Bill 49 will cause greater labour-management conflict, rather than harmony.
Presently, the act allows an individual to make a complaint under the Employment Standards Act which is handled by the employment standards branch. The adjudication system is without cost to the parties. The orders are enforced by the legal department of the Ministry of Labour. An individual is free to file complaints with the employment standards branch without the approval, assistance or financial help from their union. The complaint is handled by the regional employment standards officer, who has the investigatory powers, who can conduct an inspection, audit or examination. The employment standards officer may attempt to mediate a settlement or make a binding decision on the matter in dispute. The system also permits unions to choose when they wish to devote time and resources to assisting employees in the resolution of alleged employment standards violations.
Bill 49 changes this. An employee covered by a collective agreement is not entitled to file a complaint. The complaint must be processed by the union through the collective agreement, grievance and arbitration procedure. The bill contemplates that an arbitrator paid by both the union and an employer will have all the powers now exercised by the employment standards officers, referees and adjudicators. This, unfortunately, is inaccurate. Arbitrators do not have the investigatory capability of the employment standards branch and will not be able to match the consistency of results that the act has had under public enforcement.
Mr Sutton: Just to show you something here, I've got a press release dated September 4, 1994. It's on the last page of the brief. I'll read the fourth paragraph:
"Under the Employment Standards Act, an employment standards officer has the right to request and receive access to any business records, including all payroll and employment records, that are now related to an investigation of a possible violation of the act."
Is this government prepared to let the unions have that kind of power, that we can walk in and look at our companies' business records? I don't think so, but it's something you've got to keep in mind, because we don't have that kind of power or ability and we can't pursue those kinds of complaints.
Mr Howe: The provincial government, in proposing this change, is not assisting the individual in a case where the union does not have the capability and resources to litigate protracted cases under the collective agreement and Employment Standards Act. These proposed changes do nothing to improve the employees' position where the employer is insolvent or bankrupt and does nothing to restore the recovery amount under the employee wage protection plan, which has already been dramatically reduced by the Conservative provincial government.
For our union, the change from an individual complaint to a union's responsibility to enforce the act poses a real challenge and probable tremendous hardship on unions. The financial, legal and human resource burden on managing every employment standard complaint could be monstrous. The failure by the union to properly address every complaint could also result in a duty-of-fair-representation complaint before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The government is shifting the cost now borne by the employment standards branch to investigate, settle or determine complaints to unions, without financial help from the government.
Mr Sutton: You'll notice here we also put another press release from the ministry, dated December 11, 1995. It talks about a company that owed 100 workers approximately $5,000 each. That's in unpaid wages, termination and vacation pay, so this was the employees' money. It went to court by the ministry. It was appealed. It was appealed a couple more times and it took seven years to settle. How many unions, especially in a plant-closing situation of 100 people, could afford to go through the court system for seven years?
It's not going to fit together. The unions, especially the smaller unions, can't afford to take on those kinds of cases. Everything that's proposed, whether it goes through arbitration, the arbitrator is going to end up in the same place, where his decisions can be appealed too. You guys are right out to lunch with your ideas.
Mr Howe: In conclusion, Local 1005's political action committee must state that no one concerned with fair treatment of workers or citizens could support the proposed amendments contained in Bill 49. The amendments will harm the rights of the most vulnerable employees, reduce the level of possible compensation and allow employers to escape their employment obligations.
The Chair: There's a minute and a half per caucus. The questioning this round will start with the government members.
Mr Tascona: I'd just like to comment on a couple of matters. I have some experience in labour relations and in fact I was an employment standards officer at one time. I'd just like to comment on your remarks with respect to the September 15, 1994, press release in terms of the powers of the union. If a union is at a hearing in front of an arbitrator, they always have the power to subpoena documents, they have the power to ask an order from the referee, and those powers haven't changed. They'll have access to that information, so the powers are there for the union.
With respect to --
Mr Sutton: Can I comment on that?
Mr Tascona: I'm just going to comment on your comments, because you do have the rights.
With respect to severance pay, you should be aware right now that the Employment Standards Act allows a union to contract out of severance pay minimum standards. That has been in the act for many years and that's not something that is new, and in fact it has been a system that has worked very well with respect to plant closures and allowing unions to get fair settlements, and they actually represent their workers to get the severance pay. So that's been in there, that you can actually contract out of the minimum standards.
I'd like to also comment on your remarks with respect to insolvency. If the federal government would act and strengthen the Bankruptcy Act, then there would be greater protection for the workers, because 67% of the claims aren't paid out because of insolvent employers. I share that view with you, but the thing is you can't ask the province to fund something that the federal government should be doing.
With respect to the large manufacturing case, I had some involvement with that case with respect to one of the parties -- it wasn't the directors or it wasn't the employer, but I will say this: That was the only initiative that the government could do, because they had to go after the directors. Because the company was insolvent, they went after the directors. Very difficult case, but it started off at the lower level and went to the Court of Appeal, and we've heard from the garment workers that that's what the employers do out there. They go bankrupt, so the only avenue we have is to go after the directors, and we did that.
Mr Sutton: It's nice that you did that, but you're asking the union to do that on their own?
Mr Tascona: Go to the federal government and make them change the Bankruptcy Act.
Mr Sutton: We've got as good a chance of going after the provincial government.
Mr Tascona: You've got another government. Go ask them.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation today. We kind of walked into the conversation of disclosure from the company to the union in certain situations. I have some experience at disclosures of information and I can't go into that, it would take too long. But a lot of times certain information was blacked out and wasn't provided, in order to protect the competitive nature of that business with another. So I can understand your feelings in this regard, that they want to have some privacy in the competitiveness that evolves, and then also your comments about complaints on union representation before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. I noted that as well.
Mr Christopherson: I want to thank you both for your presentation. Consistent with the history of Local 1005, and I notice you're celebrating your 50th anniversary, you're in the forefront in this community of fighting for not just organized workers but unorganized workers too.
I just want to point out that the government has done this before on the issue of the bankruptcy and that unions ought to go to the federal government. In fact, yesterday there were a couple of times when the government, in my opinion, was trying to blame a union representative for not going after the federal government rather than accepting their own culpability in slashing away, as you point out in your document, the employee wage protection plan which was there already in place, and they took it away when they came into power. So I feel they continue to have absolutely no credibility on that issue, and I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves for suggesting either going to the federal government or somehow the unions haven't done their job because they have decided to take away a right that was already there.
I want to ask you one quick question. Local 1005 is still the leading labour organization in our community, and you can stand up for yourselves any time, anyplace, anywhere and have and always will. I believe one of the reasons they pulled back from the encouragement to concessionary bargaining was that they were hoping that unions like yours would back away and leave the unorganized out there struggling on their own. Can you tell me why that's not going to happen, why it's important for an organized local like yours, a leading local, to fight for unorganized workers?
Mr Sutton: One really clear example in Hamilton: Dofasco's a non-union plant. However, everything we have the employees at Dofasco have, the same wages, same benefits, same everything else. It's important that it stays that way because it keeps the two steel industries competitive, as well as the fact that that's the way Dofasco keeps the union out. We have to speak for ourselves and, unfortunately, we have to speak for Dofasco workers too.
The Chair: Thank you both for taking the time to come before us here this afternoon. We appreciate it.
NIAGARA SOUTH SOCIAL SAFETY NETWORK
The Chair: The next group up is the Niagara South Social Safety Network. Good afternoon. Again we have 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit, if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourselves for the Hansard reporter, please.
Mr Don Comi: My name is Don Comi. On my left is Connie Grundy and on my right is Nancy Bousfield. We are all members of the Niagara South Social Safety Network. Thank you for allowing us to make a presentation today. I have a comment I would like to make at the end of it.
The Niagara South Social Safety Network is a body of individuals and groups who have joined together to assist one another. We assist one another not only with direct and immediate help but also by working collectively to change unjust conditions and so enhance the quality of life for ourselves and others. A basic concern of ours has been the effect of downsizing and cutbacks on people within our communities. We are committed to working in solidarity with each other in the struggle against unjust social conditions and to working towards positive social change in our community.
We are also committed to realizing the principles of healthy communities. Healthy communities are characterized by wide community participation and the involvement of the social, health, economic and environmental sectors in working towards the goal of a healthy community. Access to a satisfying job and a decent wage are basic to a healthy community. Our commonsense observation is reinforced by the research literature that strongly and clearly relates the health of our people and the health of our economy.
Full employment is basic to a healthy community. A major component of healthy communities is the provision of free collective bargaining within an environment which provides safe and fair working conditions. It is well known that when such basic employment standards are enforced working people will be protected from social and economic injustice and society will be healthier and the economy will flourish.
We are therefore greatly concerned about changes proposed to the Employment Standards Act which are being initiated under the guise of deficit cutting and debt reduction, but which we feel are actually designed to augment already excessive profits of multinational corporations and, even more fundamental, remove controls over the ever-increasing power of these corporations who determine the wellbeing of governments and the people they represent. In addition, we are concerned about shortsighted small businesses who support further deregulation of employment standards without thought to the harm this will do to the profit levels when workers' incomes are lowered and working conditions are harsh.
To understand the present situation more adequately, it is necessary to be reminded of how the present employment standards came into being. As industrialization developed in Canada, in common with other nations, exploitation of working people increased. Power was concentrated in the hands of owners and, as enterprises grew even larger, the personal element was removed from relationships. This distancing in human relationships made it easier for exploitation to develop.
As the union movement grew and as more progressive representatives were elected to parliaments, people worked with increasing enthusiasm towards the humanizing of the social and economic order. A major component of that movement was the development of a code of minimal standards to be followed in the workplace and procedures for enforcing those standards. In 1977, under the Progressive Conservative government of that time, the employment standards legislation was passed which pulled together under one act a number of employment standards.
The experience of people within our membership indicates that present employment standards still tend to be biased in favour of employers. What is needed is not weakening but enhancing protection for workers, especially those of minority status, immigrants, women and workers represented by smaller or weaker unions.
