Monday 26 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
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce
Service Employees International Union, Local 268
FMB Labour Adjustment Services
Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce
Service Employees International Union, Regional Office
Kinna-Aweya Legal Clinic
Transportation and Communications International Union, Allied Services and Grain Division
Construction Association of Thunder Bay
New Directions Workers Resource Centre
Thunder Bay Coalition Against Poverty
Thunder Bay and District Labour Council
Northwestern Ontario Steelworkers Area Council
Credit Bureaus of Northwestern Ontario Ltd
Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 87
Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers' Support Group
Canadian Union of Public Employees, Thunder Bay area office
Canadian Employment and Immigration Union, PSAC Local 623
Ontario Public School Teachers' Federation, Thunder Bay district
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 GillesBisson (Cochrane South / -Sud ND) for Ms Churley
Mr BillGrimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay / Muskoka-Baie-Georgienne PC) for Mr Tascona
Mr RonJohnson (Brantford PC) for Mrs Fisher
Mr TonyMartin (Sault Ste Marie ND) for Mr Christopherson
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 Avrum Fenson, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 0904 in the Valhalla Inn, Thunder Bay.
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.
The Chair (Mr Steve Gilchrist): Good morning. I call the meeting to order on this, the sixth day of hearings on Bill 49. We're pleased to be here in Thunder Bay and look forward to hearing the presentations throughout the day.
THUNDER BAY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair: First up this morning is the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce. I invite you to come forward to the table. Good morning. Just a reminder that you have 15 minutes to use as you see fit, divided between either presentation or question and answer period.
Mr Doug Smith: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Doug Smith, the chair of the board of directors for the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce. With me this morning is the president of our chamber of commerce, Rebecca Johnson. We are pleased to have the opportunity to address you on Bill 49, the Employment Standards Improvement Act, on behalf of the business community.
Our chamber of commerce represents some 950 member organizations and over 1,300 voting representatives.
The general focus for our chamber of commerce during 1996 has been on municipal issues. The Employment Standards Improvement Act, although not a direct municipal issue, is still one of great importance to our membership and to the business community at large for the region of northwestern Ontario. You will hear later today from our umbrella organization, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce, and we know that their message will very much parallel our message. We realize the impact on all facets of our province through the passage of this bill and the impact particularly on the business community.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce congratulates the government in deciding to implement two stages to reform the Employment Standards Act. We support Bill 49 as the first stage of that reform.
We recognize that the act is long overdue for change in the new and changing environment that we are now encountering. The act is unwieldy and not friendly to the small business owner in its current form. Legislation has been added during the past several years without thorough examination of the way it should be organized. Exemptions appear in several sections.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce looks towards the second stage of the reform that will provide a tightening of various areas as well as assist the business community, both for the employer and the employee.
Bill 49, as we understand it in its proposed state, has three goals, which we support: first, that the government, through the Ministry of Labour, administer the Employment Standards Act more resourcefully and efficiently; second, that the act will be more flexible and assist the employer and employee in working together within the framework of the legislation; and third, that the act is more simplified and in more current language that is readily understandable.
Bill 49, in undertaking these goals, protects employment standards for the employee. Employee standards are enhanced in several areas. Note section 12, where accrual rates during pregnancy or parental leave are augmented from the rights they currently have.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce supports the elimination of claim duplication and changes to limitation and appeal periods. Our chamber as well as most others, not only in Ontario but in Canada, has been lobbying for several years that duplication at any level of government be decreased. We are indeed pleased to see that our message is starting to be heard and reacted to. Thank you for recognizing and eliminating the duplicate claims. We are also pleased to see that the recovery of money is limited to a six-month period and that an extension for the appeal period is also included in Bill 49.
Small business, as it is defined, represents 76% of our membership and is currently overburdened with government forms. They are also faced with an increased defence of claims that are similar or render the same solution in numerous forums. This is unacceptable in today's environment for small business as they struggle to survive. Businesses don't have time for this. Government needs to recognize that this is not only happening with employment standards complaints but with other employment-related legislation as well.
Non-unionized employees are allowed to have employment standards disputes dealt with by the courts in actions of wrongful dismissal and the employment standards branch. Unionized employees can file grievances under a collective agreement dealt with in the grievance and arbitration process. They may also file complaints with the employment standards branch.
Business employers, on the other hand, have to defend the same dispute in numerous forums and must also pick up all costs that are involved. The taxpayer must pick up the various forum costs dealing with multiple claims in court and in the employment standards branch. All resources, both financial and union resources, can be better used in a single forum. The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce supports the sections of Bill 49 which remove duplicate claims in multiple forums.
Once again government is recognizing the new environment that business is working in and must survive in. You are trying to address the needs that will make the workplace better for all.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce is pleased to see the provisions in the bill which limit the opportunity to recover money to six months instead of the current two years. The proposed change places, as it should, the responsibility on the employee to make complaints in a timely and convenient manner. Complaints that are delayed create in many instances an unfairness to the employer's defence. Also, the longer the complaint is not identified to the employer, the longer and more difficult is the analysis of that situation. This does not include the probable increase in costs. Businesses do not have the extra financial abilities to support such delays.
Time limits to appeal the employment standards officer's orders from 15 to 45 days is also an improvement. This increase provides more time to allow both the employee and the employer to negotiate an in-lieu settlement of an appeal, consider whether an appeal should be filed and make the required payments to the director in order to apply for an appeal. The current 15-day period is not reasonable for many small businesses. Quite often we are talking about employers who are looking after all facets of their businesses, and the Employment Standards Act is just one component of their regular workday. We applaud the government for taking steps to eliminate duplicate claims and change the appeal periods.
Although we agree with the changes proposed in the Employment Standards Act under Bill 49, there are a few areas that need to be addressed, particularly under section 20, concerning enforcement through the grievance and arbitration procedures. How many officers must business report to? Under the Employment Standards Act, employment standards officers will have the power to investigate claims. They will also be able to inspect documents and discuss the situation with any person involved in that complaint. Will arbitrators be able to do this as well?
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce does not feel that the arbitrator should have this authority. Arbitration hearings should only take place after all other steps of the grievance procedure have taken place. The grievance procedure should take the place of the investigation.
Proposed amendments allow arbitrators the right to enforce the act. We are concerned that arbitrators will not have these rights under some provisions under a collective agreement between an employer and a union. With the wording proposed, an arbitrator has the jurisdiction to make a related employer declaration. This would make more complications and could lengthen the hearing. Again time and cost must be taken into consideration, time and cost that small businesses do not have.
The related employer provisions are unclear. How can an arbitration decision be appealed or reviewed, or is it final and binding? The proposed wording is unclear in this area.
Collective agreements between employers and unions usually set out time lines in which grievances must be filed and processed. These time lines could be different under the proposed Employment Standards Act.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce has been working for the past few years to create a better working environment between labour and business within our community. We would like this to continue. Only by working together can we continue to have Thunder Bay grow, particularly economically. We believe that the agreement made between the employer and the employee in a collective agreement should prevail. Grievances should be filed which allege both violations of the Employment Standards Act and the collective agreement. Consistent time lines in such a case are crucial.
We're not sure from the proposed amendments if the arbitrator has the ability to award damages within the six-month recovery period. The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce believes that the remedial jurisdiction of arbitrators should be restricted in order to provide equal rights to all employees.
Clarification needs to be made regarding the expedited arbitration pursuant to the Labour Relations Act available for grievances seeking to enforce the Employment Standards Act.
In conclusion, the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce suggests that the greater right or benefit assessment be moved as a package to the second stage of the reform. Allowing for a greater right or benefit as a package is a fundamentally important component of allowing the employer and employee the freedom to mutually agree to arrangements which, if viewed separately, would not be in compliance with the Employment Standards Act.
As we originally stated, the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce supports the goal of being able to work out an agreement and being flexible. The ability to assess greater right or benefits as a package will help achieve this goal. The proposed amendments require some clarification and expansion in this area. These themes should be part of the second stage of reform.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce once again extends its thanks to the members of the standing committee for coming to Thunder Bay. We support the two-stage Employment Standards Act reform process and Bill 49 as the first step. We leave you with our comments and questions and look forward to stage 2 and providing further input to you at that time.
The Chair: That leaves us exactly four and a half minutes, so a minute and a half per caucus. We'll commence, as we always do, with the official opposition.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): Thanks, Doug. It's good to see you again. Just a couple of quick comments. First of all, we support the government in its desire to make the act work better. We do part company, however, in the notion that the act works better when you reduce minimum standards. Would it be your view that the vast, vast majority of your members are good employers who probably don't often come up against complaints under the Employment Standards Act?
Mr Smith: That would be my view.
Mr Duncan: I guess the concern I have is, given that you've recommended we take out section 20 and put it into the second stage, and given that the government's removed flexible standards, why wouldn't we do it all at once? Other chambers and other business groups have said, "Let's do it all at once and look at the whole act." If you take out the arbitration, the section 20 thing, which by the way is a theme that we're hearing from business groups everywhere, why wouldn't you put it aside till January, which is now four months away really, and do everything at once, once the discussion paper is out and once we've seen the entire package of government amendments?
Mrs Rebecca Johnson: I don't think there's really any difficulty if in fact we can incorporate it into the new, when we're looking at something in a couple of months away. I don't think that's a real issue regarding our specific membership.
Just to add to something that Doug has already identified, we can say that we feel our membership and the business community address the needs of the employee, but I guess what we're really looking at within this act is the fact that those employers -- and unfortunately there are some -- who don't address the needs of the employee, and of course, that's why one has to have legislation.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I guess I'm just a little surprised this morning that you're supportive of this initiative by the government, although perhaps I shouldn't be, given the traditional relationship between the chamber of commerce and Conservative politics. When you look at the track record of this government so far and the attack and the pain that communities have felt because of some of the decisions that were made, and ultimately small businesses -- I come from Sault Ste Marie, and for example the decision of last July to take 22% away from the poorest of the people who live in our communities, money that they take to buy groceries and pay the rent and keep body and soul together, that ultimately meant a $2-million reduction in the amount of money circulating in the economy of Sault Ste Marie. The already 1,000 jobs that have been lost in Sault Ste Marie by way of the downsizing of government has meant another $35 million out of the economy by way of business, and I know that some small businesses have already gone under in Sault Ste Marie and a number of them are struggling; they're hanging on by their fingernails.
Why is it that you would have confidence that anything this government is going to do, looking at its record so far, would be in any way helpful to small business?
Mr Smith: I guess I would respond to that by saying that we're in changing times and the financial reality of our times -- people have to be given the opportunity and a playing field where they can provide for themselves and find opportunity for themselves. I don't think anybody looks at these times and necessarily enjoys them, but there is a reality of our world that we have to deal with. We as a chamber acknowledge the opportunity put forward by the government to try and develop individual opportunities for people, and specifically small business. Again, there's pain in these changing times, and it's a matter of trying to find out what's best and fair for everybody.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): Mr Martin's comments notwithstanding, the first year has obviously been spent trying to find all sorts of ways to eliminate all the red tape and bureaucratic and political bungling that the last government foisted upon business in this province, and it's done so, I think, remarkably well.
Let me cut to a couple of issues that are of real concern to us as we go about the province. First of all, there is some question that in the current legislation it is difficult for employees to get proper redress where some unscrupulous businesses -- and that's a small number but it's still not insignificant -- either go bankrupt and hide behind flawed legislation currently put out by the federal government, or find other ways to dodge giving employees their proper payment of a dollar for a dollar. Can you give the committee any suggestions as to how in fact the legislation might be improved to ensure that indeed employees do have access to a full dollar for the labour that's been performed when companies particularly go bankrupt or find ways to dodge the payment?
Mr Smith: That is a good point because obviously legislation is required because of those minority employers clearly that are abusive. I think the way that you were going with the legislation in terms of allowing them to try and work things out initially is viable, with the opportunity immediately, if they can't work it out, to then have access to either the courts or to the government relations board. I think that, again, as long as -- the six-month limitation period is a good move because it forces the issue to come to the table quickly and I think that that's what's important is that they don't linger and take on a life that is undefinable after a while.
The Chair: I'm sorry, Mr Shea, I'm afraid we've run out of time. Thank you very much for taking the time to make a presentation before us here this morning. We appreciate it.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL 268
The Chair: That takes us to our next group, the Service Employees International Union, Local 268. Good morning. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to use as you see it, either in presentation or question-and-answer period.
Mr Glen Oram: Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to present the Service Employees International Union, Local 268 perspective on Bill 49, proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act. I've worked as a union representative for Local 268, and our local extends from Sault Ste Marie to the Manitoba border, and we represent about 4,000 members within that area. We represent members in all different aspects of employment: hospitals, nursing homes, school board employees, township employees, employees in the private sector and different areas, so we have a broad perspective that we deal with. In my role as union representative I deal, on a day-to-day basis, with the problems that employees have in the workplace. I negotiate collective agreements, I negotiate first contracts for newly organized employees, and I come across all the experiences that employees have in both the unionized sector and the non-unionized sector.
I don't have time to comment, obviously, on all the provisions of the act but I'd like to draw your attention to some specific provisions.
One of the first provisions that I would like to deal with is the provision taking away the floor of rights under the Employment Standards Act in collective bargaining situations. If the government continues on with this change in the act, you're going to see, for the first time since the 1940s, strikes for an eight-hour workday; you're going to see strikes for a five-day workweek. Because as soon as this goes on the table, you're going to see employers saying: "Okay, the door is open for us to make alternative arrangements so we're going to put on the table a 12-hour workday. Yes, we may offer this over here as compensation," but you're going to see them put on the table the alternative arrangements like 12-hour workdays. You're going to see them force those issues at the bargaining table to the point of an impasse, because they will now be allowed to do that. At this time, they cannot force those issues to the point of an impasse because it would be illegal under the Employment Standards Act and it would be bargaining in bad faith. But as this changes, you will see strikes over the workday that you haven't seen since 1940. We will regress to that point, and I guarantee that that will happen.
Right now, instead of trying to change these portions of the act, the government should focus on the areas of the act that aren't covered by legislation. There are no provisions in the Employment Standards Act to provide for overtime on a daily basis. An employer can work an employee 16, 17, 18 hours a day and not have to pay them time and a half. There's only provision for weekly overtime. There's not even a provision in the Employment Standards Act for coffee breaks. There's not a provision in the Employment Standards Act for a five-day workweek. It's not in there. If you're going to improve the Employment Standards Act, we should take a look at these areas. We shouldn't be taking away the rights that are under there.
Now, I negotiate first collective agreements a lot of times. When we go into bargaining for a first collective agreement, our starting point is basically the Employment Standards Act, because that's the area that all the employees are covered on. To change that section to take away that floor, our starting point in first contract negotiations changes dramatically. You're going to see the employers coming to the bargaining table with positions way below the floor. So we're going to be starting off below the employment standards and trying to work our way back up. It puts these employees in an incredibly vulnerable situation.
The other area I'd like to talk about is the change to allow the six-month claim, rather than the two years. I see this specifically as a major problem. What you see with employees out there -- and I deal with them on a daily basis. When we organize a new workplace and I sit down and I talk with the employees and what they want to see in their collective agreement, they start telling me things. I say: "You should be already getting that. That's in the Employment Standards Act. You should be getting this; you should be getting that." Most employees don't realize what their rights are under the Employment Standards Act, and by the time they do realize, many times it's past six months. Many times it's further than that and they've been shortchanged for a long period of time. If you think of an employee on a minimum wage, to go back and get that money, they're working for a very small amount of money, and all the dollars that are owing to them are important to them, not just six months' worth.
I understand that the bill has also provided for a minimum claims amount. It's not mentioned in the legislation, but in previous documents I've seen that the government puts out, the recommendation, I understand, was $100. If that recommendation goes through for the minimum, you can see an employer basically screw an employee out of a statutory holiday. Someone working minimum wage, they can screw him on a statutory holiday every six months and there's not a bloody thing they can do about it. I don't see that as being fair. If you look at the amount of money these people are making, that'll be a real undue hardship to them if that's going to occur.
One of the other reasons why employees don't normally file right away when there's a violation of the act is (1) they don't always know their rights; and (2) they are afraid of repercussions. Because the act does not contain any provision for dismissal without just cause, if an employee files a complaint with the employer, they can wait a little while, and a couple weeks down the road, if the employee hasn't been around too long and he says, "Here's a week's pay. See you later, you're gone, 'bye," there's nothing an employee can do about it. So employees are more concerned, obviously, with their job security. Because there's no just cause provisions in the Employment Standards Act, they're extremely vulnerable when they file complaints against their employers. Many of them -- most -- that I see wait till they find another job with an employer who's going to abide by the act, then go back and say, "This is what I'm owed." The reason they do that is because they're afraid to get fired. It's plain and simple.
I'd also like to comment about employers who violate the act, in my experience, how many employers violate the act. In the last few years that I've been doing this job, I've experienced that every single employer I deal with has at one time or another violated the Employment Standards Act. With many of them, once we brought it to their attention, we've been able to resolve the situation. But this is not the odd employer who does that. I mean, employers violate the act. Like I said, every single employer I've dealt with has done it at one point or another, so this is not the rare employer who does it. Many times, I admit, it's a mistake on their part. They are not knowledgeable, they don't know the act, as the employees don't, and that's where I come in because I have the knowledge of it to deal with the situation.
I'd like to make some other comments about providing that unionized employees go through the grievance procedure to enforce provisions of the act. This concerns me somewhat because of the cost of labour arbitrations. My experience has been in the last few years that labour arbitrations have gone from being a procedure whereby laypeople have been able to present their arguments to an arbitrator and the hearings are done in a short period of time -- well, that's not the case any more.
It's typical to see arbitration cases go six, seven, eight days, and the cost to both the union and the employers are enormous. For that type of hearing, you're into $10,000 and $15,000. Many times arbitrations, with the $10,000 and $15,000 costs, are over a couple of hundred bucks, and I don't see that as beneficial to the whole process.
Another section of the act, subsection 64(5), allows a union to go to arbitration when they've been certified but haven't got a collective agreement yet. I'd like to point out to the government that the act doesn't provide for any dispute resolution mechanism. When you don't have a collective agreement, you don't have a grievance procedure, you don't have an arbitration procedure. The act does not specify which procedure you go to, whether you're able to go to expedited arbitration or what time limits are on this or where you're to proceed to. I certainly see that as a flaw in the drafting.
Those are about all my comments today.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Oram. We appreciate it. You've left just over five minutes, so about one and three quarter minutes per caucus. This time the rotation will start with the third party.
Mr Martin: It was good that you came this morning and reminded us, ever so briefly, of all we've achieved so far in the labour relations area to create a level playing field, to create some basis upon which other things are built, I guess to remind us as well that so often we take for granted so much of what organized labour has fought for and worked for over the years that has ultimately accrued to the non-organized workplace: the 40-hour workweek and working eight hours a day. Some people think that was something that was always there and forget that many long and hard battles were fought to achieve those basic underpinnings of labour relations work. Now, with what we've seen already as an attack on the rights of workers in this province, we are getting into the bone of the matter, and this government is beginning to see some of these very basic areas as areas of focus and want to make some changes that ultimately will affect every working man and woman across this province.
When I get calls these days about this piece of legislation, one of the questions is, "This is a piece of work aimed at organized labour." They've got the resources and the wherewithal to just sit down and fight through some of these issues at the bargaining table where they feel that perhaps it is more --
The Chair: Mr Martin, can you pose your question? We're over our time already.
Mr Martin: How do you see this? What are the most salient points in this legislation will affect the non-organized workplaces of this province the most?
Mr Oram: The area that I see that's going to affect unorganized workers the most is obviously the limit on the amount of claims, the six-month limit. Whatever minimum limit the government's going to establish, I take it, is going to be established under regulations. I have no idea what that limit is, but I understand it was recommended at $100, something like that. So for a minimum-wage worker -- most of the people under employment standards are minimum-wage workers -- I think those provisions will affect them the most. I think it's really unfair not to know at this time what minimum amount the government is going to propose, and the fact that they have the power to do that under regulations scares me.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): Thank you very much, sir, for your presentation. The current Employment Standards Act does have a very strong no-reprisal clause in it, and we would certainly welcome from you any suggestions on how that could be strengthened. I know it's an area that all three parties, when they were in government, have looked at. If there's something the last three governments haven't seen that you could contribute, I know we'd be pleased to learn more about it.
With respect to the minimum, at the current time there's no intention to put a minimum, but there are certainly in the bill provisions to allow such. I guess the feeling is that if someone were to make a claim for, for example, $25, would it make sense to spend $500 or $1,000 conducting an investigation and enforcing an order? Would that be the best use of taxpayers' money? One previous presenter even said it would be cheaper just to write them a cheque rather than investigating if someone came forward with a claim for $25, for example.
Just a third point. You mentioned that in the bill there were no provisions to negotiate a settlement in a non-unionized situation. I can certainly indicate that under Bill 49 employment standards officers will be given the power to resolve a complaint, upon the mutual agreement of both parties, before the complaint investigation is completed and that these settlements would be binding on both parties. That's something I completely agree with your comments on, that there's got to be flexibility within the act, and that an employment standards officer can go to an employer and say, "This has been the complaint," and on some occasions -- not enough, but on some, even many occasions -- the employer would say: "Listen, it's an honest mistake. I'm happy to pay right away." Certainly with increased enforcement of the act we hope we'll see more of that.
Mr Oram: I'd like to address your comment about the $25. Obviously, if there's some minimum out there -- I keep referring back to the document I've seen that recommended $100 -- to a minimum-wage worker $25 is a heck of a lot of money. That's the difference between being able to buy groceries at the end of the month and not being able to. I think any amount of money owed to an employee for wages they've worked for is worth going after. I don't think there should be absolutely any minimum, and if the government puts in a minimum and it's told to the employer. "The minimum amount's $100, but you owe this person 50 bucks," I know what most employers are going to say. They're going to say, "Forget it."
Mr Baird: We certainly need safeguards in that, I completely agree. I did calculate, though, your example of worker working six months for minimum wage, and the 4% vacation pay would be almost $250. Fortunately, that wouldn't be an example.
Mr Oram: One statutory holiday, at $6.70 an hour, calculate that out and that's under $100.
Mr Baird: But there's more than one statutory holiday in six months, isn't there?
Mr Oram: Yes, but they may pay them for some and not pay them for others.
Mr Duncan: A theme that's emerging from a number of labour organizations is this notion that the government is setting up a climate where more issues will now be on the bargaining table, especially if in phase 2 of their reforms they proceed with the so-called flexible standards issue. Would it be your view that these amendments, if allowed to go through, will (1) in fact cause more difficulty at the bargaining table, and (2) lead to more time lost to strikes, work actions, work stoppages, whatever?
Mr Oram: Absolutely. I think when the employers sit down at the bargaining table and start to take away rights that employees have had for years, and we're talking about a 40-hour workweek and an eight-hour day, when those types of rights come to the bargaining table and the employers want to change these, you guarantee there will be strikes. If employers want to start putting in 12-hour shifts and 10-hour shifts and seven days in a row, there will be, absolutely.