We feel that the changes being proposed to the employment standards legislation will in fact increase rather than decrease the exploitation of working people by unscrupulous employers. This drastic regressive step, along with cuts in social services and changes in labour legislation, will lead us back into the harsh conditions experienced during the previous 1930s Depression. We therefore urge you to reconsider the proposed changes and instead put in place legislation which will enhance the wellbeing of the citizens of this province.
An example of how this plays out in personal life is described below. Contrary to commonly held myth, people want to work. They want real jobs. In this time of high unemployment, workers are already vulnerable to abuse by employers. The labour ministry tends to be weak in standing up to employers for the rights of labour, let alone reducing their role further. Non-unionized workers in particular often have no other recourse. We know of a situation in which employees who are mechanics were not being paid fairly according to current legislation regarding overtime and holiday pay.
The following is another example of injustices to employees and danger to the public. A large, multinational company has bought out and amalgamated smaller, locally operated bus lines. Some bus drivers have been hired back at reduced wages. The bus company now operates about 95 school buses, many of which are aging. It has very recently been advertising to hire mechanics at below-average wages. About three people will be responsible for maintaining the fleet of buses, one or two of whom will be licensed mechanics.
However, we know experienced licensed mechanics are unwilling to accept this heavy workload at these below-average wages. They say the company will not find experienced, qualified mechanics at these wages. Yet these people have a responsibility for maintaining a very large fleet of vehicles in which our school children are transported. Finding qualified employees to ensure the safety of children should be a top priority. This example illustrates the dangers of privatization and deregulation.
It is also unfair to hold the mechanics responsible for the safety of vehicles when employers hire an insufficient number to maintain a fleet. They may not even get to inspect or work on that particular vehicle. Yet if a person on social assistance or unemployment turns down such a job offer, they may lose their benefits. If they quit because of an unsafe workload, they may not be entitled to UI. And what of the likelihood of intervention and assistance if they complain about their employer to a labour ministry that is weakening employment standards still further? Where do they go?
We would also point out that the decision to implement workfare further endangers effective implementation of humane employment standards. Programs being proposed leave greater possibilities for exploitation of people who are at the bottom of the economic scale, unable to fend for themselves in many ways and forced to place themselves at the mercy of supervisors of projects whose primary aim will be to get the most work out of the employees with the least possible safeguarding of working conditions. We need work, not workfare. We need safe, decent working conditions at a living wage with the protection of free collective bargaining.
There are other alternatives. In particular, we would urge you to give consideration to the proposals put forward by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives who in their Alternative Budget have shown that debt reduction can be achieved as well as greater self-reliance with greater control by Canadians over their economic wellbeing without reduction of social programs. This can be achieved by committing our economy to measures such as full employment policies, along with a fair taxation system.
The housekeeping changes proposed for the Employment Standards Act are in fact another thrust of the wedge set in place by Bill 7, aimed to bring Ontario in line with the structural adjustment programs being imposed on governments by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for the giant transnational corporations whose agents they are.
Specifically we reject the notion that the proposed changes will increase self-sufficiency and flexibility for anyone except employers. There is in our society an increasing reliance of employers on low-wage, part-time and casual employment, especially for younger people. Workers such as women, immigrant groups and unskilled or semi-skilled employees are often without union protection and are therefore particularly susceptible to unscrupulous, unhealthy and dangerous conditions set down by employers.
By contracting out enforcement and collection processes, such workers are put at a great disadvantage. Workers' livelihoods and wellbeing are much too precious to be put up for ransom to privateers whose sole concern is maximizing their financial profits.
By including employment standards within the collective bargaining process, badly needed resources of unionized working people are tied up with this process and not what they should be doing. Rather, the establishment and maintenance of such standards are rightfully a responsibility of the whole community, working through the democratic process to set in place policies which will safeguard workers' rights. Similarly, those who do not have the protection of union organization will be in much more vulnerable situations.
This applies also to the proposed shortening of the period of time for laying complaints and processing them. The most vulnerable in society become even more susceptible to abuse from a system over which they have decreasing control, as well as decreased protection from that abuse. It is our understanding that the justice system is working towards a unified two-year limitation date. We support a two-year limitation period for all legal matters. We do not support a six-month period which denies workers fair access to due process.
The kind of intimidation which legislation of this sort brings into employer-employee relationships drastically increases a sense of insecurity, the potential for greatly increased suspicion and friction between employers and employees, results in increased labour unrest, productive inefficiency and contributes to general economic decline. Increased labour unrest leads to productive inefficiency resulting in general economic decline.
In closing, we urge you as strongly as we possibly can to abandon your proposals to set the clock back in regard to employment standards legislation. Groups within our network, including community outreach workers, other community activists and unions are committed to resisting draconian dehumanizing changes to our Employment Standards Act and to establishing a process for education and advocacy which will encourage and facilitate informing workers of their rights and acting with them to correct the many injustices which are bound to result from this legislation. Thank you.
I'd like to make one other comment. I made this comment to the committee that was holding hearings on the CPP, changes to the legislation: It seems that every day Ontarians in particular are being hit with changes and cuts by the federal government, the provincial government, the municipal government, the regional governments -- every day. It's like a fire truck going down a road and every building on the street is on fire and, "Which one do we try to put out first?" It's you guys who are lighting the fire. Maybe it's time we took your matches away.
The Chair: That leaves us about 30 seconds per caucus to make a brief statement. Let's see, it would be the official opposition can start the round this time.
Mr Lalonde: Just a quick question. You stated on page 5: "Some bus drivers have been hired back at reduced wages. The bus company now operates about 95 school buses, many of which are aging."
Mr Comi: Right.
Mr Lalonde: That's practically impossible because they supervise this very closely.
Mr Comi: Who does?
Mr Lalonde: The ministry. You're not allowed to have a school bus on the road that has more than so many years; I believe it's five or six years. I could tell you that I'm definitely in favour of workfare for those who are capable of going back to work. That is the 30 seconds.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for an excellent presentation. I appreciate it very much.
With the very short time I have I'll just point out that one of the things you say that I think is extremely profound is also supported by somebody on the other side of the ledger. You say, and I quote: "In this time of high unemployment, workers are already vulnerable to abuse by employers. The labour ministry tends to be weak in standing up to employers for the rights of labour, let alone reducing their role further."
Yesterday we heard from the Markham Board of Trade, which proudly said, "The Markham Board of Trade applauds the government's decision to significantly reduce its role in the administration and enforcement of the Employment Standards Act." There's no need to question whether or not what you are saying is the reality and the truth; it's very clear for everyone to see. Thank you very much for being here today.
Mr Baird: I appreciate the time you took to prepare your submission and for coming today. Just a quick remark, though, on your last comment about governments of all parties at all levels. All three parties in this province have governed the province over the last 10 years and have gone through difficult times. Local and municipal governments are doing the same thing. These governments are all elected by the people who reside there, and I think there are many problems; you mentioned the CPP problem. People have elected governments of all parties, Conservative included, that have done a bad job of managing this province and many jurisdictions within it. To ignore the problems that are there and just hope they'll go away is not the answer. I think there's an earnest attempt by all parties -- I know the two previous governments certainly took some very difficult decisions to deal with those problems, and that's certainly our motivation. I just want to put that on the table, because I appreciate the angst that it's causing.
Mr Comi: I'd like to comment on that.
The Chair: Very briefly, please.
Mr Comi: If you check your own records you'll find there are many corporations that have not paid their taxes for many years, that have deferred taxes; but, damn it, if you go and collect those taxes off those people and if they don't pay their taxes, take their business. If I don't pay my taxes, the city of St Catharines will come and take my home. If the government does not have the gumption, for lack of a better word, to get off their butts and collect the taxes that are owing, then it's time they started looking at something else instead of hurting the little guy. The corporations that are profiting -- these are profiting corporations that are making billions of dollars a year -- are not paying their fair share. It's time they did. If the taxes were collected there would be no deficit; there would be no debt.
The Chair: Thank you for your comments. We appreciate your making a presentation today. Is Mr Hart in the room? No.
The Chair: I'm aware of the scenario, thank you, Mr Cassidy, but I just figured I'd ask once. In the absence of an answer you're welcome to take his place, as it were, so please join us. We have 15 minutes for you to divide between presentation and question-and-answer period.
Mr Peter Cassidy: Mr Hart was unable to attend today and I was asked at the last minute to substitute for him, and there is also the situation that apparently there have been some changes in the matters before this committee, which is something I wish to speak on. Partly because of that, I do not have a written brief that I can hand to all members of the committee now. I have some notes I can provide to the Hansard reporter for transcription later.
To explain myself, my name is Peter Cassidy. I'm a consultant working with community groups, unions and individuals here in Hamilton and throughout the province. I used to be a lawyer with McQuesten Legal and Community Services, a legal clinic in the east end of Hamilton. Before that I used to work for a living.
I appear before you today as a self-appointed representative for the rich and powerful of this province. I would like to start the same way I did when I had the chance to present on Bill 26: by congratulating Mike Harris and the Progressive Conservative Party for putting revolution on the agenda. You are to be congratulated for your brilliant strategy of wooing the voters of Ontario by promising the impossible: doing away with the deficit while cutting taxes. You're worthy of nothing but praise for the way you managed to ram through the early part of your agenda, the cuts in welfare, the gutting of labour legislation, the slashing of transfer payments to municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals. We're now poised for even greater success in the Common Sense Revolution: Hospitals are closing; pregnant women are unable to find doctors; plans are under way, apparently, for superprisons for adults, boot camps for the young; and one of my personal favourites -- one of the members spoke on this -- is work camps or the equivalent for those on welfare.
I must warn you, comrades in the revolution, that the revolution is in danger. The peasants are revolting, as I always say. Hundreds of thousands of people are marching through the streets of Ontario demanding that the revolution slow its pace. Will the government of the day listen to the people? Incredible as it may seem, there's actually a chance that the government may listen to people, particularly as we look at what is happening with these proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act.
First of all, why hearings? We didn't need hearings to cut welfare. We didn't need hearings to attack the poorest and most vulnerable in the province. We didn't need hearings to roll back labour laws to pre-Second World War days, though I understand Mr Christopherson was able to hold some hearings hinging on that. Why do we need hearings on cutting the standards of working people?