Mr Duncan: We concur with your view that there is a reduction of minimum standards for employees in Ontario. Given that you organize many workplaces that are probably minimum-wage jobs before you get there, would it be your view that there are ways in which we could improve the efficient operation of the statute, amend the statute to make it serve both workplace parties better without reducing those standards? Would your union be prepared to undertake those kinds of discussions?
Mr Oram: If we were asked to say what areas we see are deficient in the Employment Standards Act and what areas we see should be improved, we would certainly be more than willing to provide examples to anybody who asked us where improvements need to be made. I would certainly undertake that our organization would participate in recommending where positive changes to the Employment Standards Act need to be made, rather than these types of changes, which are negative. It's certainly not an act to improve the Employment Standards Act unless you happen to be an unscrupulous employer who doesn't abide by the act; then it is in fact an improvement.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Oram, for coming before us here this morning. We appreciate it.
FMB LABOUR ADJUSTMENT SERVICES
The Chair: Next up will be FMB Labour Adjustment Services. Again, just a reminder, the 15 minutes are yours to divide as you see fit between presentation or question and answer.
Mr Francis Bell: My name is Francis Bell. I am the owner of FMB Labour Adjustment Services. I want to first tell you that FMB Labour Adjustment Services came out of the ashes of the shutting down of the Shebandowan mine. It was a unionized workplace, but the employer didn't want to pay the severance pay provisions that were inside the collective agreement as well as the severance pay provisions inside the Employment Standards Act.
What's really interesting is that the employer's attitude was, "Go to arbitration; you can resolve it there." We spent six days doing preliminary arguments about whether we could arbitrate it, because it was an employment standards issue. I think that tells you something. That cost the local union, for the arbitration, a significant number of dollars.
For the people I represented at that time as union president, the result was that this employer also said, "I'm not going to provide any type of assistance in helping people get jobs." Three hundred workers lost their jobs.
Because of the time limits today, I'm going to move along pretty quickly through my presentation. I've provided you a copy of it and I'll call out the pages as I go through them for your information.
I'd like to first go to the overview. The purported reason for the latest changes by the new government of the Honourable Mike Harris is to improve the Employment Standards Act. As a labour consultant, I have to ask myself out loud, who is going to enjoy the fruits of the government's labour? I would also have to ask, is this a win-win situation that's going to create stability in labour relations or is it going to create turmoil?
I would like to suggest to you that collective agreements that are this size, if you keep up the same process, they're going to be this size. And you know who wins on that? The lawyers. For you who are lawyers, I apologize, but you're the ones who are going to win, the reason being that lawyers like to do appeals. Lawyers can make money off it. The person earning minimum wage certainly won't. The small local union won't be able to afford the legal costs. I want to think that's a good reason.
I'd like to move now to page 7 and case study 1. These are three cases I've dealt with in the last year. I wanted to bring them to your attention so we're talking about real things, talking about common sense here.
This is about a male individual who worked in the construction industry for a non-union employer. The individual had seen the employer challenge a workplace injury and threaten another worker for filing a WCB claim. The employees were told that they showed no loyalty towards the company and they could be replaced in the batting of an eyelash.
The worker came to me and indicated that he had worked six days a week, eight to 12 hours per day, at a minimum of 60 hours per week, for a three-month seasonal rush. The worker was not paid any overtime. The worker was also docked one hour per day for lunch when he was told he could only have 30 minutes for lunch. He is married, is the sole breadwinner and has the responsibility of providing for his wife and children.
He has indicated that he is scared to lose his job and does not want to upset his employer since he's not sure he will be able to find another job in his field. His co-worker who filed the workers' compensation claim has been unable to find employment in his field after departing from his employer. I want to add that the departure was not of the co-worker's choice. The co-worker had to uproot his family and has now found employment some 800 miles away from this town. That was the first place he could find work.
I believe anyone would agree that this worker who complained to myself is entitled to overtime pay at a minimum of one and a half times basic salary for hours that exceed 44 hours per week. He is frightened to proceed under today's legislation to file a complaint with the employment standards branch but is currently attempting to find work in another field. He has indicated that once he does find work he will seek the assistance of the employment standards branch. Should this worker be penalized because the current legislation does not adequately protect the workers?
If you talk about protection, it's nice to have it written down, folks, but when you get fired and you can't put a meal on the table, you can't pay for your house and you lose your house, you lose your car, that little paper it's written on doesn't mean much. You might win two years down the road, but in the meantime what do you do? I'm going to give you some suggestions on how you correct these problems later.
Does the current government wish to help the situation? Does this current government want to stop the abuse of employees? If an employee is owed a dollar, he deserves a dollar; not 50 cents bargained on his behalf, not 25 cents on the dollar -- a dollar for a dollar.
Case number 2: This deals with a female contract employee who's been hired by a public sector employer. The public sector employer has full-time employees who are represented by a union and has bargained that anyone who does not belong to the union but does bargaining unit work and is employed as a contract worker has to pay the equivalent of monthly union dues.
The employer controls the workload and the minimum hours of work that are expected from the contract employee. The result is that the employee, on a regular basis, exceeds her regular hours per day and per week with no extra remuneration. Since this is an ongoing situation and the contract renewal process requires reapplication, this person is not prepared to go to the employment standards branch. I wonder why. Guess what? When you have to apply for your new contract and you've filed a complaint, you just might not get that new contract. It sounds like something that happens to construction workers: "Keep quiet, be happy with what you've got, because if you file a complaint you ain't going to get hired for the next job."
This pressure for having to work excessive hours and not receiving remuneration, for no vacation pay in three years, no vacation time in three years, results in pressure at home. It results in pressure from her colleagues at work saying: "Why are you doing this? If you keep this up, we're going to have to do the same type of thing." Everybody loses.
What's the long-term result? I've told this individual: (a) She should file a complaint; (b) she should file a compensation claim; and (c) she should also seek professional mental health assistance. She's at the point that happens to a lot of people, that they end up having breakdowns because of the fact that they can't handle the stress and the pressure. That's the type of pressure people are put under.
Case number 3 involves an injured worker who was retrained as a social worker. I want to put this in some perspective. Part-time work is the new global reality, isn't it? We can have three, four part-time jobs, and might make 40 hours a week, but that's okay. This is what happens: This lady has a $1-a-year future economic loss award. For those who don't understand compensation, what they say is that she can return back and get close to her pre-accident earnings. She's going to do it with multiple employers.
She had to purchase a pager. She has 15 minutes to respond to the call on the pager to say, "I'm available for work." She has 30 minutes to show up. She's on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This lady has worked multiple shifts for multiple employers. She's worked as many as 32 hours straight; no overtime pay because they're all different employers. Is it safe? I would think not. I hope you would think not too. Does it show common sense? The answer is no. What it does show is the type of problems we're leading to in society.
These employers have a minimum full-time staff and they work with part-time and casuals because it's cost-efficient. The result is that her family says they don't have to include mom in any of the plans, the reason being, "We don't know if mom's going to be available anyway, so why make plans that include mom?" She's being frozen out of her own family because she's a multiple-employer, part-time, casual worker.
The Employment Standards Act doesn't protect her. The Occupational Health and Safety Act doesn't protect her. The Workers' Compensation Act doesn't protect her. Guess what? The government's failed. You haven't protected a worker. You haven't protected this lady, you haven't protected the guy and you haven't protected the other lady. The Employment Standards Act doesn't work because there's the opportunity for retribution. People today live from paycheque to paycheque. They don't sit in the bank with $25,000, $30,000, $50,000; they don't have RRSPs. People who earn minimum wage or just above minimum wage are not in that type of financial position. The result is that they pay for it. Is the aim of the new proposed legislation to protect workers? You and I both know the answer: The boss can say, "I'm safe to do what I want as long as no one complains." Are workers going to complain in today's climate? The answer is no.
Going on to page 10, with your new legislation that you're proposing, the language will be this: Workers are chattel. They can be bought and discarded at the employer's will. There are no minimums. Employers can do whatever they want without fear of legal redress, and that's the reality of it. What the boss says goes.
With regard to your collection agencies, I don't know who came up with that farfetched idea, but I can tell you that workers won't get dollar per dollar. The graphic at the bottom puts it in real precise terms. For those people who can't see the graphic, it has somebody pulling the money out, a good percentage of the money that was being collected, and somebody getting the boot. I can tell you who's pulling the money out, and that's the collection agency, so the worker is not going to get the dollar per dollar. Guess who's going to get the boot. It's going to be the worker.
On the other side of it, because you haven't done a good job, folks, the small employer is going to get the boot. I represent firms that have fewer than five people and I can tell you right now, from a small employer's perspective, that if I don't know where the legislation's going to go and I don't know how it's going to be interpreted, I may want to take a chance. If I take a chance, am I prepared to have that financial day that comes when all of a sudden I have to pay some money and can't afford to do it? Do I get to bargain or does the employee say no and then I have to get myself in a financial crisis? Because the legislation isn't written clearly, it's not written distinctly and you haven't made up your mind what you want to do.
Do you want to protect workers and do you want to make sure people get paid for everything they're owed, or do you want to make it a legal choice? We can hire some lawyers to make some decisions for us, and when the lawyers don't like the decisions they can appeal them to the courts, and they can go to the court above that. Meanwhile, everybody loses in the same time.
I've got some recommendations on page 11 for you. One is that this legislation needs to be redrafted in either the purpose clause or the sections of the act, depending upon what the government wishes to do with this legislation. Redraft it and say what you really want to do. If you want to improve it and help workers, make your legislation do that. If you don't want to improve it, if you want to make it so that employers don't have to pay, then have the common sense to say exactly that: Employers aren't going to have to pay and minimum standards don't really matter. Make up your mind, walk down the plank and take your choice.
The second recommendation is to draft the legislation in such a manner to get rid of weasel words. Those are lawyers' phrases: ifs, ands, buts, shalls, maybes. They don't say much to a worker, but they certainly say a lot to a lawyer. Get rid of those words. Very succinct, short, accurate sentences, folks. Are you writing this for lawyers or are you writing this for the workers and the employers of this province? Guess what? If you write it for the workers and the employers, you can write very short, distinct sentences, not with double meaning, and everybody will understand it. Guess who won't be having so much work. It's going to be the lawyers. If you write it the way you've drafted it now, the only one who's going to succeed is the lawyers.
The third recommendation is to be honest and forthright. This government came to power saying it believed in common sense. Common sense tells me that if you write, "I'm walking down the road," that's what you're doing. You don't say, "I may walk down or up or across or around the road"; you say, "I'm walking down the road."
My conclusion, and that's on page 12, is: Does this government wish to have people treated as chattel property, disposable at will, or are workers an important part of the working fabric in Ontario and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect? You have to make the choice. With all reference to the two opposition parties, because this government controls the Legislature, it controls the legislative agenda. They can offer suggestions, but the reality is that it's your government's choice.
In conclusion, I would have to say that this legislation is not for workers, it's not for employers; it's for lawyers and that's why we have a problem today. Every time somebody amends this, they write it for lawyers. They don't write it for the people who have to work with this stuff day in and day out. You have an opportunity, folks. Wake up, take the challenge and take advantage of that opportunity. Hold off this package. Put it in one package. Write it with some common sense and, most importantly, write it so the layperson can understand it. Workers and employers do not need labour lawyers, employment lawyers, management lawyers, labour consultants; workers and employers need plain, clean, simple language.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Bell. We've actually gone over, but I will allow a 15- or 20-second brief response from each of the parties.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. On page 10 you asked who would pay for the fees of collection agents, the workers or the deadbeat employers. It'll be the deadbeat employers, as per the legislation. That's important to know. I guess with respect to the collection agents, this government isn't satisfied with collecting 25 cents on the dollar for workers. It's been that way for many years under the previous government. Under this government we think we can do a better job than 25 cents on the dollar, and that's why we think collection agents would do a better job.
Mr Bell: I worked for a collection agency at one time in my profession.
Mr Baird: Did you collect more than 25 cents on the dollar?
Mr Bell: We were making settlements on 10 cents on the dollar. That's the reality of the collection business.
Mr Baird: So has the ministry, by the way, over the last number of years under both governments.
Mr Duncan: Thank you for your presentation. The one thing that struck me about your presentation that is a relatively unique comment is the notion of its impact and the red tape the government will be creating, and how -- not deliberately -- the consequence of some of these amendments will be to create a situation whereby collective agreements start to govern more aspects of the workplace where there's a union in place. As was said by a previous union delegation today and has been said repeatedly to us as we've travelled the province, collective bargaining will be undermined, there will be more issues on the table, likely more work actions and, just generally speaking, a situation that eventually employers will find very difficult to cope with.
Mr Martin: I think anybody who studies the foundation upon which a good economy is built will tell you -- and certainly it's been my experience -- that some of the characteristics are stability, healthy and happy workers, a good relationship between the worker and the employer. Will this legislation take us in that direction or take us away from that direction?
Mr Bell: This legislation will take us to the 1969 Inco Steelworkers strike, that type of relationship -- nine months, violent strikes -- and it will also take us to the situation where workers will not show any loyalty to an employer and employers will not be showing loyalty. The result is that we're going to have production go down in this province, and then people are going to be saying, "Why is our economy in trouble?" This type of legislation is what leads to that.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Bell, for taking the time to appear before us here today.
NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO ASSOCIATED CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE
The Chair: That leads us now to the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce. Good morning.
Mr Jack Mallon: Thank you. In my role as treasurer, I really don't have a lot of experience in labour negotiations, so I'm enjoying this morning and learning both sides of the coin. As the owner of several small businesses, however, I am quite proud to make this presentation today on behalf of my fellow businesses.
I'd like to begin by introducing myself and my colleague. I'm Jack Mallon, treasurer of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce. Sitting with me is Rebecca Johnson, our executive director on an interim basis for that organization.
It is with great pleasure that I am speaking to you as a representative of NOACC; that's the short form for the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce. On behalf of our diverse business community in northwestern Ontario, I would like to acquaint you with our organization. We are composed of approximately 14 community chambers with over 2,000 members covering the geographic area from the Manitoba border in the west to Manitouwadge in the east. NOACC serves as a lobbyist group as well as providing networking opportunities among its membership. The organization works on behalf of the membership for the economic betterment of this part of the province. We have traditionally met on an annual basis with the provincial cabinet during the past 55 years; 1995 was an exception with the new government. However, we look forward to this annual event continuing in the fall of 1996; we've been assured that we're going to continue that tradition. We also meet with the opposition parties as well and we look forward to that carrying the messages of northwestern Ontario business concerns.
I appear before you this morning representing the NOACC membership to support Bill 49. On behalf of myself personally, my past involvement with the chamber of commerce, being the past president of the Thunder Bay chamber, one of the things we tried to do, and I thought we did very well, was start to work with the workers and the unions. We came to the conclusion that we are a team, we're in this together -- employers and workers. That's very important to me as a person and I'll do anything I can to make that team do better in the future.
The act has been in need of revision for some time now. As it is outdated, the act has proven to be inefficient in our constantly changing economic environment. Bill 49 offers changes to the act that we believe are in the interests of both the workers and employers in Ontario. We feel that's fair. The Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce applauds the government's action in undertaking the reform process of the Employment Standards Act. We believe it is the logical first step in allowing the administration of the act to be more user-friendly for the increasing number of small business owners. I heard that from the last gentleman here. Put it in simple language so we can all understand it and make it friendly.
We also congratulate the government on listening to the concerns of the small business owner. A little side note: You'd be amazed at how many people who used to be in a union are now small business owners. As a fallout of these jobs, we're getting more and more of these people joining us, so I'm very happy about that. They're now under the category of business owners.
These employers work long, hard hours trying to successfully operate a business. I don't have to tell you how tough that is today. It is tough. By eliminating duplicate claims and lengthening the appeal periods, Bill 49 proposes to assist the small business owner by simplifying the administration process. I can't underline that enough.
In support of the goals outlined in the proposed legislation, we maintain that Bill 49 will not only protect minimum employment standards for workers, but it will strengthen those standards. It will allow the Ministry of Labour to target resources towards employers, individuals and small businesses that are in need of assistance.
Within the current framework of the legislation, small businesses are unjustly burdened with a duplication of time-consuming government forms; it's just driving us crazy. In addition, employers are faced time and again with defending similar claims, often with the same resolution. The problem is not restricted only to employment standard complaints, but also exists in a wide variety of related statutes. If you have any more of these hearings on other matters, we'll be here saying the same thing about them.
In the case of non-unionized employees wrongfully dismissed, employment standards disputes are dealt with in the courts as well as by the employment standards branch. Unionized employees can file grievances under a collective agreement to be dealt with in the grievance and arbitration process. In addition, they may file complaints with the employment standards branch.
Employers are often subjected to defending a recurring dispute in multiple forums. They are responsible for the cost of the grievance process. Not only does the employer suffer from this inefficient process; the public is also unfairly burdened. In the case of multiple claims, duplicate public resources are spent, resources more efficiently utilized in a single forum.
To this degree, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce fully supports those provisions of Bill 49 which call for the elimination of duplicate claims. We would also like to thank the government for recognizing the need to limit the recovery of money to a six-month period instead of two years and extending the appeal period from 15 to 45 days. We're small businesses. We're working all day long. The man said lawyers. We have to get people involved. We just can't do it that fast. I wish we could, but we can't. So the 45 days makes a lot of sense to me and to our organization.
In both proposed changes, small business benefits. Delays in making complaints often creates a difficulty for the employer in establishing a defence. Additionally, the increase in the appeal time limit is an improvement that we strongly support. Not only does it allow both involved parties to negotiate a settlement during that period; it also provides more time to fully consider the merits of filing an appeal as well as the time to make the necessary payments to apply for the appeal. I guess common sense kind of kicks in here.
As I have mentioned, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce support Bill 49 as the first stage of the reform of the Employment Standards Act. Upon close inspection of the proposal, we believe some areas of Bill 49 require clarification.
The Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce would like to direct your attention to section 20 of the bill, which raises some areas of concern regarding the enforcement of the act.
Firstly, under the act employment standards officers have the power to investigate complaints, inspect documents and make relevant inquiries for the inspection. However, it is unclear whether arbitrators will also be given these powers. We propose that the arbitrator not be given this authority. Any arbitration hearing will take place after all other steps of the grievance procedure have been completed. Therefore, the grievance procedure should replace the investigation.
Secondly, under the proposed amendments arbitrators have jurisdiction to enforce the entire act. We believe there are some provisions that should not be enforceable by an arbitrator under a collective agreement between an employer and a union. This could unnecessarily complicate and lengthen hearings, thus undoing the goals of the proposed amendments.
Thirdly, the wording of the act is indecisive in regard to the process to appeal or review an arbitration decision. Under the proposed provisions, an arbitrator may make any order of an employment standards officer. Under the act, an officer's orders may be appealed. Therefore, it is unclear whether an arbitration decision may be appealed or if it is final and binding.
We are unsure as to whether the time lines outlined in the act or those outlined in a collective agreement prevail. We propose that the agreement made between the employer and the employee in a collective agreement should take priority to ensure consistency. There are those times when grievances may be filed which suggest both violations of the act and the collective agreement. In such cases, consistent time limits would be imperative.
Additionally, we are not resolved on the proposed amendments regarding the arbitrator's ability to award damages restricted to the six-month recovery limit. The Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce proposes that the arbitrator's remedial jurisdiction should be restricted to provide equal rights to all employees.
Furthermore, we are unclear on another amendment: Is expedited arbitration pursuant to the Labour Relations Act available for grievances that seek to enforce the Employment Standards Act? The section regarding these proposed amendments requires some clarification.
Lastly, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce supports moving the provisions of Bill 49 to allow for greater right or benefit assessment as a package. This will provide the employer and the employee with the freedom to agree to arrangements that viewed separately would not comply within the framework of the act.
By allowing for a greater right or benefit as a package, the act's goal of promoting self-reliance and flexibility can be successfully achieved. However, it is necessary to clarify and expand upon the proposed amendments in Bill 49 before this goal is possible. Therefore, we suggest that this proposal be implemented in the second stage of reform.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the standing committee for honouring us with this opportunity to address Bill 49 and I would like to stress that the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce supports the two-stage reform process to amend the Employment Standards Act. We agree that Bill 49 is a strong first step in that process. We urge you to consider the concerns we have voiced today and hope you will reconsider the amendments we suggested to clarify the act to benefit Ontario's business communities.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here in Thunder Bay and hear all of the participants today. You opened your statement by talking about teamwork. We've heard this theme over and over, in general terms, that management, employees and employers have worked well in Ontario, both in the organized and unorganized areas. Unfortunately, there are those who don't enjoy that great teamwork that goes on, so we need legislation to protect people, both employers and employees, from unscrupulous persons.
We hear a lot about awareness, whether employers or employees are aware of their responsibilities. It's tough being in small business; I recognize that. I read that the failure rate among small businesses at one time, some years ago, was about 80%.
Would it be fair to say that people starting out in small business spend more time, perhaps, looking at the site of where the business should be located, the product, who they purchase it from, how they're going to sell it, hiring an accountant to make sure that certain aspects of the business are ongoing, and perhaps they're involved in franchising and all these types of matters, and maybe do not put enough time on the employment rights that they have as employers and must deliver to their employees? Do you think it's last on their list of priorities as they start out?
Mr Mallon: I have a couple of businesses. We have to spend a lot of time on the employee-employer relationship, customer service, their rights, the holidays and part-time and how many hours, and being fair, and someone's sick and all that. I for one think we spend as equal amount of time on that as we do on dealing with our bank or dealing with our customers. They're our assets, you see. Without them, what are we? We're nothing. It's important that they're part of the team, and I mean that sincerely. I wish a lot more people who own businesses would take that attitude, but that's certainly the attitude I take.
Mr Martin: Thanks for coming today. Certainly, it's important that we hear from you who represent small business because there isn't a riding in the province right now that isn't dependent on small business to generate economic activity and to keep the economy going. I appreciate your concerns in the economy that we're experiencing right now, because in my own community, as I go around and talk to small business people, they're really worried, any of them, that they're still able to hang on to what they have.
Does it not concern you that this piece of legislation is a continuation of a pattern that this government has set that polarizes labour from management, that polarizes business from workers? You suggested here that this will be in the best interests of both workers and employers. To a person so far, this committee, and I suggest it will continue, has heard that the workers do not agree with this. Nobody who calls himself a worker in this province agrees with this legislation. Are you not concerned about the instability that that will create and the need for stability at this time in our economy?
Mr Mallon: You have the advantage of doing this for a living; I have the advantage of doing this occasionally. You're saying things that I don't know. I don't know what the workers feel across the country, across the province. I only know that if we don't get our act together in this province of ours, and that means the employers and the employees being on one team, it doesn't matter what legislation you have, you'll have nobody working it anyway. That's my simple attitude. I don't want to be flippant about it, but I'm very, very concerned that if we don't drop the gloves and put these damned agendas over there on that table and get to work with trying to kick the butt out of everybody else, we're in big trouble. How in hell do we do that?