I know there are some people in what's called the opposition, or the alternative government or whatever, who still believe there's some sort of pre-revolutionary idea of public debate and discussion on legislation. They just don't seem to understand that with the Common Sense Revolution there is no room for discussion and debate; there is no room for thinking. In the words of a great poet, describing a situation somewhat similar to this government:
Yours is not to reason why,
Yours is but to do and die.
If holding hearings on changes to the Employment Standards Act is not bad enough, it turns out that these hearings may actually not be the sham we in the corporate élite thought they would be. There's actually, it seems, some chance that these hearings may result in changes to the proposed amendments, and not just minor cosmetic changes. They might actually result in substantive changes to the legislation. Imagine my shock and horror when I read in the paper today, "Province Delays Plans to Lower Job Standards." I find that shocking. I find that incredible.
It seems that what may be happening is that the government or some people in this committee have been listening to people and have decided that maybe they want to stop and think about it. I know there's something in there about bringing these changes in later, but let me say on behalf of the business community that we do not accept any delay. We insist that you follow through on the basic mandate you have to lower the living standards of the people of Ontario promptly, without delay, without thinking. That should be done.
Some of you wonder why these changes are so important to employers. What is the meaning of the Employment Standards Act? For those of you who believe that you have some role to play in thinking about these things and analysing them, let me say that employment standards essentially set the minimum that any employee is entitled to receive and that any employer has to provide, which means, by what we in the business community call the rising tide effect, an increase in the minimum affects everybody -- raising them, and a decrease in the minimum affects everybody -- lowering them.
As a simple example, if every employer in the province is required to provide a minimum one-week vacation to certain employees, that is the minimum. Every person thinks they're entitled to at least one minimum vacation, and those who can, try to get more than the minimum. So some people get two weeks, some people get three weeks and those in a particularly strong bargaining position get four weeks. Of course if you raise the minimum, if you raise that one week to two weeks, then those on two weeks want to move to three and so on. What we as the employers of the province expect is that you will lower the minimum, lower the floor, and that, we expect, will have the effect not just of lowering those at the lower end -- if you take away, for example, people's right to vacation, which we urge you to do -- people should not have a right to vacation. They're here to work. If you take away the right to vacation for anybody, then not just those who get the minimum of one week now will drop to zero, but those at two weeks will drop to one or zero, those at three will drop to two or one or zero and so on. That is what we want. We want you to move ahead as promptly as you can in lowering the standards.
How, you may ask, do the proposed amendments to the act do it? One of the key ways, as I understand it, had to deal with provisions where there is a collective agreement. Essentially speaking, instead of setting out separate minimum standards for such things as vacation pay or hours of work, they could all be bundled together and any one of those particular individual standards could be lowered so long as, theoretically, "the collective agreement confers greater rights...when these matters are assessed together."
We employers of the province are not stupid. We know what that means. With that amendment, we could go to the unions and bargain and say: "Everything is on the table. You have no minimum rights to any one of these things. The question is not whether or not you want to give up any of these rights. The question to what extent can you resist our demands that you give up these rights."
We anticipate that if these amendments were to come through, we could find some unions that would give up certain rights here -- perhaps hours of work; some give up overtime and some give up vacation -- and essentially throughout the province we could then have it clearly understood there are no minimum standards. They could all be gone.
Of particular note, of course, you'd be dealing with the clauses and the proposed amendments dealing with enforcement of these standards. Where a collective agreement is involved, the employment standards branch would be under no obligation to enforce the act. Let us say a union managed to resist the pressure from an employer to give up the minimum rights of vacation, hours of work, things like that. We, the employers of the province, could still go ahead and violate these rights, confident that our friends in the government or people in the employment standards branch would not intervene. You've got a collective agreement. Go and deal with that in the grievance and arbitration process. Of course, we employers well know how to play the grievance and arbitration process for endless delays and costs to the unions and the workers of the province. If we happen to lose the grievance or the arbitration, hey, there's always the next round of bargaining. We can come back again and still try and chip away at those rights.
If these proposed amendments give us employers so much edge in dealing with the unions, what greater rights would they give us with the unorganized, be it the working poor or middle class? Again, we can read the message of the proposed amendments very clearly. We understand what you're proposing. There will be no real standards. There will be no real enforcement of the standards. We can make passing mention, for example, of proposed amendments dealing with collection, that if somebody is in a position where they actually could somehow or other try and make some claim to moneys owed them, that's going to be settled somewhere down the line for much less than you got. If you happen to think you have a claim for $1,000 or so, let's realize you're probably not going to get that $1,000. You might be lucky, when you've got a private bill collector and you've got an offer to settle, if you take $500 out of that. Let's recognize those rights are paper rights. They're not going to be enforced. They're not going to be carried out.
The basic points I'm making are very simple. We, the employers of the province, will not tolerate any delays in lowering the standard of living of the working people of this province. Your job as members of the committee dealing with these proposed amendments is not to listen to the people of Ontario, not to listen to the injured workers' groups or the unions or the various agencies and people who come and talk to you. Your job is not to reason why; your job is to do and die. If need be, I would strongly suggest that you purge that wet, Elizabeth Witmer, from the cabinet, that you purge members of the government caucus who show any independence of spirit and thought, who show that they want to think and consider and hear what's going on, and that you go ahead and complete the agenda. Complete the revolution. Carry it out. We, the employers of the province, want you to do that. Yours is not to reason why. Thank you.
Mr Christopherson: I can't think of a question. All I can think of is a comment, and that is that I was the one who led the charge to force the minister and the government to take their act on the road. I may have to do the same with you and yours. I think you've got a great message there, and it would probably be a lot funnier if it weren't so true. I think that's an excellent way to get across a very clear message the people of Ontario need to hear. Thank's Peter.
Mr Tascona: I have no questions.
Mr Lalonde: The fact that this bill will authorize the employer to have the employees work longer hours, what impact will this have on family activities?
Mr Cassidy: I think that's a very leading question. Tremendously devastating, yes.
Mr Lalonde: I'm glad to hear that.
What's your feeling about having privatization of the collection of back time, overtime, severance pay instead of the government handling it the way it is at the present time?
Mr Cassidy: That's an excellent point. Part of what I spoke on is obviously is that in privatization, which is talked of here, people end up last in their rights. What I think is also very important is that, basically speaking, we're looking at government's abandoning their role, which of course the employers of the province would prefer. The employers of the province would prefer that government not listen to any complaints, so that, for example, if the members of this committee were to pass standards on vacation or hours of work or maternity leave, whatever, they would not have any right to enforce those standards, they would not have any responsibility of enforcing the standards either as elected representatives or through the employment standards branch of the ministry. That would mean that whatever standards the MPPs passed were irrelevant and meaningless. Basically speaking, they're now left up to private companies to enforce those, the employment standards branch, the government agents, playing a role in that.
Mr Lalonde: When I look at the past, since the government only collected 25% of what was supposed to be collected in the past, I think there should be a cap on the percentage to the company, the parent company, that would come up with an agreement to settle faster, instead of 75% that they're entitled to. You can rest assured that the companies are going to try to resolve the solution as quickly as possible.
Mr Cassidy: In my situation, I think that if you set standards there should be somebody who's keeping them. I can't imagine an employer who would say to his employees: "Here are the basic minimum standards I expect. By the way, I'm not going to bother enforcing them. If they're violated, then 75% of the time I'm not going to bother." I just can't imagine any government or any committee saying, "We're going to set standards," and then say, "We're not going to bother enforcing them."
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Cassidy. We appreciate your coming before us here this afternoon.
ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION, LOCAL 546
The Chair: Our next group up is OPSEU Local 546. Good afternoon.
Ms Victoria Biocca: Good afternoon. I'm Victoria Biocca and this is Dale Moreau. We're here on behalf of our members of Local 546. For your information, our document as submitted cannot be read in full; we will skip over certain sections. You should have no trouble, however, in following along.
Ms Dale Moreau: We appreciate the opportunity to present our views on Bill 49 and the potential impact on the enforcement of employment standards in this province. As the front-line enforcers of the Employment Standards Act, we provide the public services that ensure employers comply with a minimum set of legislated standards. We believe this enforcement should be cost-effective and efficient. These activities should not restrict economic growth in the province. However, we believe these standards put non-unionized workplaces on a level playing field.
The issues surrounding amendments to the act before this committee are serious issues that will affect all working people. The act currently protects approximately 5.8 million workers in the province of Ontario. In 1994-95, the employment standards program received 700,000 inquiries regarding the act, the number of employees was assessed was about 48,000 and the dollar amount was more than $64 million -- wages not paid by employers.
These assessments were compiled by a total of 104 employment standards officers province-wide. It is interesting to note that there exists a case backlog of more than six months in some areas. The ministry has already eliminated 34 positions in the program. The ministry also intends to terminate another 12 positions, resulting in fewer officers, less support to conduct investigations and a longer case backlog.
Regarding the employee entitlements, the changes proposed in Bill 49 are biased in favour of employers at the expense of employees. Under the current act, an officer can make a compromise settlement to a claim when both parties agree to the compromise. The proposed changes will allow a private collector to coerce the parties into a compromise settlement.
Bill 49 amends the act to allow a series of waivers. This is a key feature to this bill. Bill 49 takes what are supposed to be minimum standards and turns them into a starting point from which to begin the bartering.
The waiving of minimum standards is also proposed for employees represented under collective agreements. Bill 49 proposes to allow collective agreements to override the legal minimum standards. The proposed changes in Bill 49 will support the offenders in the areas where the employees are the most vulnerable. For example, a large corporation has asked to increase the legal hours per week. The employer offers to increase the hours of work per week from eight to 10. In exchange, the employer suggests three weeks' vacation per year instead of two weeks' vacation.