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Thank you very much, Jack, Rebecca. It's a pleasure to be here in Thunder Bay. I think it's important, listening this morning, that I've heard several presenters indicate that the greater rights provision -- we refer to it as subsection (3) -- be moved to the second phase. Indeed I'm not sure whether the press up here has picked it up, but the minister last Monday, in opening up the debate or discussions in public hearings, did make it very clear that with her discussions with the leaders in management and the union movement, it would be moved to phase 2 of the discussion process. So subsection (3), the greater rights provision, has been moved to the second phase of the Employment Standards Act discussion.
That being said, I really believe there is a willingness on both the employers' side and, I believe, the employees' side to work together because of the tight economy we're in, the competitiveness. The world of work is changing, small business is creating most of the jobs, so there is a new climate. I believe the minister in these hearings is all about listening, and I appreciate your being here this morning. Thank you very much.
Mr Mallon: I guess there was no question there, eh?
Mr O'Toole: The question is --
The Chair: No, there is no question. Thank you, Mr O'Toole. Thank you both for appearing before us here today. We appreciate it.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, REGIONAL OFFICE
The Chair: That leads us now to the Service Employees International Union, regional office. Good morning.
Mr Jack Drewes: Just a brief introduction. My name is Jack Drewes, and I'm the president of Local 268 here in Thunder Bay. I'm also the president of the joint council of the Ontario council of Service Employees Union, representing approximately 53,000 workers in Ontario. Sitting to my left is Glen Oram, who is a representative for Service Employees International Union, Local 268. I will also have copies later on this afternoon. I'll submit 30 copies, at union expense, of course.
The following submission is made on behalf of Service Employees International Union, SEIU. Our organization represents some 53,000 employees in Ontario who are employed at nursing homes, homes for the aged, building services and community services agencies. This includes approximately 27,300 service workers employed at 92 hospitals throughout the province. SEIU is gravely concerned with the damaging effects Bill 49 will have upon all of our abovementioned members whereby minimum standards will become an extremely difficult task to achieve.
Coupled with the above, SEIU anticipates further deterioration of our workers' rights, as Bill 49 will create conditions where the employer's temptation to violate a worker's rights will be an attractive course of action on account of the worker's predicament will likely be dismissed due to the introduction of a cap on claims and the minimal time limit one has to claim.
These and other amendments to the Employment Standards Act are found in Bill 49, which was introduced last May 13 by the Ontario Minister of Labour, Mrs Elizabeth Witmer. Mrs Witmer claims she refined the Employment Standards Act with minimal changes that may be referred to as "simple housecleaning." This simple housecleaning was described by the minister as "facilitating administration and enforcement by reducing ambiguity, encourage compliance and simplify definitions and administration."
Upon subsequent review, SEIU finds Mrs Witmer's simple housecleaning hardly as such. The truth of the matter is that what Mrs Witmer considers as minor technical amendments are in fact extensive changes that will have detrimental effects upon all vulnerable workers throughout the province of Ontario, including our organized members.
SEIU regards these changes as bringing more benefits to the employer while stripping workers of their existing minimal rates. SEIU questions the objective behind the government's amendments to the Employment Standards Act that are outlined in Bill 49. Is it not the intent of the Employment Standards Act to provide the workers with a minimum standard by which workers could define their rights in the workplace? Were not the existing provisions of the Employment Standards Act regarded by employees and employers alike as a minimal floor whereby anything inferior was not only illegal but downright shameful?
Bill 49 clearly reveals the government's lack of responsibility to provide protection for Ontario workers. It is an appalling gesture towards the same citizens that put this government in power. SEIU proposes that, in an attempt to secure the rights of all vulnerable workers, these so-called minor technical amendments be seriously reconsidered and structured in such a way that the legislation will govern employees and employers fairly in comparison to one another.
If Bill 49 is passed, these changes to the Employment Standards Act will see further unrest in the province of Ontario. SEIU anticipates that this legislation will fuel a fury among a vast group of vulnerable workers throughout the province. This group includes women, visible minorities, health care workers, foodservice workers, cleaners and homeworkers. Most SEIU workers fall into one or more of these listed categories.
SEIU wishes to first discuss our opposition to the fundamental change to the Ontario labour law by permitting the workplace parties to contract out important minimum standards. This is found in section 3 of the bill and subsection 4(2) of the act. Prior to Bill 49, it was illegal for a collective agreement to contain any provisions that were inferior to the minimum standards found in the Employment Standards Act. In contrast, Bill 49 permits a collective agreement to override the legal minimum standards concerning severance pay, overtime, public holidays, hours of work and vacation pay, providing that the contract "confers greater rights...when those matters are assessed together." In other words, what were always considered basic standards will now be negotiable. The union feels quite strongly that not only will an assessed package be cumbersome to negotiate but also forecasts that this procedure will fuel unrest among workers within the same bargaining unit.
Mrs Witmer asserts that this new flexibility to negotiate basic standards will benefit both parties when in fact the flexibility will create conditions to benefit employers only and disgrace employees, as minimum standards will become a thing of the past for our members in Ontario.
SEIU opposition to Bill 49 is further accentuated when considering that our health care workers are not in a position to strike. If perchance disputes arise between the bargaining unit and the employer during negotiations of the renewal of a collective agreement, the parties may only resort to interest arbitration in an attempt to settle any disagreements. The union foresees enormous conflicts arising between the two parties and subsequent injustice directed at our members during negotiations. Undoubtedly, in these instances the parties will proceed to interest arbitration in an attempt to resolve the contending issues. To our knowledge, Bill 49 does not provide any standard which arbitrators may follow as a measure in assessing an equivalent if not superior package to what is provided in the Employment Standards Act. Thus, our members are at the mercy of an arbitrator's own assessment of a comparable or better package.
In addition to the above, one must keep in mind Bill 26, which was introduced by the current Tory government in the fall of 1995. Included in Bill 26 is schedule Q, Savings and Restructuring Act. Schedule Q stipulates criteria that arbitrators must take into account and consider prior to issuing an interest arbitration award. These criteria are largely concerned with the employer's ability to pay. Thus, Bill 26 combined with Bill 49 represents a double injustice not only to the organized workers but to workers in general. Obviously, the Harris government is hardly attempting to suppress their aversion towards the most vulnerable workers in the province of Ontario.
Clearly the union's concern with the possible breakdown and eventual deterioration of the interest arbitration process should be recognized and afforded considerable weight by this government before passing Bill 49. Bill 49 provides an opportunity for arbitrators to fashion an interest arbitration award that is inferior to the already minimal Employment Standards Act. This enormous shift in arbitration procedure, issuing awards without any minimum standards, defeats the purpose of interest arbitration. Interest arbitration is a substitute for strike and lockouts in the health care sector and is not meant to benefit either of the parties in dispute. Thus, not only is Bill 49 a measure to erase the historic concept of an overall minimum standard of workplace rights, but it also poses a significant threat upon the terms and conditions governing unionized workers.
With Bill 49, an employer may disregard this previous floor of rights and will have the opportunity to attempt to trade off such provisions as overtime pay, public holidays, vacation pay and severance pay in exchange for increased hours of work. How an arbitrator, or anyone for that matter, is to measure whether or not a tradeoff of this kind confers greater rights is left unstated. It will become an issue in its own right. Essentially, issues which have been granted by the legislation as a matter of right will become part of negotiations.
For example, suppose a bargaining unit employed at a nursing home is negotiating the renewal of their collective agreement with the employer. The parties are unable to reach an agreement and proceed to interest arbitration. The employer proposes a wage freeze and a reduction in paid holidays from 12 to six. In this scenario the employer is proposing a package that discriminates against workers just so they may maintain their current wages. The games that employers will now be able to legitimately play and get away with at the expense of their own employees is staggering. SEIU anticipates severe deterioration in relationships between employee and employer and ultimate breakdown of labour relations if Bill 49 becomes legislation.
In short, the 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, and mixed rights, such as vacation pay and public holidays. Given the inequality of power between employers and employees, including many who are unionized, circumstances where detrimental tradeoffs are agreed to, despite the measurement problems referred to, can easily be envisioned.
This proposed amendment, therefore, will allow employers to put more issues on the bargaining table which were formerly part of the floor of legislated rights. It will make settlements more difficult, particularly for newly organized units. It will also enable employers to roll back long-established, fundamental entitlements such as hours of work, the minimum two weeks of vacation, severance pay and stat holidays by comparing these takeaways to other unrelated benefits which together can be argued to exceed the minimum standards.
The potential of this amendment alone to erode people's standard of living should be enough to make the drafters of the amendments rethink, if not radically alter, Bill 49. It is certainly enough to make Service Employees International Union stand in opposition to the bill as a whole.
Viewed another way, if a central goal of the industrial relations system has been to facilitate negotiated settlements, this bill runs counter to such an end. As mentioned, these changes will certainly establish greater difficulty in rendering settlements and will likely result in more acrimonious relations and industrial conflict. What were in the past minimum benefits protected by all will now become permissible subjects for bargaining, arbitration and labour disputes. Further, if significant erosion in minimum entitlements becomes widespread in the many bargaining units where employees do not have sufficient bargaining strength to resist employer demands, it will indirectly impact on the standard of living and working conditions of all citizens of Ontario.
The shortsighted may regard this rush to the bottom as helping employers to become competitive, but the more sound mind will definitely question how these changes will establish higher productivity, better workplace relations, increased consumer purchasing or an improved quality of life in what is currently Canada's most industrial and populous province.
Under the existing Employment Standards Act, unionized employees have access to the considerable investigative and enforcement powers of the Ministry of Labour. The inexpensive and relatively expeditious method of proceedings has proved useful, particularly in situations of workplace closures and with issues such as severance and termination pay.
The Bill 49 changes eliminate recourse by unionized employees to this avenue, and instead require all unionized workers to use the grievance procedure under the collective agreement to enforce their legal rights. In other words, our members will have to pay, through arbitration, for something that is a right. The unions will bear the burden of investigation, enforcement and their accompanying costs, which under the current act might instead be pursued before the Ministry of Labour. The director can make an exception and allow a complaint under the act where he thinks it appropriate, but for all practical purposes the enforcement of public legislation has been privatized.
Should these amendments pass, the collective agreement will have the Employment Standards Act virtually deemed to be included in it. A union will also face the potential of claims against it by dissatisfied members. Although the existing duty of fair representation has not in the past been seen as requiring a trade union to represent employees in respect to employment standards, with this amendment change a union can be faced with complaints concerning fair representation by members. This could well mean that a failure of enforcement will be seen by the Labour Relations Board as constituting a breach of the duty of fair representation. Thus, unions will face both additional obligations and additional liability costs.
Arbitrators will now have jurisdiction and make rulings that were formerly in the purview of the employment standards officer, a referee or an adjudicator. They will not be limited by the maximum or minimum amounts of the act. However, arbitrators lack the investigative capability of the ESOs and may not be able to match the consistency of result that the act has had under public enforcement. Most important, employers could argue that as boards of arbitration do not have the critical powers to investigate whether particular activities or schemes were intended to defeat the extent and purposes of the act and its regulations, such cannot be determined. In such circumstances unionized employees could well be left with no recourse whatsoever. This is particularly evident in cases of related employer or successorship provisions of the act. It is difficult to see how such provisions can be applied when the successor or related employer may not be party to the arbitration proceeding.
The amendments introduced in section 21 of the bill, subsection 65(1) of the act, set a new statutory maximum amount that an employee may recover by filing a complaint under the act. This maximum of $10,000 would appear to apply to amounts owing of back wages and other moneys such as vacation, severance and termination pay. There are only a few exceptions, such as for orders awarding wages in respect of violations of the pregnancy and parental leave provisions and unlawful reprisals under the act.
The problem with implementing such a cap is that workers are often owed more than $10,000, even in the most poorly paid sectors of the workforce such as health care workers and foodservices workers. Indeed, workers who have been deprived of wages for a lengthy period of time are the very employees who will not have the means to hire a lawyer and wait the several years it will take for their case to be settled. In effect, therefore, this provision will encourage the worst employers to violate the most basic standards, while at the same time compounding the problems for those workers with meagre resources.
In addition, Bill 49 affords the minister the right to set out a minimum amount for a claim through regulation. Workers who make a claim below the minimum -- which is as yet unknown -- will be denied the right to file a complaint or have an investigation. Dependent upon the amount of this minimum, it could well have the effect of employers keeping their violations under the minimum in any six-month period and thereby avoiding any legal penalty.
In section 28 of the bill, new section 73 of the act, the proposed amendments intend to privatize the collection function of the Ministry of Labour's employment practices branch. This is an important change providing one of the first looks at the government's actual privatization of a task which has traditionally been public. Private operations will, should these proposals be implemented, have the power to collect amounts owing under the act.
A fundamental problem with regard to the act has, for some time now, been the failure to enforce standards. This is no less true with regard to collections. The most frequent reason for the ministry's failure to collect wages assessed against employers has been the employer's refusal to pay. The answer to this problem, according to the proposed amendments, is not to start enforcing the act but rather to absolve the government of the responsibility to enforce the act by farming out the problem to a collection agency.
In addition, the employment standards director can authorize the private collector to charge a fee from persons who owe money. Should the amount of money collected be less than the amount owing to the employee or employees, the regulations will enable the apportioning of the amount among the collector, the employee or employees and the government. Where the settlement is under 75% of the amount owing, the collector is required to obtain the approval of the director. But this still allows the collector incredible leeway, if not outright abuse, with someone else's money.
The danger here is that even persons whose earnings put them below the poverty line and who are owed money under the act could well be required to pay fees to the collector. A minimum wage worker at $6.85 per hour, for example, could not only receive less money than what is owed, but also have to pay for it to be collected. Surely this raises ethical questions for the drafters. We would suggest that while such an approach may be appropriate in commercial transactions, it is neither morally justified nor appropriate in these circumstances. We want the system of public enforcement to be maintained and improved.
This provision will likely lead to employees receiving considerably smaller settlements. As well, it opens the door to unconscionable abuse. SEIU is gravely concerned that vulnerable employees will be pressured to agree to settlements of less than the full amount owing as collectors argue, if only for reasons of expediency, that less is better than nothing.
The Chair: Excuse me, Mr Drewes. You are well over the time now. Could you jump to your conclusion, please.
Mr Drewes: Okay. In conclusion, SEIU finds that, once again, the Harris government is victimizing Ontario's most vulnerable citizens in an attempt to cater to the wealthy. The Ministry of Labour will be downsized and rid of its current public services, thus, according to sources, approximately $10 million will be salvaged from the Ontario budget that will, in turn, be issued as the tax break that benefits the wealthy. The increased demands on trade unions proposed by Bill 49 are coming at the same time that the labour relations in this province have taken on a decidedly anti-union tone with the challenges posed by Bill 7 in terms of acquiring and maintaining bargaining rights and with the limits on unions' powers to bargain effectively through the combination of bargaining units.
In an attempt to avoid further unrest and conflict for a large majority of Ontario citizens, we encourage that Bill 49 be reconsidered and structured in such a manner that the legislation will achieve a fair balance between employees, unions and employers.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate your taking the time to come and appear before us here today.
KINNA-AWEYA LEGAL CLINIC
The Chair: That leads us to the next presentation, from the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic. Good morning. Just a reminder that we have 15 minutes, and it's up to you to allocate as you see fit, between either presentation time or questions and answers.
Ms Mary Veltri: Thank you. My name is Mary Veltri. I am one of the staff lawyers at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic. I thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation to the standing committee.
The legal clinic is funded by the Ontario legal aid plan and we have four offices throughout the district of Thunder Bay. We serve approximately 2,000 people each year by giving them summary advice, and among those people are individuals who have been aggrieved under the Employment Standards Act. We also provide legal education and law reform activity.
The primary focus in our submission to the committee will be responding to the issue of what the impact will be on non-unionized workers. There is no doubt that the changes the government is proposing will leave employees more vulnerable to exploitation by their employers and restrict their ability to obtain redress, so we don't think this is an improvement, by any stretch of the imagination.
The government claims that the changes they are proposing will 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. In fact, what the government is doing is shifting responsibility for enforcing basic labour standards and the cost for doing so on to individual employees. When the government talks about the need for having greater flexibility, what it's really saying is that it wants to help businesses procure cheaper labour by making it easier for them to violate employment standards.
I think it is shocking that I am here today to try to convince you of the need for employment standards. This has been something that we in Ontario have come to take for granted, and the importance of minimum standards cannot be overstated. Even in the face of legislated minimum standards, tens of thousands of workers must make claims against their employers each year in Ontario. This is clearly a problem. Employers do violate the law. Tens of thousands more have claims that they don't pursue because they are afraid of being fired.
Ninety per cent of claims made through the employment standards office of the Ministry of Labour are made by employees who have left their jobs. The reality of the workplace is that non-unionized workers whose employers are not meeting the legislated minimum standards do not complain until they find another job. We have frequent contact from employees who have not been paid in accordance with these standards. In the past, the local office has been able to assist these individuals in pursuing their claims for back wages. In 1994-95, over $64 million was assessed against Ontario employers who failed to meet the minimum standards.
Legislated minimum standards provide a level playing field for employers, while ensuring employees basic minimum standards. The erosion of standards and weaker enforcement provisions will lead employers to compete on the basis of lowering wages and deteriorating job conditions. The labour market is already resulting in a growing number of jobs which are temporary, casual, part-time, poorly paid and insecure. This will lead to an unhealthy workforce. It will not lead to a healthy society or a productive economy.
The changes that have been proposed under the guise of housekeeping lead us to the conclusion that the more substantive changes that the government has indicated will follow will only further erode the already low and weak standards provided to vulnerable workers. We strongly protest this direction taken by the government, which seems to have no understanding of its role as public guardian.
Another comment that has been made is that this bill will "cut through years of accumulated red tape." What does the minister mean? She means that she is making it more difficult for employees to make claims against employers. She is reducing the period of time within which employees can make a claim and the length of time for which they can claim. She is forcing unionized employees to bargain for minimum standards.
It does not involve any more red tape to investigate a claim for two years or a claim for six months. It doesn't take more red tape to investigate a claim for $20,000 as opposed to a claim for $10,000. When the minister says she is abolishing red tape, what she really means is that she is making it much easier for employers to avoid their legal obligations. We continue to hear today how businesses don't want to have to deal with government forms. Unfortunately, we're talking about substantive claims for wages that people have worked for. This is not bureaucracy. This is not red tape. These are basic human rights.
I'd like to address briefly the negotiation of minimum standards. I understand this is going to be in the second stage. However, there is no doubt that if unions are forced to negotiate minimum standards and accept packages that include standards that are lower than the current minimums, employers are going to expect the same flexibility from non-union employees.
Reductions in the staff at the employment standards office already make it difficult for employees to know their entitlements under the law. Many exploited workers are young, do not speak English or are vulnerable in other ways. The Ministry of Labour has suggested that it is going to extend the provision of allowing negotiation of a flexible package of standards to non-union employees. It should be obvious that the result of that would be the effective abolition of minimum standards.
The minister talks about encouraging workplace parties to be more self-reliant in resolving disputes. This implies that there is an equality of bargaining power between employers and non-union workers. We who work on the front lines and hear the stories of unscrupulous employers exploiting vulnerable workers know better. We urge the committee to recommend that the act remain clear that minimum standards are inviolate.
The minister claims that changing the limitation periods in the act will provide prompter, more effective enforcement. It is difficult to see how this could be true. Changing the limitation period simply means that employers will be able to avoid paying employees significant amounts of money.
It used to be that a worker in a minimum-wage job whose rights were being violated could find another job and make a claim against the employer. This isn't the case now. Minimum wage jobs are hard to come by and workers will endure considerable suffering and exploitation in order to keep a job. We know that 90% of workers who make claims wait until they're no longer employed. Workers in many cases will be forced to choose between making a claim and keeping their job, and they will choose the job. The reduction in the time period for which an employee can make a claim amounts to a licence to employers to exploit their workers.
Employers are required to keep payroll and employment records for several years. It does not take more paperwork or red tape to investigate two years back instead of six months for employers who aren't complying with their obligations. Regardless of the period of time for which a claim may be made, employees always have the onus to establish their claim. It's up to them to provide evidence that they are owed wages, so it doesn't matter whether this is for a period of six months or two years. The investigative and adjudicative processes of the ministry provide a fair method for determining questions of credibility and assessing evidence.
The only alternative under Bill 49 to abandoning any claim for unpaid wages in excess of six months will be for an aggrieved worker to pursue a claim in court. Most people who make minimum wage can't afford lawyers and legal aid does not cover employment-related disputes. Even if aggrieved workers were able to pursue their claims in court, this would hardly be more cost-effective. Courts are continually being overburdened and it is a very costly way to resolve these disputes. In any event, then it becomes the public who has to bear the costs of these disputes. The inevitable result will be that employees will be denied justice and unscrupulous employers will benefit.
With respect to the limit on the amount employees can claim, the bill further limits the amount an employee can claim to $10,000. It is impossible to see how this restriction can be characterized as helping the most vulnerable workers. This is an arbitrary limit; there is absolutely no rationale. Many claims that have been made to the ministry in the past have been in excess of that amount by vulnerable workers, such as domestic workers. Each year, employers are found to owe millions of dollars to employees because of violations under the act. What possible public policy goal could be met by restricting the amounts that can be claimed by employees?
If an employee has a claim in excess of $10,000, again she or he must choose between proceeding in court or giving up the claim in excess of $10,000. As stated above, it's unlikely that they're going to be able to go to court and there will be no choice involved. Workers will be forced to abandon the claim in excess of $10,000 in order to get any help. Again, who benefits? The employer who has chosen not to pay their employee.
Since the minister is claiming that the changes she is proposing will save public money, she must be expecting that employees will forgo substantial parts of their claims in order to get help through the ministry, and that I find unconscionable.
I'd like to address the enforcement recommendations that it be private collection agencies which are now in charge of enforcement. The bill proposes that once investigations have been done, collection of the amounts due to employees will be done by these private collection agencies. Quite admittedly, the government ministry has not been overly effective in collecting these amounts in the past, but there has been no study done to show that private collection agencies will be able to do a better job. We heard one gentleman earlier say that they were getting 10 cents on the dollar.
Passing the responsibility to private collection agencies will also introduce a profit motive, and we find it offensive that private agencies would profit from the exploitation of workers.
Bill 49 also allows private collectors to agree to a compromise or settlement with the employer who owes the money if the employee is in agreement with this settlement. Inasmuch as the private collection agency is mostly interested in recovering its fees and its disbursements, there will be a motive for the collection agent to settle with the employer for less money than is owed to the employee. The likely result of using private collection agencies will be increased pressure on employees to settle for less than what is owed to them under the law. Privatizing the collections function will do nothing to help employees who are owed wages.
I have a series of recommendations which I think would improve the existing legislation, if that is truly your intent.
The first one is that the focus of the ministry should shift to the prevention of violations. The resources of the employment standards branch should be increased. I don't think it would help to eliminate 49 positions when you're trying to improve the legislation. This would enable routine inspections to be done and audits performed when complaints are made.
Second, the ministry should be allowed to accept third-party complaints of violations of the Employment Standards Act. This would avoid reprisals against employees who seek to enforce their rights and such complaints could be investigated by conducting audits of the employer's records.