Overtime and vacation pay can be quantified. How does one quantify the damage caused by having to work longer days? How can an officer assess a non-monetary standard with a monetary standard to determine if this confers a greater right or benefit? How can one quantify the damage of having to work even longer hours than already exist and the resulting damage on personal and family lives? Bill 49 will push employees' rights back to over a century ago when politicians protested against businesses because the employees were forced to work such long days. We cannot go back to this time.
Bill 49 is proposing that any employee who commences a civil action through the courts cannot file a claim for the same issues. This would include claims for termination and severance pay if the employee has filed a suit for wrongful dismissal. This is a gross injustice to employees. Bill 49 erodes the employees' minimum rights to such a degree that they will have no alternative but to use the court system.
Bill 49 will also reduce the time limit that an employee can file a claim. Under the current act, employees have up to two years to file a complaint for any moneys owing. Under Bill 49, employees now have six months from the date of the complaint. There are very few employees who file complaints against their employer while still employed.
The Ministry of Labour stated in the expenditure reduction strategy report that by reducing the time frame to file a complaint, this would improve the turnaround time on investigating claims. This is not true. The two-year time limit is a must for employees with the high unemployment currently facing Ontario. Employees would not complain to their employers of a breach of their employment rights in fear of losing their jobs. The ministry does not promote employment standards. Customer service is not a priority within the ministry, as evidenced by the cutting of staff, discontinuing telephone inquiry units in some areas, guides no longer being produced and, finally, eliminating the officers who would actually investigate the complaints.
Bill 49 would also give employers an outright licence to steal from their employees' paycheques. Employees who are owed moneys beyond the six-month time limitation will be forced to pursue civil legal action or drop their claim altogether. The ministry acknowledges that reducing the time limit from two years to six months will cause more activity in the provincial courts, where employees will now have to bear the costs, in addition to the public expenditure already existent.
The act does not have a ceiling on claims. Bill 49 proposes to limit the dollar amount of the claim to $10,000. The ministry's reasoning, as noted in the report, is to lower the caseload, as higher-paid employees would use civil action to collect. The assumption must be made that when employees file claims in excess of $10,000 they are higher-paid employees. This is not so. For amounts over the $10,000, usually it applies to commission salespersons, violations that have accumulated over a two-year period or long-service employees who are owed termination and severance pay.
For example, a 12-year employee of a manufacturing business earning $33,800 a year, or $650 a week, is laid off, not given notice of the layoff. The employee's entitled to eight weeks termination pay in lieu of notice and 12 weeks severance pay, a total of 20 weeks; $13,000 is owed under employment standards. The poverty level for a family of four in Metro is $31,000 per year; $33,800 a year is not a lot of money. Why would anyone assume that this particular employee is higher-paid when family size or the family's financial status is not considered in the ministry's statistics? This is absurd. Why would anyone assume that this particular higher-paid employee would pursue his or her claim through the civil courts? The employee would be forced to choose between filing a claim with the ministry for $10,000 and forfeiting $3,000 from his claim or retaining a lawyer, pursuing it through the courts and winding up with less than $10,000 after a lengthy and costly civil action. This constitutes a windfall for the employer if the employee chooses the employment standards route -- a licence to steal $3,000.
In addition, the act does not have a minimum amount on claims for the violations of the act. A worker will not be able to file a claim with the ministry under the new, proposed, unannounced minimum amount. The Ministry of Labour's report sets the minimum amount at $100. The ministry's only explanation for setting a minimum amount is to eliminate approximately 800 to 900 cases per year. This is outrageous and an extremely dangerous trend affecting 5.8 million workers only to reduce the caseload by 900. With regard to employees who handle cash, for example, every six months an employer could automatically deduct $50 from an employee's paycheque for cash shortages -- twice a year. The employer could deduct moneys under the minimum amount every six months. It's a new double standard for the employer -- an outright licence to steal.
Ms Biocca: Regarding the enforcement of the act, Bill 49 is forcing employees to use means other than the employment standards branch. Why would such an option be considered? Will cutting jobs in the branch save money? The answer to this question is no, as the alternative most likely to be pushed on to employees is the court system, a system which is already failing our society due to backlogs of cases yet to be heard. Forcing employees to use the provincial court system will only cause more problems.
In addition to the problems this will cause the system, the employees will suffer unimaginable delays in getting their entitlements, and when a judgement is rendered, the collection function will still have to be addressed. This is not a proposal that will save the province any money. The branch is far more expeditious and cost-effective in enforcing the act. Any changes to the act should focus on more enforcement measures to secure the minimum standards in an even more expeditious manner.
Another change which would result from Bill 49 is that unionized employees will not be able to file a claim. Unionized employees will be forced to use the grievance procedure under the collective agreement to enforce their legal rights. The proposal virtually demands that every collective agreement have the act included in it. How could such a proposal retain the consistency of decisions rendered on the employment standards cases? This will cause the erosion of the minimum employment standards, and it is already a minimum.
Aside from investigative and enforcement problems, the union can be faced with complaints concerning fair representation by its members. Although this already occurs, when you consider the scope of adding the enforcement of the act into the grievance procedure, such complaints against unions will increase. Again, one reason for this would be inconsistency in decisions rendered This could well mean that a failure of enforcement of the act constitutes a breach of duty of fair representation. This proposal is an impossible reality. The mandate of an officer cannot be the mandate of either or an employer or a union. The mandates of employers and unions are quite obvious. Whose mandate equals that of an employment standards officer? Furthermore, any determination made by an officer is subject to an appeal by either the employer or the employee. How is this right of appeal preserved through Bill 49? How is any right of a unionized employee preserved through Bill 49?
Regarding the proposed changes to enforcement, any attempt to empower others to enforce the act will result in a breakdown of the minimum standards. This would inevitably occur as consistency in decisions cannot be maintained when so many different parties, all with different mandates, are making the decisions. Why would an employer adhere to the standards when there is no consistency and cases are thrown out? The minimum standards of employment cannot in any way be eroded. "An employment standard shall be deemed a minimum requirement only." This is the law and it must be enforced.
The next item of review is the proposal to use private collectors. For informational purposes, the branch did have its own collections unit, but for a short period of time. The unit had been formalized about 1990 and was disbanded in March 1993. The collections unit history of collections is illustrated. The ideal solution regarding collections of employment standards is to reinstitute this unit. This would result in a more efficient and expeditious finalization to a file. The arguments in favour of an internal unit far outweigh any other proposal, whether collections be done by an officer or a private agency.
As it is today, the employment standards officer is responsible for collections. Every claim and file is in essence a collection file. In 1994-95, out of 9,468 assessments, only 2,771, or 29%, went uncollected. Therefore, 71% was collected. Of the 2,771 uncollected assessments, 1,035, or 11%, were due to the employer's refusal to pay. However, most of the time these files are collected through payments made on orders to pay and this collection is not recorded. Furthermore, on the files where the orders were not paid, this is not to say this is still uncollected.
In addition to this argument, when you consider the assessments uncollected of 2,771, and 1,035 is explained as employer refusal, the remaining 1,736 assessments are due to bankruptcies and insolvencies. These are the largest dollar assessments. How will a private collector or any other body collect from an insolvent corporation? "You can't get blood from a stone" is the most obvious statement heard by an officer when investigating these files. Therefore, when the numbers are reviewed, the number of insolvencies that have occurred over that time period must be considered separately, as these files constitute the highest dollar figures and the lowest collection possibility, if any at all. In these cases, if the officer has not collected any moneys, then the use of a private collector will be fruitless.
The focus of any review of these numbers must be the higher number of insolvencies and that these files represent the largest assessments of uncollectible moneys. When this is considered, the figures support that the officers are very effective in the enforcement and the collection functions. Nevertheless, Bill 49 proposes to give the collection function to a private collector. This proposal has many flaws.
One is that if the money collected is less than the amount owing, this amount can be apportioned among the collector, the employee and the branch. This is a serious problem, as we are already dealing with a minimum standard. The employment standards is a minimum only. To allow less money to be collected is a violation of this section. The act is defining a minimum standard and then reduces the minimum further. The employees cannot be expected to accept any less than their full entitlement as assessed by an officer.
It should be noted that the officers have a high success rate of collection at 71%. When you consider the other 11% that may be collected and is unreported, the success rate is even higher. The other 18% are insolvencies which represent the highest dollar assessments and are virtually uncollectible by any body or any organization.
In conclusion, our main concern is the impact Bill 49 will have on the vulnerable worker. The regular wage earner will not be at these hearings. They are too concerned in earning a day's wages to support their families.
Our second concern is that the bill is to promote self-compliance. In today's society people are more prone to challenge a law than to abide by it. Society has become less respectful of laws. As a result, Bill 49 must be reviewed and, as previously mentioned, changes should focus on more enforcement measures and strengthening the Employment Standards Act.
The Chair: Thank you. We only have a couple of seconds left. I'll allow a brief statement or comment by each of the parties, starting this time with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation. You mentioned the $50 deducted from one's cheque. In the paragraph prior to that --
The Chair: Forgive me. I had put a checkmark beside it. It should have been the government that started the round. I'll let Mr Christopherson finish. You go first and then I'll have John make his statement.
Mr Hoy: So you're going to let me --
The Chair: Yes. My apologies. Keep going. You're in the middle of your question, which I've interrupted.
Mr Hoy: Okay. You mentioned the $50 taken off a cheque, and the minimum amount in a government report was $100; it suggested that it be $100 for what we'll call frivolous claims. The reason given was to eliminate approximately 800 to 900 cases per year. What dollar value was assigned to those 800 or 900 cases? They wouldn't all be $100. Do you know what range?
Ms Moreau: I have no idea. It came out of the ministry's expenditure reduction strategy report. Where they arrived at the 800 to 900 cases, I have no idea.
Mr Hoy: So they could have been in excess of $100?
Ms Moreau: It could have been in excess of $100.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. We certainly appreciate it. I do feel it incumbent upon me though to put on the record that of $64 million that was assessed last year, only $16 million was collected, and that the idea for re-establishing a cap was one that came out of a special Employment Standards Act review committee on which half the members were employment standards officers. Your colleagues were the ones who recommended we do this last fall. I think it's important to put that on the record in addition to the fact that I guess we feel we've got to do a better job than that 25%.
I don't point fingers on the 25%; the 25% was roughly the same amount before the collections division was disbanded. It went down and then it went up again to 25%. I just think we've got to do better. The policies are probably just as much to blame as anything, not necessarily the people. So I guess we just feel we've got to try to do a better job than that, seeing we couldn't do much worse.
Mr Christopherson: Let me say to the presenters that I think what they may have just finished doing is presenting arguably the most powerful and important brief we may receive in terms of casting some real light on the implications of Bill 49 from the real experts in the field. I want on the record to say how much of a positive contribution I think this makes to our procedures and that I'm confident there will not be any repercussions for these workers in terms of coming forward and stating what they have today on behalf of their colleagues. I can assure the presenters that we will be monitoring that confidence I've expressed very carefully. Thank you on behalf of the workers of Ontario.
Mr Baird: On a point of personal privilege, Mr Chair: I would just concur with the member for Hamilton Centre without any hesitation, on exclusively the last part of his remarks.
The Chair: Thank you, and we appreciate you taking the time to make a presentation before us here today.
PROVINCIAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN OF ONTARIO
The Chair: With that, our next group up is the Provincial Council of Women of Ontario. Good afternoon. As I'm sure you've heard me say to the last group, we have 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit between presentation time or question and answers.
Ms Phyllis Kerkhoven: I'm Phyllis Kerkhoven. I chair the economics committee for the Provincial Council of Women of Ontario. I would like to compliment the last group. They had the numbers and the information that we were not able to get, so ours is a more general presentation.
The Provincial Council of Women represents over 80,000 persons in Ontario through our local councils, federated societies, affiliated groups and individual members. The council of women is a non-sectarian federation of organizations of women and of men and women. These organizations have fundamental principles that are in harmony with the avowed aims of the council of women: "...to work for the betterment of conditions pertaining to the family and the state." The motto of the council of women is: "Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you." We've been around 100 years. Those are the exact words.
Our membership includes many different types of organizations, from church groups to ethnic groups to business groups and educational groups. We welcome this opportunity to respond to the standing committee on resources development regarding the Employment Standards Act.
The Provincial Council of Women of Ontario is concerned that a fundamental piece of legislation which sets out vital minimum standards for all employees in the province of Ontario is being amended in what appears to be a reduction in these minimum standards. In section 3 of the current act, "No employer, employee, employers' organization or employees' organization shall contract out of or waive any employment standard, and any such contracting out or waiver is null and void."
You have something in section 4 that says you can do things but they have to be better than what the minimum standard says. You seem to have created a conundrum here.
Limits have been set on the amount an employee can claim which, taking into account today's wages, would appear to be inadequate. The time frame whereby an employee can initiate a complaint has been shortened. Should the employee be successful in his or her claim, this amount will be collected by a collector, which will reduce the moneys ultimately received by the employee. Also, if the employee is not represented by a union or other group, he or she must pay all costs of the investigation. When we look at the fact that the employee is probably no longer employed and does not have the financial resources to initiate an investigation, we foresee that many justified actions will not be taken.
This legislation was initiated to protect employees and offer minimum standards which would be adhered to by all employers. Roadblocks are now being erected which many employees will not be able to surmount. The proposed amendments appear to be ambiguous and unclear to the average person. Should an employee wish to follow through on his or her concern, an expert will have to be retained and paid for by the employee. This cost will also be deducted from any award the employee might receive.
We are concerned that compromise agreements can be made by unions and employers which do not take into account the fundamental principles of the legislation, which states that employment standards cannot be waived.
All in all, we feel that the protection offered by the Employment Standards Act is being amended and the amendments are not in the best interests of the citizens of Ontario.
The Chair: Thank you. That leaves us plenty of time for questions. This time we'll start with the official opposition and we have three and a quarter minutes per caucus.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation. I do note that you have men in your organizations but I would say that you primarily are representing the women. Correct?
Ms Kerkhoven: Yes. Some of our affiliated groups are men and women.
Mr Hoy: Over yesterday and today we've heard about the lack of protection this bill would give to particularly women because of their workplace, the type of work they do and oftentimes not organized or unionized, and other vulnerable persons. So I appreciate the comments that you've made here.
The service sector is one that people believe is going to grow, and in the food or agrifood business I happen to believe that's true as well. In that sector many people are not organized or unionized and I believe, although statistically I don't have the figures, many of them are women. Would you agree that the service industry, if it is to balloon, as people think it will, first of all has many women and they would be subjected to vulnerability under this act?
Ms Kerkhoven: Yes, I would. You also have to realize that these people are probably not used to making things like presentations. Their use of the language might not be quite as good as ours and they'll have a real problem.
Mr Hoy: I have no other questions.
Mr Christopherson: I had a chance to read your presentation while the official opposition was making its comments. In light of the organization that you represent, do you agree with some of the presentations we had in Toronto yesterday that in many cases people who have no other rights except those contained in the Employment Standards Act are new Canadians, visible minorities, the majority of them being women? Certainly we saw a disproportionate impact of Bill 7 so far, which is the new Ontario Labour Relations Act the government rammed through the House, where a lot of the cleaners in Ontario have lost their union agreements and their wages have been slashed by 30%, 40%, 50%, and their benefits, and a disproportionate number of women were impacted as a result of that. Do you agree that this is a likely outcome of reducing the minimum standards contained in the Employment Standards Act?
Ms Kerkhoven: Yes, we do definitely, and we're not just looking at the actual person employed. This is going to affect the whole family because that wage is not coming in. It's the whole picture that we find very depressing.
Mr Christopherson: I think it also needs to be said that we can't talk about this in isolation. When our caucus looks at all the measures of this government, the cuts and the decisions they've made about where they will cut, overall there has been an increasingly disproportionate, negative impact on women and children. I hope that your council would continue to articulate that reality because it's an important part of the public debate that needs to happen over the next few years. I thank you for the work you're doing.
Ms Kerkhoven: Thank you. We intend to.
Mrs Fisher: I appreciate your attendance here this afternoon. I think you're especially right when you say that often individuals won't come forward because they're afraid to speak.
We had the experience yesterday afternoon in Toronto, however, to have a woman present on her behalf, along with another woman, each having the same cause -- unpaid wages owed to them -- whereby for the past number of months, as a matter of fact over a year, the process that was in place by government wasn't meeting their needs: They were unable to collect. It was a very impassioned plea by an individual for us to listen up and it was also inherently expressing that perhaps government doesn't have to do everything, be everything such that somebody can be protected. As a matter of fact, in her case it was interfering with her ability to recover her funds.
We had a presentation made just previously with some statistics that were there for 1990 to 1993, and for whatever reason that collection agency was then dissolved, but we also know that more recent statistics indicated that we were able to recover only 25% of the funds on behalf of employees in the last year. Do you think there's room to try, for those people who don't have that representative group on their behalf, perhaps the private collection system where the success rate might be improved?
Ms Kerkhoven: It sounds good, but the employee or the person trying to collect is not going to collect the full amount he or she supposedly would have gotten; it's going to keep reducing and reducing. If there was something in the amendments to bump up the thing for the costs of collection and then start the process of reducing, whatever, that would make much more sense.
Mrs Fisher: I just have one comment to make to that: It says a possible reduction to 75%. Some people will have you believe, as has been stressed for the last two days of these hearings, that this will be the rate all of a sudden. I'm not so sure we should all be so naïve as to believe that will be the rate. Perhaps it will collect 100%, perhaps it will collect something less than that, but not less than 75%.
In the case of this woman, she had no access to any of it. She'd have been grateful to see 25% of it and hasn't been successful, while waiting for her three kids to be fed. I'm not so sure, given our history, that we're doing anybody a favour by not trying something different or something new. When she was in Toronto yesterday she very passionately asked for our support and in essence was saying: "Get it out of your hands. You're not doing a good job on my behalf. Please, somebody, help."
I don't know. As a woman it struck me that perhaps we were where we didn't belong and we should be giving some other option a chance to be tried.
Ms Kerkhoven: Then maybe humans should be considered like in manufacturing: They're an object rather than a service. When you buy materials you must pay for them. This is the same type of thing, and there's no reduction to 75%. If you owe, you owe, plus interest.
Mrs Fisher: I'm not saying the moneys weren't owed to her; I know that. I'm saying that anything that had been done on her behalf to that point wasn't successful. Basically she was saying that we as government were in her way as well because we were unable to do for her what she needed. It seems to me like that's not an unusual situation.
She was brave enough to come forward as an individual to present the case. Many haven't. Many do it in groups, and there's nothing wrong with that as well; I think we have to hear from everybody, but if we had more of those individuals step up to the table, which does take some fortitude that a lot of people lack, perhaps the reality of the problem would be more obvious. I just thought I'd ask the question.
Ms Kerkhoven: We were primarily concerned there would be more people who would not come forward because it would not be worth their while at all.
The Chair: Thank you very much for taking the time to come before us to make a presentation today. We appreciate it.
The Chair: The next individual is Norma LaForme. Good afternoon. That helps us get back on schedule, in fact even slightly ahead of schedule. As you've heard me say, we have 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit between presentation time and question-and-answer.
Ms Norma LaForme: Thank you. Just a bit of background about who I am: I live in Hamilton and for the past two years I've been working part-time for an organization in Hamilton dealing with disability issues. I've been active in the community, advocating for rights of people with disabilities as well as other people I see as vulnerable. Basically I give my two cents in. I believe it's important to tell people what you think and what you believe.
I would like to thank the standing committee for granting me this time slot at these proceedings. I have requested to be here today because I am concerned with Bill 49 and how it will affect people with disabilities in Ontario.
As I read notes on Bill 49, I considered what will happen with the new bargaining rights that employers will have in Ontario. For instance, what if a person with a disability has a job where the union is negotiating with the employer that the people will work longer hours per day for more vacation time. If a worker with a disability must keep a fixed schedule and is unable to work the extra hours, this would have an adverse effect on the person's health and he or she may need to refuse. What will stop employers from firing a worker with a disability so they can hire a worker who could work longer hours? I would question any employers who want their workers to work longer hours, because this would be more stressful on the workers and, as a result, employers may have more problems with absenteeism. People with disabilities want to work so much that they may agree to employment conditions that may affect their health or put them at risk.