Third, there should be no exemptions from the employment standards legislation. Currently, the act discriminates against certain categories of employees. For example, there's a lower minimum wage for students. There's a different overtime pay system for domestic workers. Workers should be entitled to the same employment rights regardless of their age or where they work.
Fourth, the time limits for investigations must be shortened. We should not be able to read newspaper reports of employers who are deliberately flouting the law by forcing restaurant workers to work for tips only, with no investigation by the ministry in sight.
Fifth, the Ministry of Labour should routinely exercise the right under the act to file certificates of the order issued against the employer in court. This would provide a variety of effective methods for enforcing orders against debtors, such as seizure and sale of their properties or garnishment of their bank accounts. This would greatly improve the collection of assessments made under the act for unpaid wages.
Sixth, there should be aggressive prosecution of employers who violate the legislation. There is currently little to deter an employer at this point, when the worst that happens is that they are ordered to pay money that they should have paid months or years earlier.
Seventh, the current penalty levied against an employer who violates the law, which is the greater of 10% of the amount assessed or $100, is not a sufficient deterrent. Employers who violate the law should be required to pay the administrative costs of recovering the moneys owed to their employees.
Finally, we strongly recommend that the government recognize that the provision and enforcement of basic employment standards is something that the majority of Ontarians want, and it is a foundation of a decent and democratic society. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms Veltri. I didn't want to cut you off. We've gone over the 15 minutes again. There won't be time for questions, but thank you very much for a very detailed presentation.
TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATIONS INTERNATIONAL UNION, ALLIED SERVICES AND GRAIN DIVISION
The Chair: Our next group up is the Transportation and Communications International Union, Lodge 650. Good morning. Just a reminder again: We have 15 minutes, and it's up to you to decide whether you want to spend that time on presentation or question-and-answer period.
Mr Mike Poleck: My name is Mike Poleck. I am here to state some observations our union has on the Employment Standards Act changes. The allied services and grain division of the Transportation and Communications Union represents over 1,000 members working in and around the Thunder Bay region employed in transportation and processing industries. The union thanks the standing committee for the opportunity to present our views on the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act. The brief will focus on the union's experience in dealing with employers and a vision dealing with the philosophy and the purpose of providing minimum working standards for working men and women of all ages.
On August 20, 1996, we received a notice confirming that our organization was scheduled to appear before this committee. The notice stated, "Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act." In our view, the proposed changes have a different purpose, which is to destroy the fundamental protection provided under the act and severely erode the standard of living for those working people who are reliant on the act to provide and maintain minimum standards, and I would emphasize minimum standards. If changes are going to be made to the Employment Standards Act, there should be amendments which strengthen minimum standards and strengthen the enforcement of the act. Without the enforcement, the act means nothing. As a union, our problems have come, in a lot of cases, with the enforcement of the act itself.
Not only does our organization deal with unionized employees, but we also receive calls throughout the year from the public inquiring what recourse is available to deal with the actions of unscrupulous employers who fail to pay minimum wages, overtime, holidays, vacation pay or who illegally deduct money or expose workers to unsafe working conditions. What is the real answer to the concerns of these workers, who may be a son, a daughter or an older worker displaced from the grain industry and working for minimum wage in a non-union workplace?
Just last week, an inquiry was made to the ministry on behalf of an employee who has 15 years of service with the same employer. This employer pays above the minimum wage but does not provide benefits and provides the minimum vacation, holiday, overtime and maternity benefits as required by law. The answer was, "Yes, the employer would be violating the law by refusing to pay for the September statutory holiday, but you may want to consider not filing a complaint, because the employer could fire you."
This answer should not shock the committee. This is the harsh reality of the real world. Don't think for one minute that the unionized sector is immune from similar action by employers, an example being the multinational company Archer Daniels Midland, which just permanently closed the Ogilvie starch and gluten plant, which was operational in Thunder Bay for the past 92 years. This plant always made a profit for its Canadian owners but couldn't seem to provide a large enough return to the US shareholders after the 1992 takeover. This company is notorious for attacking workers' rights and standards of living. The favourite line utilized by ADM during what was supposed to be negotiations between the parties was, "The company is prepared to provide whatever minimum the law requires, and if the law is silent on the issue, then you will get nothing." The word "negotiation" was not in the vocabulary of ADM. They simply presented a company contract straight out of the Dark Ages, and that was their final position.
Yet the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act would subject us to the mercy of the employer. If the law didn't require a minimum or if the law provides an opportunity to negotiate the abolishment of lower standards, the workers would have no choice but to accept them or have the company lock out or permanently close the facility, as we have seen in the above example.
Recently the union negotiated a contract with a small employer with 35 employees, mostly women. Starting rates, holidays, vacations and other minimums were tied directly to the Employment Standards Act. During the negotiations, the government announced its intent to change the act. Well, the lawyer for the company was licking his chops. The union was unable to maintain the current standards set out in the act, should they be eliminated or changed. The employer forced the workers, with an average wage of $10 per hour, many who were single parents, to accept the final offer or face the consequences of a lockout. And that wasn't the end. If the Employment Standards Act changes, those people will be faced with a different collective agreement than they negotiated at the table.
The horror stories go on and on. Society should have minimum enforceable standards. Asking the union to litigate claims against employers at arbitration is government downloading of enforcement costs. The government should be striving to beef up and streamline enforcement, not defer it to a more costly and complicated system of litigation.
Society should ensure that standards respect the dignity of a worker and ensure at least a sustainable standard of living. The present standards do not meet this goal, and the proposed changes are nothing more than an attack on those with little or no way to fight back.
If an employer is violating the law, what choice do you have in a tough job market? None. Quit a job due to violation of labour standards, safety and health concerns or harassment, and how do you propose people will sustain themselves or their families?
In closing, the reality is that it's a tough world out there and Bill 49 will only make it tougher. Thank you. That's the extent of the written presentation.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That leaves us a fair bit of time for questioning, just over two minutes for each caucus. We'll commence this round with the third party.
Mr Martin: Thank you very much for coming before us this morning and so adequately spelling out the impact of this legislation or any deterioration of employment standards or, as others have said, the lowering of the floor of rights or the rush to the bottom concerning employment standards. Worker representatives before you have made the same point. The impact this will have on workers should be becoming perfectly clear to everybody here. Representatives from the legal clinic community have spoken about the impact it will have on non-unionized workers and raised questions about who will represent them.
So my question for you is, considering the fact that this legislation is not solely targeted at organized labour but at workers, every form of worker across the province, and that probably close to three quarters of those workers are not represented by any organized labour organization, who will represent them and how will they speak up for themselves and fight for their rights and defend themselves in the face of this onslaught?
Mr Poleck: That's what we're trying to present: that there is nobody. It goes back to the ages before we had WCB, where somebody who was in a position to fight the system who could afford lawyers and get into a complicated situation might win a large claim, but that was to the detriment of the many people who had small claims who couldn't afford to hire a lawyer or didn't have access to a lobbying body to represent them. In this day and age -- well, this committee itself is an example. You have to know the system and you have to have contacts in order to make your case known. A small individual would lose that access to hear his case. Our feeling is that in most cases they would go unheard, that they would not be answered or addressed.
Mr Martin: It's my strong feeling that the government in this instance is backing away from a role we've traditionally come to expect it to play, particularly where it affects workers in small, isolated communities like northern Ontario, where you don't even have legal clinics, never mind the representation of some of the larger organizations in bigger centres. When you think of small communities in northern Ontario, what's the impact you see there, and what recourse do they have?
Mr Poleck: In effect, the same answer: They won't have the access, and they won't be heard; they'll just be sloughed off. That is our fear, and that's what we feel the government has a responsibility to ensure: that all workers in the province are heard and have access. Bill 49 will not provide it.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much for your presentation this morning. We have heard the complaints on pretty much the same basis. I just want to draw to your attention that in your conclusion you say, "The present standards do not meet this goal, and proposed changes...." Listening to the overall tone here, you don't think the present act works very well either.
Mr Poleck: Our feeling is that anything can be improved. What we're looking for, as has been mentioned in past presentations, is the enforcement and living up to the standards that are there. What we've seen in a lot of cases is that employers will try to dodge the standards that are there now.
Mr O'Toole: I really believe that the minister is clearly trying to get to the most vulnerable, I sincerely believe that, by shortening the claim period, by lengthening the appeal period and other small changes. If you look at them on balance, it's getting every opportunity to get an agreement as early as possible for the employee who has been wronged. I fundamentally think if you read it without the rose-coloured glasses on, you'll see that that's what these changes are, because most of the claims, 90% of the claims now are within six months. That's the standard in most provinces. The average settlement claim isn't $10,000; the average settlement is $2,000. In most cases 4% of the claims are over $10,000. We're really focusing the resources, in a time where we've been spent into huge debt by the previous government, on the most vulnerable workers. Many unions that have approached us are well researched, well resourced and quite capable, in their collective agreements, to defend the rights of their particular workplace. Not allowing them to negotiate overall anything less than the employment standards -- I don't think responsible union leadership would negotiate anything less.
There is some responsibility today, and I don't think the government has the resources to fight international unions in both the Employment Standards Act and under the Ontario Labour Relations Act and in the lawsuits that entangle for well-researched and well-resourced companies. The individual is whom we're trying to protect, the small domestic worker, the person who doesn't have the resources -- and most of the claims are well under $10,000 -- to get their money as expeditiously as possible. I for one want that justice for the small person, most importantly.
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): Thank you for coming up with this brief. I'd just like to ask you a question. In the last paragraph of page 1 you said: "I would emphasize minimum standards. If changes are going to be made to the ESA there should be amendments which strengthen minimum standards." Do you feel, instead of coming up with amendments, if the government would first enforce what is in place at the moment instead of letting off 45 enforcement officers, that if those people had been properly trained they would make sure that the ESA was properly enforced?
Mr Poleck: In response to your comment and Mr O'Toole's, if the government enforced the act in a timely and proper fashion, unions wouldn't be taking these cases to litigation and there wouldn't be the time and expense that he mentioned in terms of unionized groups fighting -- getting employees what they were entitled to under the ESA.
In terms of people who aren't organized, if a person doesn't have the resources to mount a campaign, shortening the appeal time limits are not going to give him any help at all; they're going to make it harder for him, because if he doesn't have the resources in the first place, shortening the period that he can file and make his claim is not going to help him out at all. In terms of unions, unions are not rich, as it would seem to be implied here in the comments. Unions are facing downsizing, loss of membership and many other problems. They are not the bottomless pit of money to fight these claims.
The government has a responsibility to the people of the province who work in the province to provide them a safe environment and, as I've said before, sustainable employment, a sustainable standard of living out of that employment. We feel they have an obligation to people to make sure that the conditions they work under are enforced.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Poleck. We appreciate your coming before us here today.
CONSTRUCTION ASSOCIATION OF THUNDER BAY
The Chair: That takes us to the Construction Association of Thunder Bay. Good morning. We have 15 minutes, and you can divide that as you see fit between either presentation time or allowing for questions and answers.
Mr Murray MacLeay: Good morning. My name is Murray MacLeay. I'm with the Construction Association of Thunder Bay, which is a membership organization of people who are involved in the construction industry. Through that we employ roughly 3,600 tradesmen throughout northwestern Ontario.
The association believes that this review is a step in the right direction. We applaud the government's intent to focus its slimmed-down resources on the things it does best and allow workplace parties to take on things that they can do best.
When reviewing the act, it is important that you understand that construction is and will remain different. The exemptions in Ontario Reg 325 and Reg 327 regarding hours of work and termination are necessary and must be maintained. Weather conditions haven't changed in Ontario and construction jobs are, by definition, time-limited.
Our concern is that we would get a group with everyone else, and it's very important to us that you understand that the construction industry is different. The scenario that we would appreciate the most is flexibility where employers and employees could make their own arrangements on hours of work.
A collective agreement that covers both shop and site employees identically should be recognized in the act. There have been a number of decisions by employment standards officers that have ruled that a construction worker employed at a shop is not exempt from the sections of the Employment Standards Act even though he is working under the same collective agreement as all the other workers.
In short, we applaud the government's move to utilize scarce resources economically and efficiently, simplify a difficult act and facilitate productivity and recognize the ability of workplace parties to manage their own affairs. When stage two of this review comes along, which we believe will have more impact on the industry, we'd be more than happy to participate at that point. Those are my comments.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for coming today and for your presentation. One issue that's come up right across the province, and I think it's been from people from a variety of backgrounds, is that right now we're only collecting, through the employment standards branch, about 25 cents on the dollar. That didn't change remarkably in the previous government. In 1993 they disbanded the collections branch at the employment standards division of the Ministry of Labour, discharged 10 employees, and it went down from 25% to about 15% or 20%. We're back up to 25% now.
As someone who is representing a good number of employers I'd love to hear your comments on this: One union actually brought up, which I thought was very much to their credit -- notwithstanding the human rights aspects of their workers, which is obviously the top priority -- second, that it wasn't fair that some employers accept their responsibilities and others flagrantly disregard them. Would your members and the folks you're here to represent today have a strong exception to or any disagreement with stringent measures to ensure compliance of orders that are issued under the Employment Standards Act after an investigation, after the appeal period expires?
Mr MacLeay: No. As a matter of fact, in the collective agreements that we are a signatory to we have penalty clauses for employers who do not follow the collective agreement; therefore the members would have no problem following orders from the employment standards.
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): In the past week or so we've heard from a number of people about the bad bosses, the good bosses, and no one wants to defend bad bosses, of course. This morning there was some suggestion that education of employers and employees as to knowing what their rights are, knowing what their responsibilities are is a question as well. Could you comment on employers and how many of them know what is appropriate to do in given situations and how we might improve that educational process for employers, aiming at perhaps avoiding the development of the so-called bad boss?
Mr MacLeay: I guess my comment is somewhat biased, but people who are in business, whether it be construction or anything else, should belong to an employers' association of some sort. In most cases any government regs that come down or any changes to employment standards, to health and safety acts, anything like that are circulated to the membership through those organizations. They function very similarly to a union in the sense that the union educates their individual members by newsletters and distribution of the same material. We do the same thing. Unfortunately, not enough employers belong to their particular business association, and I say that because I run one of these associations and we have the same inquiries from non-members when they get into trouble. Then it's usually too late and obviously we tell them to seek legal advice. I think partially the associations are probably at fault in not advertising or seeking new members, but there certainly are a lot of employers out there who aren't aware of what they should be doing.
Mr Lalonde: I'm glad to see that the construction industry, which is the heart of the economy, has some exclusion in the Employment Standards Act. Do you see the importance, or would you be in favour of the Employment Standards Act being posted at most construction sites, or is there a need for that?
Mr MacLeay: Certainly I wouldn't be opposed to its being posted anywhere. As far as at a construction site, if it's a union site, union agreements are far better standards than the Employment Standards Act.
Mr Lalonde: In the majority of times, though, the general foremen are not fully aware of employment standards and sometimes they don't follow them. It's not because they don't want to follow them; it's because they don't know about them. Knowing that in the construction industry there's very little time available for training, it would be left up to probably the 4% of employers who are -- they're all good employers, but some of them are not as good as the others. We say that about 4% are not as good as the others. Then it will be important to have the Employment Standards Act posted at least at the construction offices.
Mr MacLeay: Certainly the membership that I represent wouldn't have any problem with that.
Mr Lalonde: Very good. Thank you.
Mr Martin: You've heard reference by the government this morning to this issue of good boss/bad boss and people coming to see this legislation as bad-boss legislation, a way to accommodate people out there who are less than responsible in the way they develop a workplace and protect workers and the interests of the community they serve.
It seems to me that whenever a bad operation goes wrong and somebody gets hurt or there's litigation over some issue or other, the whole industry suffers, the whole community suffers, including the worker. In northern Ontario, where we're so far apart and distances are so great and transportation is often a difficulty, we probably need more, not less, overseeing by government to make sure that everybody is living up to not only the standard but the principle of the standard. Do you have any comment?
Mr MacLeay: My comment on that would be, go back to the education issue. I don't think we need more legislation. We need to educate and enforce current legislation. Small business today is being smothered by government paperwork and requirements and it's just time to enforce current legislation. Everything we need is there but we're not enforcing it. When there's a problem we just seem to reinvent the wheel. Educate the employer now with the current stuff and I think you'll achieve your results.
Mr Martin: Would you accept, though, that an answer, any answer, would be to back away from current -- you're suggesting to enforce the current legislation. This government is proposing that we get out of the current legislation, that we diminish the current legislation.
Mr MacLeay: Every piece of legislation should be reviewed on some sort of basis, and in this case, as I said earlier in my comments, we applaud the government in taking an initiative. I think you have to listen to the people who are coming before you. You have to make your conclusions when you're finished and do what you think is best. But I go back to the education of employers and employees on their rights as probably the primary thing that's missing through all of this legislation.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr MacLeay, for appearing before us here today and making your comments.
NEW DIRECTIONS WORKERS RESOURCE CENTRE
The Chair: Which takes us now to New Directions Workers Resource Centre. That's a different title than is found in your agenda, members, but the same presenter. Good morning. Please proceed. Just a reminder that we have 15 minutes to divide as you see fit.
Mr Stephen Jagoe: My name is Stephen Jagoe. I represent a board of 10 directors and I'm here today to do a presentation on basically what services we provide and how we feel the act is going to affect unemployed people and part-time workers.
New Directions Workers Resource Centre is a non-profit organization put in place to help displaced workers by providing them with services and information to help them handle difficult situations, and ultimately to re-enter the workforce. I would like to add at this point that all of the services we do are free of charge.
A good portion of our clients are older workers. They themselves have been taken out of the workforce through no fault of their own, by means of downsizing, plant closures, restructuring and layoffs with no dates for recall. This leaves this group of people to look for low-end pay scale jobs or part-time work with no access to adjustment programs.
As a result of this pending legislation, many of the rights that workers have fought for and won will no longer be in place, resulting in fear and possibly more control on the side of the employers.
In the case of large companies versus large businesses, on the bottom on page 3 you will see that in the case of large employers who employ 50 or more workers and who are about to be let go, the Employment Standards Act requires employers to notify the Ministry of Labour. This information is passed on to the office of labour adjustment of the Ministry of Education and Training. Then government representatives make contact with the employer and a bargaining agent to work out a possible adjustment service for the displaced workers. The formation of this committee is totally optional. If a committee is struck or formed, support programs will be put in place. The employer obviously is the key to making this committee succeed. Employees who know their employer supports such a committee and its actions are more likely to become involved and access the services that the committee can supply. These programs are partially funded by the employer and the government.
In the case where small businesses are involved, this form of accessing does not meet the needs of these employees because usually they have less than 50 workers hired. They may not access any adjustment programs or support because these small employers may not know what is available to them.
An example was that a local employer had about 25 employees and was asked to participate in an adjustment program. This employer refused to participate because the company's controlling interests were from outside the province. The workers did not get the services they required as we dealt with them on an individual basis when they came into our office.
Another example of this is that a local restaurant was planning to close its doors to the public. This employer had about 15 employees who were all given four months' severance packages. There was a reluctance to participate in this program because it was felt their participation in this program would affect their severance package. It also became known that two part-time positions had become available and the successful candidates for these positions were not partakers in the program.
The purpose of this act is to have in place acceptable workplace rules or standards which employees should not fall below. This proposed piece of legislation will remove this, and it's possible that enforcement of this legislation could be transferred to the unions where a workplace is organized by such a union. This is a big responsibility to place on the collective bargaining table.
In the case of small businesses, workers will most likely not be protected. What will happen to these people when their employers come to them and ask, "We want you to work some overtime, but we can't afford to pay you these overtime wages"? This puts these employees into a difficult position. Employees, out of fear, will succumb to their employer's wishes.
What's going to happen when an organization is looking at downsizing and has to make a cut in staff? Most employees are faced with a choice: "Do I take the package and leave or do I stay?" In the case of the employee who chooses to stay, there will be a fear that he or she will be moved out of that position and will have lost everything. The person who takes the package will most likely leave and then have to look for work elsewhere, provided there are jobs available.
When layoffs occur in a small business, the employee usually gets a layoff notice and some money which is allotted to them. With this new legislation it will become more difficult to collect these moneys, especially if a collection agency is brought in. Under the proposed legislation, these agencies will be able to take a percentage of the money owed as administrative costs. Thereby, these workers will not get their full awards, and once an employee accepts these, there is no recourse to seek the larger amounts.
My first recommendation is that all companies must participate in some sort of labour adjustment programs or at least have places or centres available to these older workers, and have access to programs by skilled people in the areas of job searching and retraining.
My second recommendation is that the government should be responsible to the workers of this province in making sure that all rights and privileges are respected and enforced with no outside interests, and this amended piece of legislation should be included with this package.
In conclusion, it appears this government has brought forth a proposed piece of legislation that is clearly flawed and not very well thought out. They felt that by removing themselves from the process of investigation and collecting of any moneys rewarded as a result of a settlement, they will in turn be saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars annually.
However, the question that needs to be asked is, who or what is really being saved? It is certainly not the workers of this province, who will now have to bear the full expense of filing a grievance through the court system or, for smaller amounts, will have to proceed through Small Claims Court. As has been pointed out, a lot of these workers are either part-time or older workers who cannot afford the high costs associated with filing such a claim. As a result, they will not pursue any action. Thus the money that is owed to them will not be collected and the employer will continue not to pay his or her employees what is rightfully theirs.
The Chair: First up for questioning this time will be the official opposition: two minutes.
Mr Duncan: Thank you very much for your presentation. To your specific recommendations, I find them fascinating, because you've dealt with a topic that I think we'll be talking about a lot more in chapter 2 of this saga; that is, the whole notion of employment standards in Ontario.
You talked about an issue that has been talked about in other jurisdictions, that whole notion of corporate responsibility and a changing nature of the entire employment standards relationship, if you will. I want to pursue this line of questioning with you.
There was a very good piece in the media this week that Japanese people are reluctant to go to work for North American companies because of their irresponsible attitude when it comes to laying people off in the name of profit. That is the whole argument that's starting to come forward around corporate responsibility and around profitable companies laying people off, what responsibilities they have not only to those individuals but to communities as well. In an era of free movement of capital across borders there are oftentimes great incentives to leave if a particular economy is less efficient, if government regulations are less efficient.
Do you think we should look at our whole concept of employment standards and severance and review it with respect to this notion, the idea that there's a greater obligation than simply one where you get X numbers of weeks of pay for X years of service with a minimum and maximum, that we ought to be looking more at a more holistic approach to corporate responsibility?
Mr Jagoe: I think anything that would deal with them along that line would be appreciated from the side of workers. If the workers have more involvement in a situation where they can at least say, "This is what we feel needs to be in place," I think they would be a lot better.
Mr Duncan: Can I just then ask you a supplementary. One of the things that troubles me as we go through this is that again I don't see much willingness on the part of some organized labour groups to even discuss changes. It's our view that we ought to be talking about them. Clearly the system's not working the way any of us wants it to and yet there seems to be this approach that, "Well, hey, you touch anything and it's bad." I guess I'm looking for organized labour and people such as yourself to say, "Hey, look, there's got to be a better way to do it."
Mr Jagoe: I think if there is the better way to do it, then maybe with these types of programs they can get at least access to some sort of assistance or even some sort of aid where they can approach the government and say: "I'm an older worker. Where can I go or what services are available to me?"
Mr Martin: I've got a couple of brief questions. One is, you raised the issue, and it's been raised before, of intimidation and the impact that has on the lives of workers and whether they take advantage of certain opportunities or not or whether they actually resist it when their rights have been taken away. Perhaps that might also give Mr Duncan some insight into why the labour groups at this point are so critical. It's this whole issue of intimidation and the atmosphere created by that. What's your experience re the question of intimidation of workers you work with?
Mr Jagoe: I brought up that if there's a program in place and if an employee wants to participate in the labour adjustment program, how is that going to affect him? Is it going to affect his severance package? Is it going to affect any chances of rehiring? If an employee goes to a labour adjustment board or even adjustment services -- "I've participated in this program; I've gone through these steps" -- is that going to diminish that employee from being able to move on and do another job or is this going to be held against him because at least he's aware of any situations that are out there? He's going to be a little bit more knowledgeable, and sometimes knowledge can be a dangerous thing if you're dealing with an employee-employer relationship.
Mr Martin: How in your read of it is this legislation going to be particularly difficult for those of us who work in northern Ontario, particularly in some of the smaller communities in northern Ontario?
Mr Jagoe: This is what we found when we were going through this, that there are no programs like labour or even adjustment services that we offer in the north. We found that if employees have access to these, they can at least make a little bit more better choices in how to apply or even file claims or even -- what's the word I want?
Mr Martin: I think you made the point there. Thanks very much.
Mr Shea: I appreciated your presentation and I want to offer you some hope. I think many of your concerns expressed on page 5 are indeed addressed to your satisfaction in the legislation. But you touched on a point that I think is extremely important when we get to the second phase, and I'd like your comments to flesh it out. You began to address it on page 5, your recommendations. It may have escaped others' attention, but I'm concerned deeply about it and that is the whole issue of older workers and the displacement of older workers. These days, sadly, the word "older" sometimes is being pressed down in terms of age limits. Don't let my silver hair mislead you. I'll have concern about that four years from now, perhaps.
I want to address this because I think it's an extremely serious issue. Do you have any thoughts, as the global restructuring goes on, of how governments, not just this government but in fact the federal government, may begin to work in cooperation, define new and innovative ways of using the Canada pension plan, the UIC and a bunch of other things in a more creative fashion, not to cause older workers to be displaced because of their age but to find a way for them to exit gracefully and with some measure of support, to allow younger workers, new university graduates and others who right now have virtually no hope of going anywhere in this country or North America or elsewhere to begin to enter into the labour market, perhaps at lower wages but to begin to work their way up through the system? Have you any thoughts on how we might address that?
Mr Jagoe: Not at this time. I do not, sir.
Mr Shea: Would you think about that, and if you do, would you send in some information on that?
Mr Jagoe: Yes, I would, sir.
Mr Shea: Do I have time for another question or did I blow it?
The Chair: Very briefly, yes.
Mr Shea: In terms of education, is it your sense that right now workers and employers are reasonably well-informed about the Employment Standards Act, or are you finding that there's a great deal of misunderstanding?
Mr Jagoe: I'm finding that there is a great deal of misunderstanding, because a lot of these employees do not know it's out there. So they can be brought up -- at least they can close that gap.
Mr Shea: So these public hearings are very important, very helpful in that regard.
Mr Jagoe: Yes, they are.
The Chair: Thank you very much for coming before us here this morning and making your presentation.
THUNDER BAY COALITION AGAINST POVERTY
The Chair: Which leads us to the Thunder Bay Coalition Against Poverty. Good morning. Just a reminder that you have 15 minutes. Feel free to divide that as you see fit.
Ms Chris Mather: Thank you. My name is Chris Mather. I'm the coordinator of the coalition. Before I start, I'd like to introduce the people who are with me. On my far right is Barb Carignan, one of our dedicated volunteers. Next to me is Chris Scheibler, one of our food security workers. This is Beulah Besharah, the president of our board, and this is Doug Powell, the treasurer of our board.
We're a non-profit community organization concerned about the depth and extent of poverty in our community. The majority of our members are people whose incomes fall below Statistics Canada poverty lines and most of them are on some form of social assistance.
It was really great to hear Mr O'Toole say he was concerned about the small people. That's us, so you're going to get the real skinny. One of our major activities is the operation of a food bank and we serve about 400 people a month at our food bank. One of Ms Scheibler's jobs is to ask the people at the food bank for their opinions on current issues. That's one of her primary roles, so it's from those opinions that what we're going to say -- our presentation comes from poor people's opinions. We want to make that clear.
We know that you've heard a lot from leaders of the organized labour movement about their dissatisfaction with Bill 49 and we want to say that we support their concerns. We believe the protection of the collective bargaining process is very, very important, but our expertise lies in another area. So today we intend to confine our remarks to the concerns of our members, most of whom are employed at part-time, casual or seasonal employment or make only minimum wage.
First of all, we'd like to talk about the idea of reducing the amount of time for claims from two years to six months. We have three points to make concerning this issue.
(1) The low-income community contains a high proportion of people with low literacy levels, people with psychiatric or developmental disabilities, recent immigrants and people for whom English is a second language. Such people are often unaware of their rights. They're unable to understand literature which explains those rights, and it may well take such people much longer than six months to become aware that their employer is in violation of employment standards. We don't think their disadvantages should be an excuse for an employer's liability to be limited. That's not fair.
When I first came to Canada, I worked for nine months as a waitress before I realized that my employer should be paying me for the hour I spent cleaning the restaurant after my shift. He told me it was standard practice for waitresses in Canada to do that for free. I believed him, and I speak English and I'm in no way developmentally delayed. It happens. It's real.
(2) Low-income people are under pressure as never before to keep a job if they do manage to find one. Social assistance and/or unemployment insurance has been denied or delayed to our members because they voluntarily left employment. Under such circumstances, people are likely to wait until they have a new job before they complain, and in Thunder Bay it can take a lot longer than six months to find a new job.
(3) The same point can be made concerning people who are fired. Assistance can be delayed or refused if you're dismissed from a job. Workers understand very well that their employer may fire them if they make a claim to the ministry. The tightening of assistance rules and the six-month time limit put together can result in the worker having to choose between his or her rights and his or her job.
We want also to talk about the maximum of $10,000 that you're suggesting for a claim that can be made through the ministry, and also the idea of a minimum claim amount. We have four points to make concerning the limits.
(1) We have members of our coalition who have been owed more than $10,000 by employers. That does happen. Setting a ceiling for claims could encourage unscrupulous employers to continue to violate standards once they owe an employer $10,000. I mean, what harm is it going to do them to remain in violation and allow the bill to mount up? Why does this government think there should be a maximum amount claimable? We don't get it.
(2) Bill 49 specifies that any claims for more than $10,000 should be pursued through the courts but that a worker can't file a claim with the ministry and initiate a civil suit. This amounts to no choice for a low-income person and it's economic discrimination. Lawyers charge large amounts of money, they want their money up front, especially when they can tell a client is poor and doesn't have any easily realizable, sizeable assets, and civil suits take a long time. This act therefore limits completely for most low-income people the amount they'll ever be able to recover from an employer.
(3) Setting a minimum claim amount would put many of our members at risk, and we're referring here specifically to people who depend on casual or seasonal employment. What's to stop an employer from calculating how many hours at minimum wage is just under the minimum claim amount and employing a series of people for that time and no longer? This isn't an illusory concern. Employers already take advantage of the unemployment situation. Recently one of our members applied for work at a travelling carnival. He's all excited, he gets hired. He and several of the men worked for two days setting up rides. When he asked for his pay, he was told that he had not actually been hired yet and that he and the other men were working for free while the employer evaluated their work performance and decided who to hire permanently. So at least five men within the last two months worked for two days for nothing. It does happen.
Perhaps the most disturbing issue about a minimum claim amount is that with this measure, the government is legislating the principle that it's legitimate to defraud people as long as it's under a certain amount. Is that this government's understanding of the rule of law? How much is it legitimate to defraud an employee? Two days at minimum wage is about $110. Is that a low enough amount? To put that in context, $110 is approximately 56% of the maximum welfare allowance this government allows single people for food, clothing and transportation per month; $110 is approximately 28% of the maximum allowance this government will pay to single parents with one child for food, clothing and transportation a month. We believe that if an employee is owed the equivalent of one hour's wages, those wages should be paid.
Mr Baird, where have you been? Twenty-five dollars is a lot of money. We give out $8 worth of food to every adult who comes to our food bank. They line up around the block. Twenty-five dollars is about one week's amount of food that Mr Tsubouchi says a single adult should have. Would you give up one week's worth of food?
Finally, Bill 49 specifies that private collection agencies would be responsible for collecting money owed to workers by employers. I want to address something that was said by one of the government members today, which is that the ministry hasn't been collecting the money. I administer four programs for our agency. If those programs aren't working, I talk to my staff. I get my board alongside me. We give our staff as much help as we can. We try and come up with creative ways of making those programs work. We don't call the children's aid society and say, "Hey, we can't do the job, so you do it." Passing the buck because your ministry isn't working is not responsible management, in my view.
(1) It's a fiction to assume that private collection agencies will operate in the best interests of the worker who's owed money. Collection agencies push for quick, low settlements. How much more likely is it that poor people will have to accept suggested lower settlements simply because they need money desperately?
(2) The act says that if the amount of money obtained by the collection agency is less than the amount owed to the employee, the money should be divided out between the collection agency, the worker and the Ministry of Labour. This seems to us to imply that a worker who is owed money could end up paying to have that money collected. Can the government members here today inform us if this is what's intended by the legislation? Can we have read this correctly? It's subsection 73.0.2(7), "Apportionment of money collected." We don't think we can have read this right, that a worker should have to pay to have his money collected.
(3) Bill 49 says the director must approve settlements which are less than 75% of what the worker is owed. Under what circumstances will such settlements be approved? These are questions from the people at our food bank; I've put them in fancier language. Under what circumstances will such settlements be approved? How often will this happen? How rigorously must the director investigate the reasons for the reduction? Will a record be kept of how often a given collection agency negotiates such reductions? Will a record be kept of how often a given employer is allowed such a reduction?
(4) The spelling out of the principle in the legislation that workers can be asked to accept less than they are owed implies that unscrupulous employers can look forward to a de facto lowering of their penalty for violations.
(5) There's a potential for conflict of interest in using collection agencies for this purpose. Low-income people and collection agencies aren't real good friends, often. If an employer regularly uses a given collection agency to pursue its own bad debts and that same collection agency is then empowered to collect money from the employer on behalf of a worker, will that agency pursue the worker's claim vigorously? It seems to us much more likely that the agency will protect its own interests by looking after its more powerful regular customer and so soft-pedal the worker's claim.
(6) There seems to be the potential for another conflict-of-interest situation arising from the use of collection agencies. Suppose an agency has a regular valued client, and we'll call it the ABC department store, and the agency is empowered to collect money owed to a worker by a different company, say by a utility company. On checking its records, the agency realizes that the worker owes money to the ABC store. Does the act prohibit the agency from taking the store's money from the money collected for the worker? Would the agency be entitled to collect two sets of fees from the same money? Again, these are questions from our food bank. Does the act require agencies to declare either of the above two conflict situations prior to accepting the contract to collect the worker's money?
In summation, the Thunder Bay Coalition Against Poverty believes that Bill 49 represents a step back for workers in this province. Taken as a whole, its provisions favour employers over workers and weaken both employment standards and their enforcement. Some of the legislation's provisions will result in economic discrimination against low-income people. Thank you for your attention to our presentation.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your comments. That leaves us one minute per caucus for questioning. In this round, it will commence with the third party.
Mr Martin: I have to say, I'm totally convinced. You've made the argument, as have all the representatives of organized labour who have come before us this morning, and so did the person from the community legal clinic. I don't know why the government continues with this.
I would like to put a motion on the floor, Mr Chair, if I might, that as soon as possible, early this afternoon, this committee recommend to the government that they withdraw this bill and that they get on with creating the 750,000 jobs they promised they were going to create during the election; that they get on with what this province, when they elected them, thought they were going to do, which is come up with an industrial strategy that creates work for people, and stop the continuous and unrelenting attack on vulnerable and poor people and working people in this province. I'd like to table that motion now.
The Chair: I guess we have two choices. We can either put the question right now or -- Mr Martin has tabled it. It's taking up the time of this presentation. I don't know if that was your intention, Mr Martin, to use up their time.
Mr Martin: I just think it's silly for us to continue, given the arguments that are being made before us, and I believe not just here. This legislation is just not well-thought-out, not in the best interests of the wellbeing of the people of this province, so we should withdraw it. We should ask the government to withdraw it and get on with the business of creating work in this province for people.
The Chair: You've heard Mr Martin's motion. Any further comment? All those in favour? Contrary? The motion is defeated.
Moving on to the government benches, Mr Baird.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. In terms of your question with respect to the commission of a collection agent, that would of course be borne by the employer. For example, the average order is $2,000. The commission is added right on to that order for the employer to pay.
One thing we do know, though, is that the previous NDP government disbanded the collections branch. There was a specific branch set up within the Ministry of Labour designed to get the money, but the NDP cut it to save money. They fired 10 people, discharged those employees and never replaced them. So what we found was employment standards officers who have no training in collections; they're good people, they work hard, but they have no training per se in collections. We're only collecting 25 cents on the dollar.
You mentioned the problem of workers agreeing to settle for less than 100%. That's something that Bob Mackenzie and the NDP did every day and every year that they were in government; regrettably, with 24% of the claims, the company's either bankrupt or insolvent. If there was a quick, easy answer to collect those fees -- for example, I know Mr Martin; he's a good, honest, hardworking person -- they would have taken it.
That's why I think what this is, the issue with the collection agencies, is an honest attempt to say the status quo isn't working, hasn't worked for any of the three parties. In the last year it hasn't gotten any better, so I can certainly indicate that we haven't been able to do a better job than the NDP in the last 12 months. That's why we're coming forward with this provision, to say we think we can do a better job, that collection agents, professional people -- we talked to one chap last week with 25 years' experience in collections -- can get those numbers up. We're not satisfied with little tinkering on the 25 cents on the dollar. We can do a better job than that.
Ms Mather: If your intent with the legislation is to increase the amount of money collected for workers, why do you have the provisions written into the legislation which say that if the money collected is less than the total owed it can be apportioned out in the prescribed manner? Why do you have another one that talks about the director being able to authorize collections less than 75%? Why are they in there if they're not going to be used?
Mr Baird: The first one is obviously to ensure it doesn't go less than 75%.
Ms Mather: That's not what it says.
Mr Baird: The second one, if a company goes bankrupt and they say, "We can give you 50 cents on the dollar," would we forbid that by law? No. The company's going bankrupt, and we're forbidding you to get 50 cents on the dollar? The federal government undertakes the bankruptcy laws; we don't. Certainly Minister Witmer has written the federal government asking for changes because we think workers should be given a higher priority. But we have no intention of banning 50-cents-on-the-dollar settlements if a company's bankrupt. If that's all the money that's out there, if there's no money left --
Ms Mather: That's not what this says.
Mr Duncan: I want to thank you for a very thoughtful presentation that's brought home the reality that many people in our province face. I want to applaud the way you have, in a logical and non-rhetorical way, approached some of the flaws in this particular bill. We support a lot of what you said, and frankly we are somewhat supportive of the government in its attempt to find a way to collect better. Indeed, in the second reading debate we asked the government to withdraw the bill because we felt that it is bringing forward further amendments.
I want to conclude by asking you one question. You've done a very good job at critiquing the specifics of this legislation. We haven't had a chance to talk about the NDP's failure in the last five years to address these issues. It's good to see them back to their old selves again, defending the poor and attacking those who don't.
I'm at a loss as to the kinds of things we can do to the act to make it work better, not only for employees but, more important, for those people who are most vulnerable in our society. I'd appreciate it if you could wrap up by sharing any thoughts you might have to make employment standards legislation work better for the folks you deal with every day.
Ms Mather: With all due respect, Mr Duncan, I get really tired when politicians start saying, "We're going to do this because those guys didn't." The next time they're in, we're going to be watching them. The next time you're in, we're going to be watching you.
Mr Duncan: Right on.
Ms Mather: In terms of what should be done, we think the focus should be on prevention. It seems to us that this is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. To improve things for low-income workers, we think there should be more prevention. We think it should be easier for people who work at part-time, minimum-wage jobs to become unionized. This government has made it harder for people to become unionized, and we think it should be easier. Those are the two things we'd like to see: We'd like to see prevention and we'd like to see it easier to get that first contract.
Mr Duncan: So you would agree that the government's decision to cut 28% of its enforcement and prevention budget and then eliminate the employment standards office was yet another one of the dumb cuts that saves a bit of money in the short run but costs all of us in the long term?
Ms Mather: They don't just save money in the short term and cost more money later. They help their friends and hurt the rest of us. That's the other agenda.
The Chair: Thank you all for appearing before us this morning. We appreciate it.
That leads us now to the Thunder Bay District Hospitality Association. Are they with us here today?
Mr Martin: They decided it's a waste of time, too, Mr Chair.
The Chair: Mr Martin, please refrain from your editorial comments unless it's your turn to talk. The fact is, the clerk advises me that we weren't able to get any response.
The Chair: Mr Martin, you're out of order. Show a little respect, please.
Mr Martin: You show a little respect. You show a little respect to the province as a government.
The Chair: We are.
Mr Martin: Like hell you are.
The Chair: Each group is allocated a set time, Mr Martin. We're pleased that you could --
Mr Martin: Your government has introduced a set of initiatives that have hurt nobody but the poor and the vulnerable in this province. That's what you've done.
The Chair: This isn't a forum for your making speeches, Mr Martin. This is a forum to listen to the people of Thunder Bay, not listen to other politicians. Thank you for your rant, Mr Martin.
In the absence of the Thunder Bay District Hospitality Association, the committee stands recessed until 2:30.
The committee recessed from 1153 to 1429.
The Chair: I call the meeting back to order for the afternoon session of our sixth day of hearings on Bill 49.
Mr Martin: Mr Chair, on a point of order: I was wondering why we come all the way here, at some expense to the government and ourselves, to hear people on this subject and we give them 15 minutes and in some cases don't allow for any questions of them when they're finished, then we have ourselves two and a half hours for lunch. Is this because it's the north? I'm lost for some rationale there because I know that in other communities you've allowed for 20 minutes per presenter but today we weren't allowed that privilege.
The Chair: It has to do with the number of groups that originally indicated they wished to attend. The time was divided by that. If after that point there were cancellations, I'm afraid those are beyond our control. It was the number of groups that had applied by the deadline and because of cancellations. It's very regrettable. I agree with you that there's considerable expense, and no one is more frustrated than I when a group indicates they'd like us to come up to Thunder Bay, or any other town, and then doesn't bother to show up. But that is why we had an extra-long break today.
THUNDER BAY AND DISTRICT LABOUR COUNCIL
The Chair: Having said that, our first group up this afternoon is the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council. Come forward to the table, please. Good afternoon. I remind you that you have 15 minutes, but it's up to you to divide that as you see fit either into presentation time or allowing for questions and answers.
Mr Paul Pugh: Thank you very much. My name is Paul Pugh. I am a member of the executive of the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council.
Before starting, I have a possible answer to the query that was made just before the beginning of these procedures. I noticed on the monitor out there that the chamber of commerce had a lunch meeting today, so perhaps the Conservative members of this panel were busy meeting with their friends from business or getting their marching orders; I don't know which.
The Chair: Just to disabuse you of that: Not one government member attended that lunch.
Mr Baird: Nor were we invited to the OFL breakfast.
Mr Shea: I liked the breakfast this morning.
Interjection: The one by the Ontario Federation of Labour?
The Chair: I'm sure the NDP member was there. Please proceed.
Mr Chudleigh: Can we take the high road here, gentlemen?
Mr Pugh: Yes, I will. The Thunder Bay and District Labour Council would like to express its appreciation to the tens of thousands of citizens who protested at the Ontario Legislature and throughout this province as well as to the members of the opposition who maintained a sit-in at the Legislature until the present government agreed to allow limited public hearings, such as this one with its limited time, on its legislative initiatives.
The Harris government's approach to democracy would take us back a long way. For example, in 1836 Sir Francis Bond Head, former poor law commissioner, was sent from Britain to assume the office of Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Shortly after arrival he declared that he would never "surrender to a democratic principle of government...so long as the British flag waved in America." A year later, during the course of the Upper Canada Rebellions, during which the people of this province protested against this government, Sir Francis Bond Head fled across the ice on his way back to Britain -- none too soon, I might say.
Our first reaction to the title of Bill 49, Employment Standards Improvement Act, 1996, was that this was yet another example of political doubletalk, but on reflection we realized that the government may actually see this as an improvement. There is little doubt its friends -- the rich, corporations, chamber of commerce and so on -- will hail it as some sort of improvement.
For our part, we can only put Bill 49 into context as part of the government's broader assault on every gain achieved by working people through generations of toil, struggle and suffering. In every area, whether we look at housing, welfare, labour relations, health care, employment standards, health and safety, education, workers' compensation, child care and others, this government has consistently and enthusiastically attacked virtually every program, every piece of legislation that benefits working people and the poor.
Section 3 of Bill 49 allows a collective agreement to fall below legal minimum standards concerning severance pay, overtime, public holidays, hours of work and vacation pay so long as the contract is deemed to provide greater rights "when those matters are assessed together."
In effect, this provision eliminates the concept of a floor of rights that workers can count on when negotiating with an employer. Workers now will have to bargain all those conditions of employment that previously were taken for granted into their collective agreement. This will provide employers the opportunity to pressure all workers, but especially those in small or weak bargaining units, into inferior agreements in order to avoid losing conditions previously assured.
This is clearly and blatantly a gift to employers. We are not at all amused by suggestions that this sort of improvement allows workers and employers greater freedom to negotiate suitable terms of employment. For workers this provision has nothing to do with freedom; it is a direct aid to employers, assuring that workers will face increased difficulties in achieving or maintaining decent standards of living.
In this, again the Harris revolution takes us back many generations. We cite the testimony of Richard Oastler before a parliamentary select committee investigating labour conditions in Britain in 1835:
"Oastler -- The time of labour ought to be shortened, and.... Government ought to establish a board...chosen by the masters and the men...to settle the question of how wages shall be regulated.
"Committee -- You would put an end to the freedom of labour?
"Oastler -- I would put an end to the freedom of murder, and to the freedom of employing labourers beyond their strength; I would put an end to anything which prevents the poor man getting a good living with fair and reasonable work; and I would put an end to this, because it was destructive of human life.
"Committee -- Would it have the effect you wished for?
"Oastler -- I am sure the present effect of free labour is poverty, distress and death...."
Richard Oastler and English workers were calling for legislated limitations on hours of work, minimum rates of pay and minimum safety standards. In effect, they were calling for the very same things this government is trying to destroy: minimum employment standards, standards for which working people have fought for generations in this country as well as in Britain and other places around the world.
The parliamentary representatives of the rich rejected such initiatives by all means, including cynical appeals to freedom and job creation. It took years of strikes, demonstrations, disruptions and every kind of agitation to eventually secure legislated employment standards in the face of determined opposition by representatives of employers.