Another concern about changes in employment standards is the new time limit that workers have to complain about a violation. Presently workers have up to two years to complain about an incident, and workers tend to complain after they have found new employment. If you make workers launch a complaint within six months, they may face harassment and/or job loss at the hands of the employer. Workers with disabilities may not complain, as they fear losing their jobs, as well as the fact that it is still difficult for workers with disabilities to find jobs due to the discrimination they already face in our society.
If people do not complain about human rights violations, they may be working in conditions that are hazardous to their health or they may be taken advantage of by working longer hours for less pay. Shortening the time that workers have to complain will make it possible for employers to abuse their workers. When the person does make a complaint, the ministry has two years to investigate and the employer will have two years to pay the worker. So not only does the worker have the stress of applying to the employment standards for unacceptable conditions; they may also have to wait up to four years for their settlement. Tell me, where is the justice in these changes to the Employment Standards Act?
The new $10,000 maximum cap under the Employment Standards Act will make it even more difficult for employees to receive all the moneys they are owed. If workers are owed more than $10,000, they may have to obtain a lawyer. Workers may also need a lawyer if the amount they are owed is under the minimum cap. Workers who have a disability may be too intimidated to go to a lawyer because they cannot afford the legal bills and then cannot access help from legal aid for employment-related issues. If the worker does go to a lawyer, they may be intimidated because of the power imbalance between themselves as workers and the employer. A worker who cannot afford to lose the money they are owed may give up on fighting for their money because of these changes.
The Ministry of Labour should continue to be the mediator in all employment standards complaints to ensure that there is a mediator between the worker and the employer. These cases should not be in our backlogged court system where the courts may not know all of the details about the employment standards. This is not justice; it is the Ministry of Labour not doing its job as a mediator.
Under the new Bill 49, if the situation can be resolved through the courts, the ministry will not investigate the claims. The problem with this is that employers who have frequent employment standards violations will not be on record with the Ministry of Labour. If this happens, workers will find it difficult to prove a history of abuse of employment standards by the employers, which in turn will make it difficult to tackle a problem systematically.
Another issue is that workers will have to decide between taking the person to court or filing with the ministry. If the person needs a lawyer to explain the difference to them, this may cost the worker a great deal of money before they even decide the best course of action. If the worker has a disability, they may not have that money to spare and this will likely be another barrier to the person filing a complaint with employment standards. We live in a society where all people are supposed to be free from abuse. However, if employers are given a ticket to do whatever they wish, workers are going to suffer from abuse by employers.
Bill 49 allows the government to use private collection agencies to settle the dispute between workers and employers. The problem with this system is that collection agencies will likely push people to reach fast settlements without getting all the money they are entitled to. As a result, employers will pay the workers only a fraction of what they are owed and employers will once again get away with not paying their workers all the money that they owe people. I want to know, what type of justice is there where dishonest employers will not have to pay their workers all the money they are owed, all because some people want quick settlements? The Employment Standards Act is supposed to prevent the abuse of employees, not add to the abuse of employees.
Finally, the section of Bill 49 around negotiating employment standards in a collective agreement is not an effective way to go. If Bill 49 is passed, employers and unions will negotiate hours of work, public holidays, overtime and severance pay that may be lower than the standards. This relates to my first point I made, that if people are forced to work longer hours for less pay, their quality of life will decrease and their stress level will increase. This will lead to more accidents in the workplace, more careless work practices and a less equitable society. All of this relates to workers with disabilities, because less equity in our society leads to fewer opportunities for people with disabilities to become fully employed. Employment standards means that there is one standard for everyone; it does not mean having standards that are on a sliding scale and what is good for one person is not good for someone else.
As a person with a disability, I am concerned because I have a university education, experience working with people, experience working with different issues, and yet I have not been able to secure a full-time permanent job. I look at my friends and family who have worked most of their lives and now have money to travel and enjoy life and I wonder if I will have half as much as they do when I am their age.
I want to work, but I want to work for people who will be fair and equitable. Bill 49 does not encourage business practices that are fair and equitable, and I hope this bill is not passed. Employment standards should be strengthened, not watered down. Winston Churchill once said, "One can judge a society by how they treat their most vulnerable people." Our society should be creating opportunities for all people by ensuring that employment standards protect workers from harassment and give them working conditions that are fair and equitable. Workers with disabilities need strong employment standards so they will have equal opportunities in the workforce.
The Chair: Thank you. You've left us about a minute and a half, so 30 seconds per caucus. This time we'll start with Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: I don't mind starting, but I think your rotation is off again.
The Chair: Forgive me. When we dropped the --
Mr Christopherson: Oh no, it would be because we dropped the last one.
The Chair: That's right.
Mr Christopherson: My apologies.
The Chair: We're even now.
Mr Christopherson: You're right, we are.
I just want to say for the benefit of members of the committee that Norma is a well-known and highly respected representative of people with disabilities in this community and I don't think I need to say much to convey the fact that I think it takes that much extra to come forward when we know how difficult it is for able-bodied persons to come forward. This can be a rather difficult, stressful process to go through and Norma is there every time there is a public community issue here in Hamilton. I know that you would all want me to thank her for continuing to show the courage and leadership that she does on issues that affect the disabled in our community. Thank you, Norma.
Mr Baird: I just would echo the comments of the member for Hamilton Centre. We appreciate your discussion here today and we'll certainly take your brief back with us and keep it in mind in our deliberations. We appreciate the time you obviously took to research and prepare your brief. Thank you very much.
Mr Hoy: I also want to thank you for your brief. You mentioned quality of life. Those institutions such as government must provide equally for people and those who are considered to be vulnerable but no less active, as you are. Thank you.
Ms LaForme: I just want to comment. I think quality of life is partly the concern of the government, but as a society of people in community working together, we need to work together to ensure -- we live in one of the richest countries in the world. Our quality of life should be going up or staying at the same peak where it has been for the past few years. It shouldn't be going down.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms LaForme. I think all the party members would agree, it's certainly our goal to exploit the advantages of living in the greatest province and the greatest country in the world. Thank you for adding a very different perspective to our deliberations here today.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES NIAGARA DISTRICT COUNCIL
The Chair: The next presentation will come from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Niagara district council. Good afternoon.
Mr Pasquale Perri: Good afternoon. I thank the committee for allowing us the time period. I am Pasquale Perri. I am the president of the Niagara district council of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. It's a voluntary group -- unpaid -- elected to represent over 6,000 CUPE members in 15 locals throughout the Niagara Peninsula.
We are workers who care for the sick, the elderly and the children. We clean and repair your roads, pick up the garbage and work in sewage and water treatment plants. We clean your schools, look after the students, take care of the mentally and physically handicapped and provide child protection services. We administer the terms of the provincial welfare act and the Workers' Compensation Act. We help run the hospitals, the senior citizens' homes, the libraries, humane societies and sexual assault centres.
Our jobs demand a minimum of 35 to 40 hours per week to fulfil our employment responsibilities. Then we volunteer our time and energy to represent the members of CUPE.
It is stated that the Employment Standards Act applies to every contract of employment, oral or written, expressed or implied. It is stated the Employment Standards Act shall be deemed to be a minimum requirement only.
Just as an employer has obligations to his workers, so does a worker have obligations to his employer, so does the worker have obligations to his employer. This legislation should protect those who cannot protect themselves. This is our understanding of why the Employment Standards Act was created. To dilute this act is morally unjust to every worker in the province of Ontario.
To propose amendments under the assumption that all workers in Ontario can read, write and communicate to the extent which is now expected under these amendments does not accurately reflect the current workforce, whose skills and abilities have not been considered. The emotional and financial stress a worker faces with the proposed time constraints in applying for financial redress will be devastating. Just to show what some of the workers in the workplace have to face, there are a lot of functionally illiterate people in the workplace and there are also people who aren't. In some cases, workers will be dismissed without any income. In other scenarios the workers will still be working for the employer, more than likely unaware of what options are available to them or unaware of the fact that the clock is ticking.
Should a worker be successful in obtaining redress, he or she will be facing the distinct possibility of losing an unknown percentage, maybe as high as 40%, of any moneys awarded to a third-party collector. Is this fair? Is this just? I see a few people shaking their heads. I have worked as a collection agent.
Who does the worker turn to? Prior to these proposals, the provincial government, through its employment standards officers, was responsible for policing the act. Under the proposed changes, this duty is being forced on the unions and trade unions and the ordinary worker. What about the new workers, the student workers, the illiterate workers, the English-as-a-second-language workers and those workers who barely meet the standard set for literacy? Who is responsible for them? Is this fair? Is this just? Is this in the true spirit of the Employment Standards Act?
The worker is now facing the distinct possibility of losing the right to file both a civil complaint and an employment standards complaint. This is a right the workers of Ontario have possessed for many, many years. Why the change? Who benefits? Is this streamlining for the worker, the employer or the government?
These are some of our concerns. There are many other concerns. However, we anticipate these will be addressed by other presenters.
For a housekeeping act, these amendments go far beyond dotting the i's, crossing the t's and clarifying any ambiguous language. When you decrease the time limits, minimize the maximum benefits and declare a complaint must be filed in a specific manner or it will be deemed unacceptable, this is not housekeeping.
To try to delude workers into believing this is an improvement act is an insult to workers throughout the province. If the government were to follow the true spirit of the Employment Standards Act, it would recommend the following amendments: that a worker have five years to claim redress as financial institutions have five years to collect overdue debts, give or take a year or so; no maximum monetary ceiling on claims by workers; that a complaint filed under the act will be accepted in person, verbally, written, faxed, electronic data send, by telephone or in the first language of the worker; that a worker may pursue both his or her employment standards and civil remedies at the same time.
It is our belief that the present Employment Standards Act protects all workers, both union and non-union. Any changes that limit the ability of workers to exercise rights to redress, both in time limits and amount of moneys owing, is an attack on all workers in Ontario.
To unload the responsibility of policing the act on untrained union workers is a direct contravention of the government's responsibility. Based on changes proposed, it is our opinion that the government has abdicated its responsibilities to workers in Ontario. With no teeth in the act to assist those who will handle the government's unwanted duties, any measure of success will meet with limited results.
This act was intended to solve problems in the workplace without undue hardship to the worker. The proposed amendments reverse the process and penalize the worker. We must remember the employer has purchased the services of the worker. When the services are not paid for, this is a direct violation of the Employment Standards Act.
The Niagara District Council of the Canadian Union of Public Employees strongly opposes the proposed housekeeping amendments in Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Perri. You've left us about two and a half minutes per caucus. This time the questioning will start with the government benches, and I believe Mr Ouellette was the first to put his hand up.
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): Thank you for your presentation. I'd like to get into some more detail about the collections process. Currently 60% of the individuals pay without an order, which means that 40% require an order or something to take place. Of that, 37% are just refusals to pay. What we're looking at here is paying up to 75%; the recipient, the employee, would receive 75%. Remember -- I'm sure the figures are bouncing around; they're just as confusing for you as they are for me -- we're averaging 25 cents on the dollar. The employee is guaranteed 75 cents, and the collection agency can then bargain on the remaining 25 cents on the dollar. Being as it's not working now, we're not collecting 100%, how would you see us being able to improve that ratio?
Mr Perri: Number one, if there was language in the legislation that forced the employer. What I see here and what we've gone through in all of our debates is, when you allow an employer not to pay and then you tell the employee that he can collect up to 75% --
Mr Ouellette: That's taking place now.
Mr Perri: Hang on a second here -- you're penalizing the worker. Now you're saying to us, "How do we improve collecting that 75%?" Well, I'm sorry. As a worker I went in and we've been told -- and I've done some grievances and everything, and they always tell us, "You were hired and without signing a contract you have guaranteed us 40 hours a week," if that's what your work period is, or if it's 35 hours a week. "You have signed this agreement with us, written or verbal. That's what you've done."
If I start abusing things where I'm not in at work and everything, I'm fired or disciplined. But as a worker, if my employer doesn't pay me and I go through an employment standards procedure complaint, if the employer doesn't want to pay me, now you're telling me I can take 75 cents on the dollar and say thank you very much. Where's the justice here? Now you're asking me how to improve the increased collecting of the debt.
Mr Ouellette: No, what I'm saying is that --
Mr Perri: But you're asking how to improve it.
Mr Ouellette: Right.
Mr Perri: Why should I accept 75%? To improve it is that once an employer is fined under the act and he owes that claimant $100, he has to pay that $100. There is no wavering on how much you'll accept. You owe us $100; give it to us. That's why I said there's no teeth in the legislation to police the act.
Mr Ouellette: The legislation is not working the way it is. We're making here a serious attempt at rectifying the situation.
Mr Perri: If the employer owes me $100 and the employment standards officer says, "You owe him $100," he gets that $100, not 75 cents.
Mr Ouellette: That's right.
Mr Perri: Then why are we here?
Mr Ouellette: That's right. It says that now.
Mr Perri: Then why aren't we collecting it? There is no teeth in there. I'm sorry. When there are other things --
Mr Ouellette: Obviously the former government wasn't able to do it.
Mr Perri: Listen, folks, we're not here to complain about the other government. We're not here for the other government.
The Chair: We're going to move on to the official opposition.
Mr Lalonde: You seem to be concerned about the collection agency. You've just said yourself that you are in the collection --
Mr Perri: I was.
Mr Lalonde: What was the fee at the time that you were in the collection business?
Mr Perri: It could be as high as 50%. It's what you negotiate.
Mr Lalonde: What was the percentage?
Mr Perri: Remember, when I call you and I say to you, "You owe this company X amount of dollars" -- let's say you owe them $28,000 -- over the phone I could say, "Give us $14,000 and we'll resolve it," and most companies will write off the other $14,000 as a loss. Now I can negotiate with that company how much I want to collect the money for. So it all depends. But the point is, why as a worker do I have to negotiate for the money that's owed to me?
Mr Lalonde: I do understand your concern on this one because there is no cap on the percentage, except we guarantee 75%. But if there's a settlement under the amount that is owed by the employer to the employee, we're not talking of a percentage.
Mr Perri: Yes, but you're still eliminating the employer's responsibility. I'm sorry. No matter how we talk, we still eliminate the employer's responsibility.
Mr Lalonde: What other avenue do you think the government should take to ensure that the employees are getting their fair share?
Mr Perri: Strengthen the act, not dilute it.
Mr Lalonde: The actual ones?
Mr Perri: Everything.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. You raised a question rhetorically, on page 3, stating that:
"The worker is now facing the distinct possibility of losing the right to file both a civil complaint and an employment standards complaint. This is a right the workers of Ontario have possessed for many, many years. Why the change? Who benefits? Is this streamlining for the worker, the employer or the government?"
Can I just press a little bit and ask what you think the answer to that question is, when you look at this?
Mr Perri: It's not the worker who's going to benefit.
Mr Christopherson: Why?
Mr Perri: Because there are time restraints, the whole works. The only person who's going to benefit, no matter what -- and what really irks me the most is that if I don't live up to my obligation to a contract, no matter if it's verbal or not, I can get fired. If the employer does not live up to the obligation and there are moneys involved, I have to go to court and I have to pay my own fees now. On $100, how much does it cost to have a lawyer go in there for you?
How many of you here can live for four years without a job if you're fired without just cause? How many can? With today's economy, where you can't find a job, how long do you think you're going to survive for four years -- a case I think is on an average four years before you can get your job back if you can prove you were unjustly fired. How many here can survive? That's the question.
The most important issue here, we have 22% to 35% of the workforce in Ontario who are illiterate. There are facts from the federal government, from all provincial levels. These are the people who are going to be affected the most.
You always want to know personal things. I didn't learn about an act until I was injured at work. I didn't know about the Employment Standards Act until I was 30. Now you're going to tell me students coming out of high school, where there are no programs in the schools at all that teach government law, even about the Small Claims Courts and everything -- you're going to tell me these kids that are coming into the workforce are going to know what they're going to do and what they're legally allowed under the law? Let's get serious here, folks: They're not. That's the issue.
We're getting screwed as workers. The workers do not benefit from any of the amendments that you've put in here. The worker is suffering. I got hit in the 1970s with price controls. I got hit with the social contract. What have I done wrong as a worker? I contracted to work 40 hours a week, and now you're going to tell me to privatize and I have to negotiate for my same job five years from now and work at half the rate? What kind of standards are you talking about? Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Perri.
Mr O'Toole: On a point of order, Mr Chair: I want a clarification, if I may through the Chair or through the clerk. There has been much discussion on the issue of the collection fee. It's my understanding, and I'd like a clarification, under section 28 of the act, which defines "collector," it's clear to me that the director shall assign a fee or amount for the collection, which shall be added --
Mr Christopherson: Point of order.
Mr O'Toole: This point is not being completely understood by the public.
Mr Christopherson: Point of order.
The Chair: We already have a point of order on the floor.
Mr O'Toole: That amount is in excess, and that's what I want the clarification on. The current proposals state, and the public should understand, that if the salaries and wages owed --
Mr Christopherson: Point of order. He can't go on forever. Come on, Chair, point of order.
Mr O'Toole: I am on a point of order. Under section 28, Mr Christopherson --
The Chair: Mr O'Toole, what you've raised is not a point of order.
Mr O'Toole: A point of information.
The Chair: There's no such thing. But we'll ask the research staff to ensure that by tomorrow we have the answer to your question.
Mr Christopherson: A further point of order then.
The Chair: Yes, Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: If you're going to entertain a whole lot of questions on what we have here and what interpretations are, then I'd like to know how much time you're going to allow for that and when it'll happen, because I've got a whole lot I wouldn't mind asking the government or the researcher.
The Chair: Mr Christopherson, you're far more experienced in sitting in committee than some of the newer members, and Mr O'Toole now knows that that sort of thing is not a point of order. Presumably those debates will be held when we do the clause-by-clause.
Mr Christopherson: Mr O'Toole's action is not what surprises me. It's the ruling you made that you're going to direct the research officer to respond to it. That's my point of order. If you're going to leave that direction in place, then I've got a whole lot of questions that I'd like to have the research officer look at and we'll deal with in committee too. I'm suggesting to you the whole thing's out of order.
The Chair: It's quite appropriate for you, in a written format, to send a request to the research assistant for clarification.
Mr Christopherson: And you're going to deal with it in committee time?
The Chair: No. I don't understand why you don't understand I have told Mr O'Toole he did not have a point of order, period.
Mr Christopherson: All right. Then I just need to be clear. You're not giving time for that to be dealt with.
The Chair: No.
Mr Christopherson: You're asking him that he write --
The Chair: No, no, no. I said in writing.
Mr Christopherson: He can write whatever he wants to anybody. That's fine.
SIMCOE AND DISTRICT LABOUR COUNCIL
The Chair: That takes us to our last group, the Simcoe and District Labour Council. Good afternoon. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see fit, if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourselves for the Hansard reporter, please.
Mr Herman Plas: Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to make this presentation on behalf of the Simcoe and District Labour Council on the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act. At this point I want to recognize the work of Denise Earle, a labour activist, for helping us prepare this presentation.
My name is Herman Plas. I'm the recording secretary for the Simcoe and District Labour Council. The Simcoe and District Labour Council has got a 40-year history of being active in the community and speaking on behalf of working people in the Simcoe area. I've been a labour activist for a number of years and I plan to continue to work for social and economic justice for working people.
We believe that the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act, Bill 49, will have a significant impact on all the people of Ontario, not just working people. Specifically, we believe that lowering the employment standards legislation will have a negative impact on workers and on people in general.
With the indulgence of this committee, I have invited Ms Kim Shalay, a health care professional, to participate in this presentation. Kim has agreed to answer questions I will pose to her, following which I will make a brief closing summary. We welcome comments and questions from this committee following our presentation.