We now see that the Harris revolution is determined to take us back to the early 19th century, whether in its approach to democracy or employment standards or anything else that affects working people.
Section 3 of Bill 49 undermines minimum employment standards. Section 20 denies access to ministry enforcement of standards and requires unionized workers to pay for enforcement of whatever standards are left through the grievance procedure and arbitration process. This not only imposes a financial burden on workers victimized by unscrupulous employers, but also denies such workers access to the investigative powers of the Ministry of Labour. This measure is truly worthy of Harris's 19th-century revolution.
We now come to sections of Bill 49 where the government has outdone itself: sections 19, 21 and 32, enforcement for non-unionized workers. With these amendments the government proposes to end any enforcement by the Ministry of Labour so long as aggrieved employees opt to file a lawsuit against their employers. Employees will be forced to choose between making a complaint to the employment standards branch or filing a civil suit in the courts.
In order to encourage recourse to the courts, the maximum damages recoverable through employment standards will be fixed at $10,000, a minimum amount as yet undetermined will be set and a time limit of six months from the time of filing a complaint will be established. In other words, the government of Ontario is assuring employers that any offences against workers in excess of $10,000 or under an unspecified minimum or carried out in excess of six months can be carried out with impunity. The government will not intervene.
Should a worker affected by employer abuses wish to obtain redress despite the government's self-imposed limitations, the only recourse is through the courts. A worker must choose within two weeks of filing a complaint whether to proceed through employment standards or via the courts. In the event the worker chooses to file a suit, the government has already ensured that proceedings will be lengthy and expensive to the aggrieved worker by its cutbacks to legal assistance programs. It's precisely the workers in non-unionized, poorly paid places who will be hardest affected by this program. Even a 19th-century Parliament would smile on learning of this set of amendments.
Still, the Harris revolution has not finished its work. Section 28 accomplishes this: contracting out the collection of wages assessed against employers in violation of standards to private collection agencies. In the event employment standards actually rules against an employer, collection will be contracted out to a collection agency. The agency will be empowered to collect a fee from the employer, but in the event the agency is unable to collect the full amount owing to the employee, the money collected will be shared between the government, the collection agency and the employee. In other words, the employee would have to pay the government and the collection agency out of the money recovered. This is truly a masterpiece. Even Scrooge would be hard-pressed to better this provision.
Fearful perhaps that its relentless assault on workers and the poor might create a backlash, the government also included some minor changes in Bill 49 which actually benefit workers. Section 8 provides for entitlement to two weeks' vacation yearly, regardless of whether the employee actually worked the entire year. However, this does not affect actual vacation pay, which remains at 4% of earnings. Employees will also be credited with benefits and seniority while on pregnancy or parental leave. Whatever the government's motive for introducing these changes, they do represent an improvement.
In conclusion, we wish to commend members of the opposition for their part in restraining, or where this has proven impossible, at least publicizing this government's vicious attacks on working people. As for us, we look forward to the day when the Harris revolution is noted as a curious throwback to the 19th century in history texts. Meanwhile, we intend to join with others throughout the province in continuous actions of whatever form to protest and combat against this government's vicious assaults on decency and fairness.
The Chair: That leaves us one and a half minutes per caucus, and the questioning this time will start with the government.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon. I was wondering if you might have any specific suggestions for us. I can tell you, we're just simply not satisfied with collecting 25 cents on the dollar. It's a problem that all parties in government have had. The Liberals had a problem with collecting more than 25%. The NDP, as I mentioned this morning, disbanded the collections branch at the Ministry of Labour, fired 10 people and weren't able to increase the collection rate. We haven't been able, in the last year, to get it significantly up using the current system. We've got a proposal on the table to move to the collection agency to go after the deadbeat employers to ensure that workers get their money. Do you have any specific suggestions for us that maybe the NDP didn't think about in five years or the Liberals didn't think about in five years that we could use as an alternative?
Mr Pugh: I would say that possibly this wasn't a priority for previous governments, which it should have been, but if you are serious, if you honestly want to deal with this thing, I'm sure you have staff who could put their minds to work on it. If they wanted to, they could write me -- I can leave my address with you -- and we'll come up with a plan. For example, we know that you've decided to eliminate the assessments on employers for -- what was it called? The OHIP before. I forget the name now.
Mr Baird: Just for a small business, though.
Mr Pugh: That's right, but you could reimpose it on them if they choose not to pay back. I'm sure we could come up with all kinds of things if you seriously want to deal with it. I don't think you're serious. I think you're bullshitting.
Mr Baird: I'll tell you, we've got some very exceptionally capable people within the policy branch of the ministry at employment standards. We've certainly tried. I know the Liberals made an earnest attempt; I certainly know the New Democratic Party made an earnest attempt to try to do better. I guess the reality is, we simply don't have folks who are experts in the collections branch.
Leah Casselman, the president of OPSEU, came before the committee and said that the employment standards officers themselves didn't have a personal or pecuniary interest in collections of funds. Adding that through collections agencies, it's obviously in their financial interest to retrieve the money, because if they don't retrieve any money, they get nothing.
I think that's where the fundamental change lies. I'm very earnest in this and very sincere. I think it's abhorrent they were only collecting 25 cents on the dollar. We must do better. If you have any suggestions -- I make this request earnestly -- please forward them on, because we'd love to hear them.
Mr Pugh: I think, seeing as how you're the government, we'll put the onus on you --
Mr Baird: We are presenting, though. This is our plan.
Mr Pugh: Let me finish here. If you really are serious, as you claim you are, I'll leave my name and address with you, and your ministry officials can contact me and I'm sure that I, not personally but through the labour council, will be more than happy to assist you in dealing with this problem.
Mr Baird: I look forward to getting it, and I'm very sincere.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation today. How much time do we have?
The Chair: I'll give you two minutes.
Mr Hoy: Thank you. In speaking about the private collectors that the government wants to put into place, as you know, settlements could be made down towards 75% of the actual request. But it brings up the question that someone who has a similar problem occurring to them in Hamilton might have a settlement that is quite different from someone in Thunder Bay. Would you agree that could happen? If you do, what do you think about that certain aspect of this?
Mr Pugh: I'm not sure I follow the question.
Mr Hoy: If two people have a similar claim but there's a range whereby the settlement could be made, between 75% and 100% of what they're owed, someone in another part of Ontario could conceivably receive, let's say, a settlement of 80% of actual and someone else could get 85%. Does this seem reasonable to you? Are you willing to see that happen in Ontario from one community or area to another?
Mr Pugh: No, certainly not. That's why we're opposed to contracting out to collection agencies. We feel that a grievance to a worker is a grievance to a worker, regardless of what part of the province it takes place in. The government should be serious, if it really is concerned about this 25% figure, to find a way of making sure that all workers are paid back 100% of what's owed to them.
Mr Martin: What was your experience with the wage protection fund that we put in place that this government has significantly diminished since it came to power? How many employees, particularly non-unionized employees, do you think are really going to be able to afford a lawyer to go to court to fight for the little bit of pay that they're owed by some company that just closes up and walks away? There are two questions there.
Mr Pugh: Now, I'm not speaking for our labour council's position, but I know personally, as a worker, if I were in that position, I would just more or less have to give up and accept whatever I could get because it's just too expensive. As the labour council pointed out in our brief, the availability of legal assistance is getting harder and harder to achieve, so programs such as a wage protection fund are essential if we're going to have any sort of minimum standards.
Mr Martin: Have you any experience at all with the employee wage protection fund that we put in place?
Mr Pugh: I know the program you're speaking of. There have been small firms in this town that have gone under. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to answer that question. I've had no personal dealings with the problem.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Pugh. We have four ministry staff here. If you care to leave your name and address with them, that will certainly expedite things. Thank you for coming before us this afternoon.
NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO STEELWORKERS AREA COUNCIL
The Chair: Next up is the Northwestern Ontario Steelworkers Area Council. Good afternoon. At the risk of repeating myself, we have 15 minutes. Feel free to divide that as you wish between presentation time or questions and answers.
Mr Moses Sheppard: Thank you. My name is Moses Sheppard. I'm a Steelworkers staff representative, working out of Thunder Bay, and I service an area from Red Lake to Manitouwadge. I'm also deaf, so if you have difficulty hearing me, yell at me, and if I have difficulty hearing you, I'll throw something at you.
First of all, I'm here on behalf of the Northwestern Ontario Steelworkers Area Council. It is an amalgam of all of those units between Red Lake and Manitouwadge. It is on their behalf that I make this submission and on their behalf as well that we welcome you to the great northwest.
The elected officers of our union in Ontario have already made a presentation to this committee, and I will not repeat the things that they have said. I don't have a formal written presentation, albeit I'm giving you a couple of sets of documents, which I will come back to momentarily.
The lead-up to all of this -- and certainly the press here in the northwest and, I suspect, throughout the rest of the province has talked about the minister's undertaking. I think the word that we've used is to develop "flexible standards." Maybe before this thing is over, somebody can tell me what that means, a "flexible standard." Elastic bands are flexible, so I'm wondering if this is a kind of a Tory membrane that's being developed. In any event, I'd like to know what you mean when you talk about a flexible standard.
Here in the northwest, we'd also like you to remember our geography. We've got a lot of it. It's 600 kilometres. I drive to Red Lake frequently. I drive to Manitouwadge. It's 400 kilometres. People in Pickle Lake don't know what an employment standards office is. They don't come into contact with these animals. They don't know what that means. Employment standards in Pickle Lake is a 1-800 number. Employment standards throughout most of the northwest is a 1-800 number. So whatever it is that Bill 49 looks like at the end of this exercise, I want to know who's going to go to Pickle Lake and tell people what it is and how they're to seek enforcement.
If you parcel this out, if you're going to privatize it and people have to go to Pickle Lake to do investigations, who will pay for the cost of travel? Who will pay for the hotels and motels? Who will pay for those periods when they're down because of weather? I don't see that anywhere in the bill. So when you formulate whatever you're going to do -- and I'm not at all suggesting that we'll like whatever it is you're going to do, but whatever the hell it is you do, think about the people in small, rural northwestern Ontario communities who've never had an employment standards office in their lives.
The 1-800 number was free. I take it that with your proposal we'll even lose that, so that we'll have to get the quarter or the dollar to phone these birds, whoever they happen to be. If that indeed is an Employment Standards Improvement Act, that appears to us not to be a great improvement, quite frankly.
Let me just turn my attention to the whole question of standards. Why standards? Traditionally in this province, standards are our decency quotient. It is a measure of our civility. It is how we treat those people who, for one reason or another, don't belong to unions, don't have a lot of resources, who may not be terribly educated. It is a standard that the government of Ontario has traditionally used as a measure to say, "These people are worth this, as a minimum." It now appears to us that you're going to screw off with that as well.
I've given you two documents. I'd like you to refer to them, because the question I think of, "Why standards?" -- you'll find the answer in the first document. There's a picture of a little boy there. His father got killed in Campbell Red Lake Mine on May 29. This young man needs serious corrective heart surgery. He's on oxygen at his home. Campbell Red Lake cut off the benefits for the family last week. That's why we need a standard. If you don't have a standard, companies will make standards. That's not a standard we ought to be a part of in Ontario.
The little guy asked a question, and I ask it of you since he can't be here. He said: "My dad died in Campbell Red Lake Mine. There are no health care benefits now. Does that mean that I too have to die?" Phone him up. Tell him what the answer is. That's what you're messing around with.
Let me take you to the second document I've given you. If there's a name on it I would ask you to scratch it out; it will not be there deliberately. This is a young man who came -- two young men, in fact. This is the record of one of them who came to our office in 1994. They were not Steelworkers. They worked in a very small plant. What I've given you is a history of his working hours from 1988 until 1994, when he complained to the employment standards and they fired both of them. This is what he was complaining about. There are in this document 2,000 hours of overtime he did not get paid for: 2,000 hours in the period 1988 to 1994. We charged them under the Labour Relations Act and we managed to get him pay for 838 hours. That means he got screwed out of 1,200 hours. Just have a look at some of this.
If you go to the second page, 1991, right at the bottom, in the period October 16 to 31, 1991, he worked 160.5 hours -- 72.5 hours overtime. Did he get paid? Not one God-damned miserable cent did he get. Go to the top of page 3. In the period November 1 to 15 he got 146 hours' work -- not one hour of overtime; nothing. The last page, 1993: 122, 117, 125, 136 in two-week periods.
He got all that he was entitled to under the statute. The statute will only allow you to retrieve two years. That's the statute as it was. When you birds are finished with it he won't even get that. You see, we'd all like to live in the days of Norman Rockwell where we sit outside and rock in our chairs and we bring soup to each other when we're sick. That is not the world of Ontario in 1996. It is miserable and mean out there, and this stuff happens.
I happened to pick this up because they were friends of mine. God knows how much of it goes on in this city and throughout the province. It is not, I can assure you, a single incident.
That is what you're going to do when you open this act, this so-called Employment Standards Improvement Act. I don't doubt it's an improvement -- an improvement for bad employers. I'm not saying that every employer in this province is bad -- that is not true -- but there are some bad beggars out there. What you're going to do with this act is you're going to see more and more and more of this kind of stuff.
Did these young men go to the employment standards branch? Oh yes, they did, and they said, "We think we're being screwed out of overtime." The branch officers here in the city said, "You have to give us your name and your address, and you might get fired, and if you get fired there's not a damn thing that we can do about it." There is a provision in the act -- there was -- for the branch to do surreptitious investigation. They didn't do it. They would not undertake to do it. They said, "Give us your name, your address, make your complaint public and you may get fired." That is an invitation to the worker: "The best thing you can do is shove off and keep quiet." That's why that went on from 1988. I'm sure that none of you know him and I'm sure that none of you would want personally to injure him or to insult him, but that is what this young man put up with.
There are other things. They had paper masks for chemicals, and when we complained, they went and got a proper respirator with the carbon filters. They had one respirator for four employees. I don't know what the hell the other three were supposed to do. They had a nine-inch fan in the ceiling and they were told, "Don't turn it on because that costs electricity."
You are now saying to these people, to people like this: "This act that we presently have is much too onerous on the employer. We have to give them a break." You should have read Abe Lincoln. There was a point old Abe came in and freed the slaves. Have you ever thought about that? That might be the answer to this problem. Just say, "No rights, no nothing."
Here we had a piece of legislation that even in the good days, even in the days of the New Democratic government when we had officers in offices, didn't get enforced. You've got to push them. You've got to hammer them. What you're proposing is: No offices; contract it out. If you're at Pickle Lake, phone somebody somewhere, track them down, and if they come up here and spend three or four days investigating it and you're owed a thousand bucks, by the time this guy gets finished investigating, you won't have anything left anyway.
I don't know what it is that you people, the government, have against workers. This province, whatever it is, is being made great in part by workers, very ordinary workers who go to work every day and do whatever it is they can. They've done that since the date this province was pulled together. This government is intent on hammering the hell out of every one of them. The only thing you've done since you've come to power is to screw around with labour legislation. I haven't seen a proposal that says that from now on when there's a bankruptcy, the banks can get to the back of the line and the employees go to the front. That would be a simple amendment if you really do want to improve this, but I don't see that, and my sense of it is that it's not on the agenda.
For all of those reasons and for dozens and dozens of others that we discussed with the minister of the day, we ask you, if you really are serious about improving the working lives of working Ontarians, then for the love of God leave this thing alone. That's the worst that should happen. The best that should happen is that you amend it so that it is kind and gentle to workers. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Sheppard. That's just over 13 minutes, but I'll allow a brief question or comment from each caucus.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your comment. You talked about some issues that are pertinent to the north but no less so in other areas of the province from time to time. I appreciated your comments in regard to awareness. You're concerned about access for the people here in the north in particular and about information -- how do they learn of their rights etc? -- in a large part of your presentation. I take that with great interest. You talked about the decency quotient; I made note of that. Minimum standards, I believe, do provide a level of decent employment opportunities. I do appreciate your comments very much.
Mr Martin: I can't help when you speak, Moses, but to think of some of the verses: "There are strange things done in the midnight sun" by the folks who mine for gold. I think it's really important that the committee should come north and hear from people like yourself. You tell the stories because you've worked with the people who are living them. Every time I hear you, I am personally moved and made more aware.
It's too bad the committee didn't drive up so that they could understand some of the challenges we face. I drove from Sault Ste Marie yesterday. I started at 1:30 in the afternoon and I got here last night about 11 o'clock. We do face some different and interesting challenges in northern Ontario, and as we make legislation that affects the people you represent, it's important that we understand how it will impact on them. It's too bad you only get 15 minutes here today because I know you have other stories you could tell us. I think you've told it as eloquently and elaborately as anybody could and I don't think I could add anything to it by asking you a question. I would just say thank you for doing it again.
Mr Sheppard: If I could, Mr Chairman, this is in the public domain. It was settled in front of the Ontario Labour Relations Board. We have taken any references to it out because we're not in the business of embarrassing any single individual -- which is not to say that I wouldn't embarrass them collectively. We have taken it out for that reason, but it is in the public domain.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. Just a number of comments. The 1-800 number that you mentioned for the north, they're showing no intention to get rid of that. That's not in the bill. It's important as well to note that we're not contracting out any investigations, simply the collection of orders that have already been issued. The previous government is the one that disbanded the collections branch at the Ministry of Labour, so we're not disbanding the collections branch; that was already disbanded by the previous government. I think it's important to make note of that.
I'd welcome your comments on a number of things, though -- if not now, at any time. I'd love to hear them. With respect to bankruptcy, your comments that workers should get priority I think are extremely apt. I completely agree with you and I know Minister Witmer does as well. The federal Bankruptcy Act is the legislation that governs that. Regrettably, it's not one that this committee has the authority to change. I know it's one of the early measures that Minister Witmer took in contacting her federal counterpart to try to push them to make those changes and something we'll continue to push for, because before banks get paid, workers should be at least entitled to the money they earned themselves. So just a number of comments. We appreciate your presentation.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Sheppard. We appreciate your taking the time to come before us here today.
CREDIT BUREAUS OF NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO LTD
The Chair: Next up will be the Credit Bureaus of Northwestern Ontario Ltd. Good afternoon. Again, you have 15 minutes to divide between presentation and questions and answers.
Mr Tim Waite: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Thunder Bay. I want to thank the committee for coming to Thunder Bay and hearing all of our views. My name is Tim Waite and I'm the president and general manager of the Credit Bureaus of Northwestern Ontario. I'm here to talk about a specific part of these proposed amendments as they relate to my industry.
I wish to address the matter pertaining to the use of private collection agencies. I believe that using professional licensed collection agencies will accomplish many of the challenges the government is faced with today. You can turn time and efforts into more productive and efficient use of existing manpower. We are not suggesting that your employees are inefficient, but would simply say that when it comes to collecting past-due accounts, we are more efficient.
My presentation closely follows the presentation given to you by my colleague in London last Thursday. While I'm not a designated spokesperson for our industry, I've been an active participant as a licensed collection agency for over 15 years and feel that I can speak with a certain amount of firsthand knowledge.
Our industry is one that is very closely regulated. All agencies are bonded and licensed and adhere to strict guidelines, regardless of the size of the agency or location. I refer to my own company and the Associated Credit Bureaus of Ontario because I'm familiar with the policies and procedures of this group and I play a part in the decisions and the quality of the service that we as a group of 25 privately owned agencies provide to local businesses in every part of the province.
I spoke earlier about time and efficiency. Collecting past-due accounts is all we do. Generally speaking, there is nothing more inefficient than someone doing something they are not trained to do. Worse still is having someone doing something such as collecting a past-due account if they don't feel comfortable doing it. We surround ourselves with people who are licensed and trained to speak to debtors. They are trained in the technique of negotiating and finalizing matters as fast as possible, and they are trained to ask for and receive payment in full.
Allow me to list a few of the reasons why we are successful in our collection efforts: the intervention of a third party; consistent and regular follow-up; knowledge of court rules and procedures; ability to negotiate settlements on an ongoing basis; being able to utilize technology to locate assets and really realize on those assets.
Allow me to address the proposed provisions, specifically section 73.0.2(2), which states:
"The director may authorize the collector to collect a reasonable fee or reasonable disbursements or both from each person from whom the collector seeks to collect amounts owing under the act. The director may impose conditions on the authorization and may determine what constitutes a reasonable fee and reasonable disbursements."
The simple answer to my concern appears to be dealt with in subsection (4) of the same section, which states: "Clauses 22 (a) and (c) of the Collection Agencies Act," which we prescribe by, "do not apply with respect to fees authorized under subsection (2)" of this act we're speaking of today.
Allow me to review my concerns. Section 22 of the Collection Agencies Act states:
"No collection agency or collector shall,
"(a) collect or attempt to collect for a person for whom it acts, any moneys in addition to the amount owing by the debtor;
"(b) receive or make an agreement for the additional payment of any money by a debtor of a creditor for whom the collection agency acts, either on its own account or for the creditor."
I'd like to share with you my understanding of the spirit of the act of section 73.2(2). In most cases, a portion of the amount outstanding will be trust money, money owed to another person. The normal business practice of a collection agency is to collect an account, keep an agreed percentage and return the net portion to the client. In this case, the client would be the Ministry of Labour, who is assigning a trust receivable to us. Naturally, they want him or her, the employee or the ex-employee, to receive the full amount.
My concern is essentially this: The two acts are in conflict for us. Following legal consultation, I'm advised that if this section is passed in its present form, fees may be added. This opinion was immediately qualified by suggesting that at any time there is uncertainty in law between acts, the act with restrictions or imperative rights on any individual will prevail.
As a licensed collection agency, we must be aware of any detrimental consequences that could arise out of obvious violations, of course. I would therefore request that section 73.2(2) be fine-tuned by adding, "In all circumstances the reasonable fee and disbursements or both collected from each person from whom the collector seeks to collect shall be deemed to be moneys owing by the debtor and shall not be considered moneys in addition to the amount owing by the debtor," which really means, by utilizing a collection agency, it is not going to cost the employee or ex-employee one red cent.
It is obvious that the intent of the section is to extend the powers of the Collection Agencies Act and to address the problems contained in the act because they made reference to it in section 73.0.2(4). The goal should therefore be to refine the wording of the act to uncover any difficulties that have to date really gone unnoticed.
I respectfully recommend to this committee that it makes the drafting amendments so as to ensure that there are no uncertainties for the future.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That's six and a half minutes, so we have eight and a half minutes left, or just under three minutes per caucus. This time the questioning will commence with the third party.
Mr Martin: I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed here, in that I can't help but feel that you have a bit of a conflict of interest in this whole matter. However, given the presentation that we had just before you and some of the concern re what do we do about folks in places like Pickle Lake who lose their jobs and have to now depend on agencies such as the one that you represent to do the collecting, do you have the manpower and the resources necessary to cover the province in a way that will make us all comfortable that all of this is going to be done, and in a timely fashion?
Mr Waite: First off, Mr Martin, my organization out of Thunder Bay does collections throughout northwestern Ontario right now. My affiliates in other cities in the province of Ontario have all the abilities that we would have here to go forth and collect outstanding amounts for those employees or ex-employees, as it may be. So we're doing that now.
Mr Chudleigh: Thank you for an interesting presentation. My son was involved in a summer job once when he was I think 16 or 17 years old and didn't get paid, and we went through the employment standards officer and tried to collect some money in that case.
I understand that now or for some time, we have been, as a government, collecting something like 25% of the money that might be available to be collected. I would like your opinion as to whether that 25% is a reasonable level that you might expect an industry to collect or whether you think that would be low. I don't know if you want to play the numbers game, but you might want to venture a guess as to what level you could reach.
We, as a government, I don't believe would be satisfied with anything less than 100%. That would be our goal. It may not be practical to achieve, but we would leave no stone unturned until we got there. I wonder if you could make some comments on those levels of collection?
Mr Waite: We would expect, sir, looking at the preliminary numbers of outstanding amounts, that we could probably up that by another 25% to 30%. To reach 100% collection, I don't know quite honestly. I really don't know if we could do that. As an average standard in the industry, 45% is a realistic figure. From every $100 listed with us, we collect in the vicinity of 45% to 50% of that. Again, 100% would be Utopia. We'd all love to do it.
You have to remember we work on a commission, so the more we collect, the better it is for us, the better it is for the government and the better it is for the employee, and that's the world that we work in, production. We don't collect, we don't get paid, period.
Mr Lalonde: I would probably call your brief a good sales pitch, but I tend to agree with the government that the past practice didn't work out, since only a little over 24% was collected in the past. I say I tend to agree with some restriction though.
I'd just like to ask you the question, what is the usual percentage of commission that you're asking of your customers at the present time?
Mr Waite: Right now?
Mr Lalonde: Yes.
Mr Waite: Anywhere between 25% and 40% is average today.
Mr Lalonde: What percentage of successful claim of overdue accounts would you be able to collect?
Mr Waite: As I indicated, somewhere between 45% and 50% is the target that we shoot for.
Mr Lalonde: So it's just about 25% over what has actually been collected. Do you think it would be fair though, this Employment Standards Act that would specify that your commission should come from the employers instead of the employees?
Mr Waite: That's the way it is, Mr Lalonde. This is not going to cost the employee anything. That's what I'm talking about.
Mr Lalonde: According to the act, up to 75% of the total amount, so where would the other 25% --
Mr Waite: For settlement, that's correct.
Mr Lalonde: So 25% would go to the collection agency?
Mr Waite: Not necessarily so, but if we end up collecting 75%, that 75% is going to go back to the employee. Our cost for collection will be put to the individual or company that we're collecting from, as I understand it.
Mr Lalonde: We seem to be misinterpreting this act then, because I spoke to government members, and they told me yes, it will be 75% of the money collected and the other 25% would go to the collection agency.
Mr Waite: As I understand it with that part of the act, we would be able to settle for 75%, if it came to that, but again, I want to reiterate we get paid for performance. We want to collect 100%, but sometimes the old adage, you can't get water out of a rock, and in some cases it's best to settle and carry on.
Mr Lalonde: In other words, you're saying at the present time your interpretation is that whatever you collect, the employees will get 100% of it?
Mr Waite: Yes, sir.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Lalonde, and thank you very much for appearing before us here today and making your presentation. We appreciate it.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 87
The Chair: That leads us now to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 87. Good afternoon. Again, we have 15 minutes and as you see fit it can be divided between either presentation time or questions and answers.
Ms Judith Mongrain: I'm Judith Mongrain, president of CUPE 87, and CUPE 87 represents 750 members working for the city of Thunder Bay and approximately 50 members working in the municipalities and townships of Neebing, Conmee, McIntyre, Ignace, O'Connor, Marathon, Nipigon and Nipigon Hydro.
When we applied for standing at the hearing, there were several major changes proposed by the provincial government regarding the Employment Standards Act. In the last week, we've been advised in the media that these changes are not about to be implemented but will form part of a larger package of changes to be released at a later date.
The government needs to ask itself some very important questions before making dramatic changes to the act:
(1) What is the purpose of the act?
(2) Does the current act work? Is it up to date?
(3) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the act?
(4) How can the act be changed for the benefit of all Ontarians?
Before any change is implemented, a thorough knowledge of why the act was implemented is required. We are quite confident that former governments did not create this act or amend it/change it because they wanted to meddle in a perfect work environment. The act is the minimum standard, and from a working person's point of view, "minimum" is the active word.
The changes to the act that precipitated these hearings would do nothing for working people, and the negative impact of these changes would be most significant on the working poor.
Where would the positive impact occur? For those employers who rip employees off.
In this current economic climate, with fewer and fewer jobs available, a stronger act is required, not a weaker one. Employees are living in constant fear of losing their jobs. Therefore, employers can take advantage of that fear, and they do. More and more workers feel that if they complain or point out that their employer is violating the labour law, they may lose their jobs.
If you get fired, what do you do? You can't collect employment insurance or welfare? Remembering those reassuring words of Premier Harris that children will be removed from the homes of parents who can't provide for them doesn't instil much security in a working person's life.
Minimum and maximum monetary limits and six-month time limits for filing complaints would allow employers to steal two statutory holidays per year from employees who make less than $100 a day -- that's any working person making less than $12.50 an hour -- as long as the first non-payment was more than six months before the second non-payment, January to August.
With a maximum payout of $10,000, employers would make money on the deal, 100% savings on any amount over that maximum. We've heard the logical reason for such change is that these laws are unnecessary or that the limited number of investigators available are overwhelmed with complaints. So if Ontario is a worker's nirvana, why would investigators have too much to do?
If this kind of logic prevails, then let's just decriminalize violent crime, theft, break-and-enter and illegal drugs, and we won't require the police and the legal system any more. Of course not. These laws are in place to protect everyone. But employment standards are only in place to protect working people.
These proposed changes also allow employees to take their employer to court to get their lost wages. How long will a worker continue employment when the employer finds out they're going to court? Where are these people to get the money to pay for a lawyer when there's no legal aid plan to assist them?
We've also heard the argument that if there were fewer rules and lower wages, employers could hire more people. Two people making $7.50 an hour instead of one person making $15 equals two people working in poverty.
At the same time, there's the suggestion in these proposed changes that employers be allowed to have their employees work up to 60 hours a week, instead of 44, without overtime. This will not encourage employment of more people; it will encourage layoffs. Overtime was created to make employers pay for not having an adequate number of employees to do the work and to compensate workers for having to work when they should be at home with their families.
The touchstones this government has are with the powerful, not the powerless. Have you ever flipped burgers for a living? We don't mean to then leave the workplace and go home to mom and dad, but to go home with a paycheque at minimum wage to a spouse and children. Have you ever had to make the decision between purchasing a loaf of bread or cough medicine for the kids? Have you looked in your wallet two days before payday and realized you don't have enough money for milk? Have you ever had to send your kids to school without a proper meal, warm clothes and mittens in winter? Have you ever had to make the decision of putting your job and your family's survival on the line by standing up to your employer and saying, "You didn't pay me what you owe me"? Have you ever needed to seek legal advice and not been able to afford a lawyer? These are the touchstones that too many families in this province are faced with. This is the reality of the new Ontario.
The Employment Standards Act should be changed. It should be changed so that all employers in this province have to be honest corporate citizens; and when they are not, not only should they have to pay their employees what is owing, but they should be fined heavily so that ripping off workers becomes a liability, not an asset, on their balance sheet.
The Employment Standards Act should be changed by tightening up the number of hours a worker can be made to work so that employers would be encouraged to hire more workers, not allowed to overwork the employees they already have.
The minimum wage should be raised and no exemptions should be allowed, so that the category "working poor" should be eliminated. The act should not be changed so that more workers become working poor. No employer should be allowed to have workers employed for tips only.
As the number of complaints of violations of the act rises, the number of investigators should be increased. If there were enough investigators available to deal with violations, employers would get the message that violating the act was an expensive proposition and just maybe the number of violations would decrease.
The current government prides itself in saying that Ontario is open for business, but what it should be doing is lowering its head in shame because it's declared open season on workers and their families. Making Ontario into another poor American state or into Mexico is not what we want. It's obvious to working people from the flippant way these proposed changes to the act were referred to by the minister as "housekeeping" that the government in power has no contact or reality with the working people in this province.
The people of Ontario want jobs that provide enough money for them to support their families. The working people of Ontario want employment standards that protect their rights to be paid correctly for their work and protect them from abuse. The working people of Ontario do not want to be held in servitude at the mercy of a benevolent employer. Thank you.
Mr Ron Johnson (Brantford): Thank you for your presentation. You highlighted a number of points. I'm trying to find the page you were on, but it doesn't really matter; I remember what you said. You had a number of recommendations, one of which was increasing the minimum wage, and then you went on, a few paragraphs afterwards, and talked about us being the United States of the north. You had some good points in here. With respect to the minimum wage issue, are you familiar with what the minimum wage is south of the border?
Ms Mongrain: In some of the states it's $1.50; in some of the states it's $5.00. It fluctuates from state to state. I know that in one of the western states it's now at $4.97, but I'm not sure if that's California or Oregon.
Mr Ron Johnson: Then you are familiar with what the minimum wage is here?
Ms Mongrain: Yes.
Mr Ron Johnson: So you still feel, despite that, that here in Ontario to do what you would suggest, to eliminate the category of what you called the working poor, one of the ways to do that would be to increase the minimum wage here. Is that what you're saying?
Ms Mongrain: Yes, I am. Our expenses and our reality and our survival in Canada are very different; US$5 an hour in a southern, warm American state -- though not high and probably not survivable -- is very different than for us here who this last winter went through fuel bills of $160 a month.
Mr Ron Johnson: You're not concerned at all that increasing the minimum wage here would drive jobs south of the border? That doesn't bother you? You don't think that would happen?
Ms Mongrain: The type of jobs that are receiving minimum wage are service jobs, and right now service jobs are what we are getting in Thunder Bay. While we lose large employers and jobs that paid a decent wage, we've got more McDonald's and more Wendy's and all of those types of enterprises opening all over town. The service industry is on an increase and those people can afford to increase the wage of their employees.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation. The service sector is one that has great concern about this proposed bill. I believe it to be quite true that those service jobs are here. There doesn't seem to be a migration as there is in other aspects of job employment with multinationals etc. There could be a whole discussion on that.
The comments you made about living in Ontario, and indeed Canada, are well taken. I'm from an agricultural background and I'm fully aware of some of the advantages the southern states have because of their warm climate. Here we may have to provide families with boots and heavier clothing, whereas down there they do not, and there are certain advantages that they have where their minimum wage, as you stated, would offset many of the things that apply to ours being even higher.
Clearly, you're concerned about those who are in the mid-range of employment dollars. We take your advice and your comments here seriously and appreciate your presentation.
Mr Martin: I also appreciated the presentation. I thought it was well done and certainly spoke for a lot of the people I've come in contact with who are concerned about this and who have been impacted by some of the initiatives of this government in its short year in power in Ontario.
I don't think anybody would disagree that probably one of the things that we need in our economy today, if we're going to grow and get healthy and create work and jobs for people, is some level of stability and consumer confidence. In my community people just aren't spending money any more because they don't know if they're going to have a job tomorrow or next week or a month down the road, and so they're really cautious. The small business community is suffering. We're all suffering a bit of a malaise.
You represent a different group of people than I rub shoulders with every day here in Thunder Bay and area. What is the general feeling among your members at this point re the whole question of stability and confidence and hope in the future?
Ms Mongrain: With all of the changes and cutbacks -- we just went through an extensive reorganization and now we're into re-engineering, which is the new word; when re-organization doesn't work you call it "re-engineering" and do it again -- there is a great deal of caution because we don't know if we will have jobs tomorrow, we don't know if we are going to be able to support our families.
Just so you have an idea, municipally, the average age of our members is 41. That's very high compared to the days of yore. We haven't had a great deal of new hiring in the last five or six years, and -- this information comes from a program the employer had -- I represent workers whose average gross earnings are $31,000 a year. You figure that take-home is about $16,000 a year. We're not talking about mid-management or people in the $45,000-and-up group; we're talking about workers from $10 an hour to professionals with university degrees at $23 an hour.
Mr Duncan: So you can imagine how people who are making $5 and $6 an hour are feeling if you're feeling the way that --
Ms Mongrain: The 750 members have families. Some of them have their spouse working for minimum wage, or the kids are a little older and are trying to help out at home and they are at minimum wage jobs, so it is impacting on my membership.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms Mongrain, for appearing before us here today and making your presentation. We appreciate it.
THUNDER BAY AND DISTRICT INJURED WORKERS' SUPPORT GROUP
The Chair: The next on our list this afternoon is the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers' Support Group. Good afternoon.
Ms Muriel Poster: The Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers' Support Group two years ago formed the widows, widowers and dependants committee. I was the inaugural chairperson and remain so until this day. I will do my best to stick to the issues at hand, but these proposed changes do have some effect on our group. However, you must understand from the outset that I believe there is a direct relationship between employment pay and health and safety. Employers who use low-paid staff tend to do little in health and safety training and prevention.
Our group represents injured workers. We currently have over 600 members in the northwest region. In addition to this, we have approximately 100 associate members who are from outside of our own region. The majority of these workers suffer from permanent injuries and disablement as a result of their work.
A good number of these people are older workers. They are, for the most part, returned to employment under restrictions. These may be reduced hours or they may have limits on the length of time they are able to sit and stand. They may not be allowed to lift, bend or do other particular activities. They may also need specialized equipment to do their jobs. All of these conditions tend to make the potential employer view these workers as less desirable than more able-bodied workers. This leaves many of these most vulnerable people only the most undesirable of jobs to choose from, if any exist at all.
With the pending legislative changes, workers will have many fewer rights within the workplace. The low-end workers will have little or no protection. Fear will dominate people's lives. They will be forced to work injured out of worry of not being able to find a job anywhere else. They will be afraid to press for what rights they do have out of fear of retaliation or outright abuse by the employer. Under the conditions of the amendments to this act, the employers will gain more control over the most disadvantaged workers.
If someone is earning anything more than minimum wage, does this nullify his right to breaks? Is it your intention to have everyone working as if they were assembly line pieces? The only breaks these machines get are breakdowns.
If someone works in a minimum wage job, is that person deemed capable of earning a wage, no matter what their physical condition, since any minimum wage job will do?
Injured workers need to be able to have breaks and to be assured that their restrictions will be respected. Will injured workers who are only able to work restricted hours be entitled to vacation pay, for instance?
If claims are to be farmed out to collection agencies, will workers then be expected to pay to exercise their rights? Workers, already being ripped off by the employer, could then pay a user fee or a copayment to file their claim with the appropriate agency and for the proper documentation. After that, the collection agencies would be able to reap their own profits from the moneys that are rightfully owed to the worker.
We've had dealings with one particular employer in the service industry who has clearly demonstrated orally, as well as by his actions, that workers who know more than their basic duties are more than hazardous to the employer and are required to be dismissed. Not only are these workers let go from the jobs they hold, but he does all he can to make sure no one else will hire them. This employer has advised his management team that workers need not know their rights. That would prove to be advantageous to the workers and might cost the employer money.
We have had employers who have insisted that they will accommodate a worker, one who is physically unable to do a job, for the sole reason of forcing him to go back to work so that he can be dismissed on some other convenient charge, but saving them the cost of paying through WCB. Small employers and those medium-sized firms won't even return their workers back to the actual job in which they were hurt. These workers have no protection, either through the Employment Standards Act or under WCB.
Another company, through the services of an ergonomist, found the job that several of their employees were doing was dangerous to their health. Of the eight employees who were affected in this area, only two were acknowledged to have been hurt on the job. The others have to suffer through the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to have their cases accepted.
All of these workers in the meantime are regarded as attempting to cheat the system. The workers are forced on to social services and their permanent injuries do not allow them to do most minimum wage jobs. They have applied and are waiting for services of vocational rehabilitation and others have had to continue to use their savings or their spouses' income to survive. These people will be joining those who are already receiving social assistance and working part-time/casual. Without standards, workers end up on the dole.
All this happens while companies get away with asking questions on their application forms which are clearly in violation of the Human Rights Act as it now stands. A collection of these applications is being compiled by a colleague. We know what failure to answer the questions will imply and we also know the result of what answering those questions will be. It's clear to see the long-term outcome of these infractions. As they continue to be overlooked, they will once again become part of the accepted practice.
Our experience with unscrupulous employers has shown us that these employers are willing to bend, mould or even break the law. They believe that they have terrorized their workforce to the point where they are unwilling to demand or even ask for the rights to which they are entitled.
Even very large employers cry poverty and scrimp in as many areas as possible with virtual impunity. Such areas as health and safety are glossed over and downright ignored. Employers no longer have any regard or respect for the people who have made their precious profits possible.
The proposed legislation is clearly flawed and hurriedly put together. The past actions of this government will result in the passing of this bill with the false words of hope that the problem areas will be looked at at a later time. This bill is clearly designed to further marginalize low-end, unorganized and disadvantaged workers while increasing the rights and powers of employers at the expense of the gains made by workers over the past 65 years or more.
The current ultraconservative movement is emboldened by a frightened and destabilized workforce. I've read a fair bit of science fiction in which these very kinds of scenarios play out. I've always thought they were just that, fiction, but as you watch, these conditions are developing. Any kind of security is impossible to attain. Older workers are now those over 40 and are written off as not being worth the cost of retraining.
We have produced a disposable generation of young people. Our parents fought a war to give us a world with hope. Our children grew up expecting to be able to inherit that hope that had been fought for. How many university and college graduates are now working in minimum wage jobs or just not able to find work at all? We are now faced daily with desperation and anger. People have spent their lives to build a future for themselves only to have it torn away by the new measures. Individual worlds are shattered by consequences over which the individual can have no control. These people are then cast into the heap and regarded as deadbeat drains on our precious society.
As more and more of this frustration bubbles to the surface, rage will increase in all areas of our lives. Families will be in turmoil, violence will become the norm and threats to public officials and clerks in offices, even senior staff, will become commonplace, as well as increased threats towards more public figures. Will we end up with our industrial parks fenced and defended by armed guards? Will the rest of us eventually be stranded in the leftover areas to fend for ourselves? How many of us will be discarded by this society that we have paid with our lives to build? Crime will become one of the few options many of us have to feed ourselves and to care for our families. The real question that needs to be asked here is, what do you really want?
Is there any hope left for the common people of Ontario? How many standards do we need to relinquish? How many more lives should we sacrifice to the ideals of this regime? There is nowhere in any of the new policies or reforms where the government has given any credence to the ultimate human cost.
Communism has failed. The western free enterprise system is on the verge of destroying itself by destroying the people it depends upon. Are the privileged prepared to share what they have or is the selfishness of this segment of the population willing to risk the long-term consequences of these type of measures? The proportion of our population that is poor is growing rapidly and soon numbers alone will turn the tides. History proves that this kind of imbalance will not be tolerated. Free enterprise has become no better than Czar Nicholas or Louis XVI. This society is approaching the same position. Who will lose if this revolution takes place? We should be moving towards protecting the rights of individuals and improving their lives. We hear talk of reducing Third World poverty and saving the children, but we victimize our own citizens.
If you truly want to improve the Employment Standards Act, you must hire sufficient personnel to ensure that non-unionized employees are inspected on a regular basis to avoid violations. The police of this province do it and the tax department does it. Why is this not done for workers where there is an obvious imbalance of power between workers and employers?
Claims will go uncollected by workers who may have no union representation. These people are already suffering from losses in their lives as a result of their own workplace. These workers have already made sacrifices to their jobs only to become victimized by a system that should be protecting them. This legislation will only serve to further this victimization.
If you really want to get workers the money that they are owed, the workers should have the right to become the number one creditor of the employer, as happened before Bill 7. Workers would receive their pay before any other liabilities are paid.
Fear and frustration are not the answers to the problems of this society. We need to grow towards a future that will be for all people. We cannot afford to abandon our hope and our dreams. We can't accomplish that growth by stalling in the present or trying to return to the past. There are other kinds of science fiction out there, where all people learn to live together in comfort and harmony, where greed and inequality are things of the past. That's the kind of world I want to live in and I think we all do.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That's just over 13 minutes, but that leaves us time for a brief comment or question from each caucus, and this time the questioning will commence with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation today as it relates to injured workers and other persons who are categorized as vulnerable. Your concern for their wellbeing is well noted.
I just want to make a comment that in your case 1 example, where you say "that workers who know more than their basic job duties are more than hazardous to the employer," I found that striking and disturbing. It's a worrisome statement.
Ms Poster: This particular employer felt that if the employees were aware of their rights that they were dangerous, especially one particular employee who happened to tell another employee that he was entitled to something. He was subsequently fired.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation. I appreciate it very much.
Mr Martin: I think this was an excellent presentation and well put together and thought out and delivered. I can't help but reflect on a question that you asked in here, to the government, I'm sure, which is, what do you really want? As we look at the fronts that are open now re the attack on ordinary people today, there's a hearing at the Airlane where we're looking at an attack on housing and public housing and rent; the health care system is under great stress at the moment; education, the teachers are up in arms. Everywhere you look, it's more of the same.
I guess the question that really needs to be answered -- perhaps you have some thoughts on it further -- is, what do they really want?
Ms Poster: What do we want?
Mr Martin: No, what is it that in your mind the government really wants to do here?
Ms Poster: It seems like the government wants to protect a very small portion of the population and the rest of us are, to put it bluntly, to go to hell.
Mr Shea: I appreciated as well your presentation. You obviously spoke with passion and with conviction and that was particularly noted.
Two areas that I'd like to explore just very, very quickly, because I know the time is very brief. You have expressed concern about the way the current economy is moving and you've painted one scenario that I hope never comes about, I hope we all hope it never comes about, but you've painted one possibility. The alter side of that, perhaps a darker side as well, is something that this government is particularly concerned about and that is the incredible debt that we've been left with, the incredible deficit and debt that this nation, as well as this province, is wrestling with. But when you express concerns about the children, and I particularly relate to that, I'm worried that perhaps we've already squandered their inheritance, if not the grandchildren's inheritance, and I wonder if you would share that concern as well.
Ms Poster: I have a great concern about this but I think the greater problem is that when we have such a destabilized and upset workforce as we have now and there is no job security, there are no jobs out there -- myself, when I had to attempt to enter the workforce at 45, forget it. It's garbage. So how can I pay my taxes? If I could pay my taxes and my children had decent jobs and we could all pay our taxes, the debt problem would be a lot less.
Mr Shea: I suspect the Premier and the minister and this government would absolutely agree with that, ybecause in fact its prime objective is to create jobs and get that economy moving. But you go to a second issue here that's of real concern to me and that is one of seniors, not seniors of the age 65 and above, but you've gone quite rightly into the 40s and so forth to show the displacement that's taking place there. As we watch the Canada pension plan about to go belly up, as we watch the unemployment insurance about to go belly up, and so forth, federally, all of them federally, how do we begin to get some kind of stabilization into the national as well as the provincial economy to give some kind of hope for the workers in their 40s and 50s?