We hope to bring to light some of the changes that have taken place in Kim's workplace due to cuts in health care funding. We will also make the connection between these funding cuts and the negative impact of Bill 49 on the quality of care for older people living in nursing homes in this province.
Kim, I want to thank you for volunteering to help me with this presentation. My first question to you is, how do we know each other and what is our relationship?
Ms Kim Shalay: Yes, we know each other. I am your daughter and you are my father. I'm your youngest daughter.
Mr Plas: Right. You are right, we are father and daughter. Now that we've established that fact, let me ask, for the benefit of this hearing, what do you do for a living, how long have you been doing this and why do you do this kind of work?
Ms Shalay: I'm a registered health care aide and I work in an accredited nursing home in Simcoe, Ontario. I've been a registered health care aide for about four years. I like my job. I like the people. I enjoy taking care of people and I am good at taking care of people.
Mr Plas: Right. How has your job changed in the last year or so?
Ms Shalay: We care for about 80 people in our nursing home. Because of staff cutbacks, I do not have enough time to care for my patients the way I should be able to. Because of staff cutbacks, I often have to do things alone that should be done by two people, such as lifting a patient. Because there is nobody to help me, too often patients do not get the care they need.
Mr Plas: How severe are the cuts in staffing and how has that affected you?
Ms Shalay: In a 24-hour period there were 12 full-time staff and two part-time staff approximately, 112 hours of nursing care per 24-hour day. This allowed us to give the needed care to every patient and we were able to do our job safely and efficiently. I used to work 40 to 45 hours every two weeks as a part-timer. Now I work 20 to 24 hours every two weeks. Now we have eight full-time staff plus five part-time staff per day, for a total of 90 hours of nursing care per 24-hour day. This is a reduction of more than 20% in hours of care given to patients in a chronic care facility.
Mr Plas: How does the cut in staffing affect your patients, and what do you see as a result of these cutbacks?
Ms Shalay: The quality of care has gone down considerably, which is to be expected with the cuts in the hours worked. Too often patients are left on their own without prompt attention, sometimes with disastrous results. Patients will attempt to do things for themselves and run the risk of injury. We had one patient who fell trying to transfer herself. She broke a hip and was taken over to the hospital. After a week in the hospital she died. Our patients are elderly people who need personal care, a listening ear, to be touched sometimes. Some patients have nobody in the outside world. The staff is the only human contact they have. I can make a real difference in the lives of some of these people by spending just a little bit of time with them, but I don't have the time any more. With the cutbacks, I have to rush to get everyone looked after.
Mr Plas: How do these patients respond to these changes in care?
Ms Shalay: Some patients understand what is going on. They know we are doing our best. Some patients complain to their families about the drop in care. Some patients are confused. They have even more trouble coping than before. These are the people who really suffer. They are the victims of these cutbacks.
Mr Plas: Do you see a change in the kind of patient entering the nursing home?
Ms Shalay: Yes. I notice the increase in the number of chronic care patients coming in. They seem to have stayed home as long as they possibly can and now they're forced into a nursing home. They need an even greater level of care, adding to a greater workload for the nursing staff.
Mr Plas: How will this kind of cost cutting affect your work with elderly people?
Ms Shalay: We are told that cuts to health care spending will continue for some years to come. This will mean an even greater reduction in care. Already the level of care is not as good as it should be. Some of the most vulnerable members of our society -- our parents and our grandparents -- are the victims of this mean-spirited approach to debt reduction.
As employment standards are affected by Bill 49 and health care employers are squeezed for funding, the result could be a further reduction in staffing. This would be disastrous for these patients -- again. They will be the innocent victims of this government's race to the bottom.
I don't think that Bill 49 is good for health care workers or for patients. It needs to be withdrawn.
Mr Plas: Thanks, Kim, for letting us take a look at your workplace.
In closing, it may appear that this presentation addresses health care cuts rather than the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act, Bill 49. However, I must point out that should the proposed amendments be effected, these changes will, without a doubt, further erode the quality of care to the elderly and ailing people of this province. It has been demonstrated in this instance that as the health care institutions in this province, both private and publicly operated, desperately try to maintain a level of care for their clients, staffing has been cut.
Also, as Kim as attested to today, in the attempt to deal with these cuts, workers' conditions of employment have already deteriorated. Their ability to earn a decent living is affected by the decrease in hours of employment available to them. Their own health and safety in the workplace is affected by the downsizing of staff.
How will Bill 49 affect workers and others in Ontario? Allowing employers to negotiate minimum standards in the workplace lower than which currently exist will put additional pressures on workers already striving to make a decent living. As a result, as in the above instance, patients relying on our health care system will not receive the type of care to which they are entitled. Workers will have no choice but to perform their duties as best they can, not necessarily as best as they should be, in order to keep their jobs. Again, the patients will be the ones who suffer in the end. Is this fair?
Limiting the time for claims and investigations against employers and, as well, limiting the amount workers can claim will further threaten workers' job security. In this instance, health care workers will wonder if they can afford to report an injury that they may sustain as they try to do the work normally performed by two people. Many health care workers already rely on hours they hope to be able to pick up as a result of being hired on a part-time, on-call basis. Will their names suddenly be put at the bottom of the list if they complain about injuries caused by unsafe patient transfers? Will they attempt to perform their duties with injuries, thereby putting a patient at risk?
Finally, if the changes as proposed in Bill 49 regarding enforcing and collecting workers' claims are put into place, there is no doubt in our minds that the quality of life for all people in the province of Ontario will ultimately be destroyed. Perhaps those workers fortunate enough to enjoy the benefit of working in a unionized environment will receive some assistance in these areas; however, who will assist those workers who are not represented?
The amendments as proposed in Bill 49 will most certainly cause lengthy delays in the processing of workers' claims. How will these workers sustain themselves and their families during a period of time when they may be unable to work? What purpose will it serve to give workers the option of taking their claims to a court proceeding, when they most likely will not be able to afford to exercise that right? Why should a worker ever be forced to pay a private collection agency a fee to collect what is rightfully theirs?
Where is the government's responsibility in all of this? We believe we should be able to rely on our elected representatives to ensure that the rights of workers in this province continue to be recognized.
Once again, we thank you for the opportunity to appear before you.
The Chair: You've left us about two minutes to divide between the three caucuses, so about 45 seconds each. We'll start this time with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation. The monologue that you had together at the beginning was similar to what I have heard from others in the health care area --
Mr Plas: This was a dialogue.
Mr Hoy: -- and I just want to say to you that they're similar in nature. Patients who should maybe be requested to get up and walk for reasons of maybe a bad leg, but the nurse or the caregiver just doesn't have time to go and do that. So they can't walk perhaps as quickly, as well, and may be permanently damaged. I've heard this from health caregivers in all areas, including the hospitals, so you're right, the cuts have been quite widespread and have the same effect, region to region, in health care. I appreciate your presentation today.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. It's nice to have just a little break in the usual style and have a little different approach. It was quite enjoyable and quite effective.
I just want to ask you to embellish a bit on the notion you bring forward here that people who are entering the health care system will not receive as good care as they would otherwise, and not just because of the cuts in health care but they will be affected by the stress levels that are put upon workers. I'm assuming you're also suggesting that stress would be increased even more by the knowledge that the minimum rights you have as a worker have been watered down as a result of Bill 49. Can you take a minute to expand on that?
Ms Shalay: The residents that are coming in now, we don't have as much time to spend with them on a one-to-one basis as we used to. There have been many times when I've had a resident come up to me crying because they just want someone to sit down and talk with them, just to spend time with them, but we haven't got the time any more. We've been cut back to one and a half to two staff members per shift, and it's dangerous to try to lift someone who's supposed to be lifted with two people. Yes, we have a medi-lift, but still you're supposed to have two people to operate that as well. We've only got one person operating it half the time. Then you get residents who fight with you. It's difficult. It's very hard.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation.
Mr Plas: The only sure preventive measure against aging at this point is being run over by a streetcar or some such measure. Otherwise, we're all in the same boat, regardless of political stipe or economic condition.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much for a very, very interesting presentation. It's quite a unique bit of theatre. Anyway, the fundamental changes of reform to long-term care are very important. The minister has allocated $100 million to long-term care, additional money. There's a changing strategy in that area which I think is current to the point you were making here today.
Mr Plas: If I might interject, it doesn't appear anywhere in Kim's workplace.
Mr O'Toole: I would get into a discussion there -- but the collection fee is very important. You're suggesting that perhaps the employee -- the intent of the act under section 28 is very clear: "The director may authorize" the collection -- "the collector to collect reasonable fees or reasonable disbursements or both from each person from whom the collector seeks to" -- from whom the collector is seeking the owing under the act --
Mr Plas: Sir, if you have trouble reading it, I'm sure there'll be a hell of a lot of trouble implementing it. Again, as the previous presenter said, I'm entitled to 100%, not 75% or 25%. I'm entitled to all of it.
Mr O'Toole: That's exactly what the act says.
Mr Plas: If you can't read it, I'm sure the --
The Chair: Sir, excuse me. Would you allow Mr O'Toole to finish his question, then you can respond.
Mr O'Toole: I think that's what the act is saying, sir, in all respect. It's really saying in the next part that moneys that are attributable to wages, compensation, amounts paid in respect to every person owing under the act shall be paid to the person. So all the moneys are owed to the person who has the claim.
Mr Plas: Are you going to take up your allotted time just to -- or am I making the presentation to you?
Mr O'Toole: Well, I'm trying to clarify --
Mr Plas: Listen. This government has done absolutely nothing to show that it has any indication of being friendly to workers -- not only that they're mean-spirited, they're stupid, and they're stupid for this reason --
The Chair: Okay, thank you. If you two care to carry on the debate after the meeting, that's fine, but we have run out of our allotted time. Thank you for making your presentation before us today.
Mr Plas: Thank you.
The Chair: With that, we've had all our presentations here today, so this committee stands recessed until 9 o'clock tomorrow in Kitchener. Thank you all.
The committee adjourned at 1645.