Ms Poster: One of the things we have to take a really serious look at is this whole policy of zero inflation that's held by the Bank of Canada. Zero inflation means there's no growth, zero inflation means there are no jobs being created, therefore there can be no stabilization and as long as zero inflation is maintained, we cannot get rid of the debt because there's no mechanism to get rid of it. It's a self-perpetuating --
Mr Shea: The banks are a real problem for us in that the whole Bank Act --
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Shea; I'm sorry to have to cut you off but we have completed our time. Thank you very much for making your presentation before us here today.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, THUNDER BAY AREA OFFICE
The Chair: That takes us to our next group, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Thunder Bay area office. Good afternoon. Welcome. Again, we have 15 minutes for you to divide as you see fit.
Mr Howard Matthews: Good afternoon, Mr Chairman and members of the committee. My name's Howard Matthews. I'm a national representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees located in the Thunder Bay area office. I believe the clerk gave out a copy of our presentation as a CUPE local.
The Employment Standards Act protects the poorest, most defenceless workers from the worst excesses of the most unscrupulous and disgusting bosses. As Moses Sheppard said earlier, good bosses don't need the Employment Standards Act. They don't abuse their workers. It's the bad bosses that we need the Employment Standards Act for protection from.
Which side is Mr Harris on? The workers' or the bosses'?
When free trade was being debated originally in 1987 and 1988 and again with NAFTA in 1992, the union movement, including CUPE, argued passionately that the inevitable result would be hugely reduced living standards for working people in general, especially the poorest. The Mulroney right wing, including many of the same folks who are now forming this government in Ontario, insisted that this would not happen, in fact claiming that living standards would actually improve.
Now the Harris government is involved in a systematic program of reducing the living standards of working people. Barely one year old, you have already reduced welfare rates by 20%, introduced forced labour for those whom you have cut, slashed the civil service, cut education and health care, increased tuition fees by 20%, contracted out, privatized or asked the private sector to police themselves and gutted the Labour Relations Act. You're intent on selling out, if not giving away, Ontario Hydro, as well as any other government enterprise that can put a profit into the pockets of your corporate cronies. If all of this makes you need a drink, don't worry: You'll be able to get one at the brand-new Ronald McLiquor Mart where the corner store used to be. It's enough to make Brian Mulroney, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proud.
A good social contract, a real social contract, is the set of social conditions that, taken all together, makes a stable and peaceful society. A good social contract is one that the vast majority buy into. It does not marginalize large groups. For 50 to 60 years before this government we had a decent social contract in this province. This government is intent on destroying that contract. For what? So we can return to the wonderful world of dog-eat-dog capitalism that we had in the 1930s and that has been alive and well in corporate-dominated Third World countries, creating a banana republic without any bananas.
Now this same crowd is tabling Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act. Improve? Do my eyes deceive me? Gee, has this government really seen the light? No, there's been a typo -- darned secretary. She was supposed to type "reduce," not "improve." Doublespeak is alive and well. Then there's that little comment by the minister about this bill being only housekeeping. She actually meant housewrecking, I guess.
In 1975, 21 years ago, Pierre Trudeau told workers that they had to tighten their belts, short-term pain for long-term gain. After 21 years of this BS, belt-strangling, maybe it's time we tried something else. How about a full employment policy with real jobs and fair wages and working conditions, just for a simple example?
Commenting on this bill is a little bit like debating the Marquess of Queensberry rules when your opponent is kicking you in the groin. The simple and not so subtle goal of this bill is to reduce employment standards, to pick the pockets of the poorest and most defenceless workers. These would be the same folks that you just finished going after with welfare cuts and forced labour.
This is not an amateur heist. We're dealing with pros. The architects of this bill know what they're doing, and I have to wonder where you flew them in from. The Fraser Institute comes to mind when I ask that question. Why pick on the poorest and most defenceless workers? Simple. If you can lower the floor for the poorest workers, it leaves room to lower the standards for those just above them, and then just above them, and so on.
We don't have any illusions when we comment on this bill. We don't expect to convince any Harris government bushwhackers of the error of their ways. Our goal is simply to let you and, hopefully, a few people who care that we know what you are about.
A comment on workfare. It keeps coming up on my word processor that it's not a word. The correct term for workfare is forced labour.
Employers that routinely violate the Employment Standards Act are usually well-off, sophisticated, ruthless and vicious. By contrast, their victims are very often poor, uneducated, unsophisticated and pretty much defenceless by comparison. The labour market is not all it's cracked up to be when you're at the bottom of it. The Employment Standards Act and its policing methods was supposed to even up the stakes a little. It never did succeed in stopping abuse; however, it improved the situation. This act will clearly make that function worse. Now that the government has forced many off welfare out into the bottom of the labour market, and now that these people are stuck at the bottom of the market, it will, with this legislation, make the bottom even worse. If this government truly cared about these people, as it often claims, it would be improving the Employment Standards Act, not gutting it.
Again, who will reap the benefit? The unscrupulous bosses that violate the act, not the good employers. In fact, good employers will not only not benefit by these changes, they may very well be hurt by them if they have unscrupulous competitors. Good bosses often say, "Level the playing field." So it doesn't hurt good bosses to have a decent minimum wage or to have decent employment standards. It's only the bad bosses that want those kind of things.
What does Bill 49 change? You've heard this all day long.
(1) The time for filing a complaint is reduced from two years to six months.
(2) The complaint can go back only for six months versus the present two years, so an employer can rip off a worker for two years and only be liable for six months. And what's the worst that happens when he does get caught? Gee, he has to pay the money that he legally should have been paying in the first place. Horrors. It's almost a darned incentive for bad employers to rip workers off.
(3) The ministry still has two years to investigate a complaint and two more years to get the employer to pay. These are obscene times, yet they remain unchanged.
(4) Get this: The employer's time for appealing has tripled, from 15 days to 45 days.
(5) There's a new $10,000 cap on claims under the Employment Standards Act. What kind of employer would cheat a worker out of more than $10,000? Then ask yourself what your interest is in protecting that kind of employer.
(6) The bill also gives the minister the right to set a minimum amount below which a worker will be denied the right to complain. This would be the same minister who's proposing all the other wonderful changes in this bill.
(7) In order to sue an employer for more than $10,000, a worker has to hire a lawyer to represent them in Ontario Court (General Division). The legal aid plan does not cover employment law. If you can't afford a lawyer, tough.
(8) The avenues for filing a complaint are reduced. Workers must irrevocably decide at the outset whether to claim under the Employment Standards Act or go to court. Unionized workers will not be able to file a complaint at the ministry at all. They will have to file a grievance and ultimately it could cost workers, through their union, thousands of dollars to complete an arbitration.
(9) Instead of strengthening collection procedures, this bill turns it over to the collection agencies. I couldn't believe that the number is 25%, the percentage of moneys owed collected. I've been a union rep for 14 years and actively involved in the movement before that. You want to know my percentage in collecting moneys when employers have been on the wrong side of a grievance? One hundred percent. If they don't pay, we go to court and we get a court order for them to pay, and I've never had to do that because every employer knows you can do it. It would be a simple matter to put court orders in the process for employment standards officers or for the labour board to put in place. Put some teeth in the law and this would end.
To hear a collection agency is now going to come in and raise the collection percentage to 45% is unbelievable. In addition, these collection agencies will have the power to encourage settlements, experts in labour law that they are. What's that going to amount to? They can only go down to 75%. Guess what's going to happen with that 75%, folks. The guy who you heard about a half-hour ago today is going to go up to that poor stiff who's owed $1,000 by their employer and say: "Gee, I can get you $750 tomorrow. What do you say? Sign on the dotted line." The person who's broke, guess what they're going to do: They're going to sign on the dotted line. That 75%, there's no negotiating room for people in this situation. It's just going to be a further ripoff of 25% and it's going to get to be almost standard. And the 25% between the 75% the worker gets and the 100% they should have got is going to go into the pockets of the collection agency. So who's really paying the piper?
A comment on unions, because there's such an anti-union atmosphere about this government that it's awful. Here's a comment from Clarence Darrow in 1909:
"With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed." Certainly more than the Progressive Conservative Party.
"They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in man, than any other association of men."
That's a quote from when unions were fighting for their existence, and it seems like we're back in that kind of fight.
The 10th point I want to make is how this bill relates to unions. Perhaps the most disgusting change in this Bill 49 is the change allowing unionized employers to contract out of the Employment Standards Act. As long as there has been an ESA, there's been a minimum standard regarding the areas it deals with. This is completely normal. For example, you cannot contract with your spouse to waive the assault laws of the province. If you assault your spouse it's assault, whether they want to complain or not. It is a fundamental principle of our legal traditions that is being tossed out with this one.
This bill allows employers and unions to agree to lower standards. What union would agree to lower standards than even those in the Employment Standards Act, you might ask? The answer is obvious. The weakest and most vulnerable ones. But then there is nothing new about this government attacking the weakest and most vulnerable. What employers would propose lower standards than the ESA? Again, the answer is obvious: the most ruthless and vicious.
Even without this law change, I am seeing proposals at the bargaining table, with smaller and weaker bargaining units, to eliminate hours-of-work provisions and increase overtime qualifying to 44 hours, something that disappeared from union contracts 40 or 50 years ago.
This change will increase tension and disputes at the table. It harms, not helps, the labour relations climate. Why do it, then? The purpose is obvious -- to convince non-unionized, marginalized workers that they may not gain and could actually lose by unionizing.
"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to you and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they have resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress." That's a quote from Frederick Douglass from the mid-1850s.
All in all, this bill is not a bad day's work for the gang that makes Dalton Camp look like a socialist. How many days to the next election? Is it really over 1,000? Have you really only been in office 400 days? Oh well, it'll be worth the wait just to see Mike and Brian on the golf course together trying to figure out what went wrong.
The Chair: Thank you. That leaves us one minute, so just a very brief comment from each caucus, commencing with the third party.
Mr Martin: Thank you for the presentation. It's good, if for no other reason than to hear folks from the ranks of organized labour come forward and talk about how important organized labour is and the contribution it makes to common decency and fairness in the workplaces, not just unionized workplaces but all workplaces across the province, and to warn us what we're going to lose if we continue to move in the direction that this bill and other bills have suggested we are heading.
I'm not sure what we can do. I'm like you. I'm beside myself. I'll certainly do my job and raise the issues and make sure that people know about it. I share your concern. Just this morning I asked the committee if they wouldn't recommend to the government that we withdraw this bill. Everybody who's come before us today, except for a couple, has suggested, and very eloquently and logically, why the bill isn't going to be helpful to Ontario.
I'm suggesting that we withdraw it and get on with creating the 750,000 jobs you promised in the election campaign. That would be much better. That would create a better climate, would help people and go a long ways to making Ontario a place that's decent and affordable, and we could pay down the debt and do all kinds of good things. What else can we do?
Mr Matthews: That's absolutely what ought to be done with this bill. You ask what else we can do. The question came up earlier, what about the huge public debt? I make a comment in this brief that these kinds of restraint policies go back 21 years now. This idea of belt-tightening started in 1975 and has continued virtually unabated. The attack on working conditions, wages -- you name it -- interest rates, all those things, restraint economic policies, have been followed year after year after year for 21 years.
In 1975 we had no public debt. After 21 years of these kinds of policies that you want to continue to pursue, we've got a massive public debt and it came about because -- it would take a lot longer to discuss it --
Mr Matthews: That's absolutely false. The most right-wing government I've ever seen except the last NDP government, quite frankly.
Mr Ron Johnson: Thank you for your presentation. I guess I'm one of those you called a Harris government bushwhacker. I'm a bushwacker with a question, though. You started your presentation talking about your union's stance against the free trade agreement and you say in here you argued that it would inevitably result in fewer jobs and have a negative impact on those in Canada. Your argument at the time, and I happen to remember it very clearly, was that the cheaper labour force down there and free trade would open up the floodgates for jobs moving south. Yet not half an hour ago we had a Ms Judith Mongrain, also with your union, a president of one of your locals, saying very clearly -- and speaking on behalf of the local, I might add -- that she would like to see an increased minimum wage, which by your union's own definition would create even more of a disparity and drive even more jobs south.
I guess I've got to ask you, you can't have it both ways; which way are you going to have it? Were you telling us what you thought back in 1987-88 or are you telling us what you think now?
Mr Matthews: I think you weren't listening to Ms Mongrain's answer. She made the point that predominantly the jobs that are paying minimum wage are jobs at McDonald's or Burger King or throughout the service sector. Those jobs aren't going anywhere if we raise the minimum wage. Those jobs are going to stay right here.
Mr Ron Johnson: Or they'll disappear entirely.
Mr Matthews: I don't think McDonald's is going anywhere, with all due respect.
Mr Ron Johnson: Can I ask you, though, which is it going to be?
Mr Matthews: The kinds of jobs that you want to keep here, though, are in the manufacturing sector, those types of jobs, and those are the jobs we're losing. Those aren't minimum-wage jobs.
Mr Ron Johnson: What should it be?
Mr Matthews: You have to maintain some control over the economy. You can't throw it open to the market forces. That's exactly what free trade does. It says, "The market is the answer to all of our prayers." That's what got us into the Depression of the 1930s and that, as sure as I'm sitting here, is going to get us into the depression of the late 1990s and the next millennium.
Mr Ron Johnson: That's socialism. So what should it be? What should the minimum --
Mr Matthews: It isn't socialism; it's a mixture --
The Chair: Thank you very much for taking the time to appear before us this afternoon.
CANADIAN EMPLOYMENT AND IMMIGRATION UNION, PSAC LOCAL 623
The Chair: That leads us to the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union, PSAC Local 623. Good afternoon to you both. We have 15 minutes for you to allocate as you see fit between presentation or questions and answers. Welcome to the committee.
Ms Sarah Williamson: Good afternoon, members of the panel and fellow citizens of Thunder Bay, mainly brothers and sisters of unions. My name is Sarah Williamson. I am a federal worker and I am here to speak on behalf of my union, Local 623 of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, which is a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which is commonly called PSAC.
You may wonder why we as federal workers should care about the dilution of the Employment Standards Act. It will affect us. Many of us are going to have to follow our jobs because they're being transferred to the province or to private sector. Some of our jobs are simply being surplussed. As a result, many members have to find new jobs outside the federal service.
But it's not only for our own working conditions that we're concerned. Our members who work in employment services at the human resource centre hear from vulnerable clients about the kinds of hours and other conditions that some of the bad bosses demand of them.
Our children and our friends' children are entering the workforce, many starting at low-paid jobs. We want our children to have a future. We want a province that cares under what conditions goods and services are provided. The present employment standards legislation is a cornerstone that must not be eroded. Employers and workers who have decent working agreements may have begun to assume that no employer mistreats workers, so I've asked a young man, Noah Jackson, to be part of our presentation so he can tell you directly what is happening in the job world for youth and where he sees employment standards coming into play.
Mr Noah Jackson: Good afternoon. I'd like to thank everybody for giving me an opportunity to speak. I'm very nervous, so please bear with me. I'm not a very good public speaker, but I'm here to try to do what I can to help you guys make your decision. I've written a speech. I didn't realize that I was supposed to provide it for everybody so, once again, if you have any questions at the end of it all, there's going to be a period in which you can ask me to go back and restate anything that I might have already mentioned.
The goal of labour laws is to equalize the bargaining power between employers and employees. These laws have been instituted in an effort to reduce the rift between these two groups and protect both parties from unfair persecution. I'm not specifically on the side of employers or employees. I'm an employer myself and I understand that everybody has rights and all these rights must be protected. That's why I think these proposed changes are going to definitely swing things in unbalanced favour towards the employer. It just provides for exploitation.
In an ideal society, these laws would be unnecessary of course. If this were Utopia, everybody's moral infrastructure would just not allow these types of unfair occurrences to happen. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, our efforts in constructing this infallible society have been in vain. That is why the government, you individuals who I've elected and my tax dollars help to pay -- it is your responsibility to address the issues that I'd like to bring up here.
The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. Labour laws were constructed to operate as a workforce regulator, balancing the need to protect the employee and the necessity of holding the employer responsible for his or her actions. Historically, Canada's present labour laws have presented perhaps the most equitable national workplace in the world. This is not a statistic to be taken lightly. Besides the economic benefits of protecting the employee from exploitation, Canadians feel safe in their work environment knowing that their government will shield them from being treated in a discriminatory fashion. This feeling of safety contributes to the overall morale of our country's workers, and that high level of morality leads to employee productivity. No employer in the world wants to see his employee operate unproductively. That's why we pay them to be there. So I think the reduction and allowing bad employers to exploit their employees is only going to come back and bite them in the butt. But they can learn that the hard way, right?
The delicate balance of employee responsibility and employer accountability should be preserved in the best interests of all Canadians; however, my opinions on this matter were not founded solely on my philosophical principles but on real-life experiences, both personal and within my group of peers. I have collected and prepared examples of a number of specific incidents in order to help illustrate my point. I feel optimistic that my accounts of these occurrences will help to convey the need for legislative reform, but not in the direction that these proposals indicate.
My first example will be personal. When I was 18, I was employed by a large chain of convenience stores. I did everything within my capabilities to perform the best job possible, because I've always liked hard work. As a part-time employee and the person with the least experience, I accepted having all the bad shifts and stuff like that, having to end up working nights. Unfortunately, a lot of the shifts I received conflicted with my school schedule. I frequently indicated to my supervisors that I was unable to work during these time slots.
However, with each new schedule, I discovered that my efforts to alert my supervisors of this conflict of obligations was met with little regard. I was consistently scheduled to work during hours when I was unavailable due to my school schedule. With great difficulty I managed to balance both affairs and structure my time so that I could fulfil both my educational and professional requirements. But I didn't have to do that for very long. After three months, at the regularly scheduled evaluation date, I was dismissed for failing to meet the requirements of the position. Not only I was shocked at this development but also my co-workers, who felt that my performance was very estimable.
I reluctantly accepted my fate and began to search for a new job. After four days I received a phone call from an employee from another branch who had also been fired from her position. She informed me that 11 employees throughout the region, Thunder Bay, had been relieved and that their dismissal stemmed from inventory shortages as opposed to lack of performance. Historically, there had been a very serious problem. Because it was such a large corporation, all the inventory was computer-managed and there was consistently a deficit. Nobody knew where any of this inventory was going.
These shortages were somewhere in the range of $10,000 per month, and of course that is beyond what any employee, I believe, can steal, even if he's one of the best, especially in a 7 Eleven. It was apparent that these shortages had arisen from a problem other than employee theft. However, the corporation required a group of scapegoats, and I was chosen because I was a relatively new addition to the company. Many of the other employees filed grievances against the corporation. In a great number of instances, the employee prevailed, thanks to the assistance of the government. Thank you. I chose not to pursue the case solely because I had already found a more profitable position.
Some months later the same corporation fired an employee at another branch for having been the clerk on during two separate robberies. In both instances, the guilty persons were caught and there was never a link established between the individual and the people who committed the robbery. However, once again, they didn't see it that way, and they chose to release him.
If, even with the present penalties being enforced by the government, it can't stop employers from exploiting employees, I don't understand how declawing the act is going to help anybody.
Another example of the lack of government control over these types of occurrences can be exemplified in an incident involving an associate of mine. She was employed by a chain of female clothing stores. During the four months that she was employed there, she performed very admirably. She won a great number of sales awards and received commissions and bonuses at a rate higher than anyone else in the store.
Due to an outstanding physical ailment of which the employer was aware when she was hired, she was scheduled for surgery to repair her dislocated shoulder. She notified the company three months in advance of her operation and explained that she would be unable to perform her job for three months during the rehabilitation process. Her supervisors indicated that they understood the need for her surgery and said that once her rehabilitation was complete, they would again solicit her services.
However, after two and a half months she completed recovery ahead of time and informed her supervisor that she would like to come back to work. She never again received a shift. After two months of being put off and her request to come back being ignored, she submitted. She gave in. I advised her to contact her lawyer, and she indicated that she had already advised her employers she was going to pursue legal action and they laughed at her threats. They told her that if she pursued it, they would simply contrive a falsified conduct report and use it to dismiss her. Their threats daunted her, and she gave up trying to pursue the issue. They just simply weren't afraid. They didn't care.
If the government can't enforce all these regulations, then it might as well declaw the act because it's just going to save it a whole lot of money. If it doesn't work now, why not just rip it all apart, save yourselves a few bucks?
In an era when corporate downsizing is a daily practice, employees need to be protected from exploitation. The proposed abridgements to the Employment Standards Act will serve as a tool by which employer accountability will be diminished, and thus it serves almost as an incentive package for employers to ignore the rights of their staff. Declawing the Employment Standards Act is comparable to trying to discipline a child without actually punishing him or a former criminal without imprisoning him. It's an exercise in futility.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That leaves us a minute and a half per caucus. This time the questioning will commence with the government.
Mr O'Toole: It's a real pleasure to see a young person like you come forward and make a statement about how you see things evolving. I hope you've had an opportunity to hear or read some of the other presentations and see the balance, that really ultimately the current system, and I think you referenced it, isn't working.
Anyone that's read it, and I think you've cited a couple of examples -- very sensitively, I might add -- it isn't working, we're not collecting the money. Many of the standards aren't properly enforced because they're old, very hard to -- would you support that there need to be sensitive changes to the Employment Standards Act; as young people looking forward to a future, that we have to make changes? There are home workers now. There are people working from their computers at home. The world of work is changing. In your world of work, there are no more major corporations emerging. It's going to be small business entrepreneurs like you. Don't you think we need to look at this?
Mr Jackson: Absolutely. I'm a big advocate for all types of legislative reforms, not solely in the employment and industry sections but also in a great number of areas. I think the most important thing to understand is that there needs to be a great deal of flexibility. The world is expanding so quickly and markets are popping up and going back under the surface so quickly that what we need to do is develop a flexible and radical approach in order to protect the youth of today.
Mr O'Toole: I agree. If you look at some of the provisions in clause 3 -- and there's going to be a two-part series; I would encourage you to participate in that process. But the unions themselves in the particular workplaces are probably the most important people, and the workers they represent and the operators of the business. They may have to work at seasonable adjustments, they may have to work at demand levels in inventory adjustments, while at the same time looking at long-term security and stability. So it isn't the same in Thunder Bay as it is in Toronto, as it is in Timmins, and what this act is trying to do is say, "All solutions in Toronto don't apply in Thunder Bay and Timmins." We need the flexibility, as you said, and that's exactly what this bill is trying to do.
Mr Jackson: I agree with half of that but not all of it. I believe that with the increases in technology in regard to communications and information, I don't think there's really any sector that can't survive at any geographical point. I don't believe there's really a whole lot of difference in the economic infrastructure. I think in certain situations like that, where it deals with natural resources, there might be predominantly a certain industry, and I won't ignore the fact that of course not every town is going to be a clone; some towns are going to do things their way. But I disagree with the fact that certain sectors should be more protected than others just because of their geographical location, because it's really not difficult, no matter where you come from, to succeed in whatever industry you want to pursue.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation. You discussed many of the things that students go through in their early employment years: part-time, shift work, late nights, some go late nights and then back early morning and don't work through the middle part of the day, and of course many of them work for minimum wage. So you've touched on a number of things, and I appreciated hearing about your concerns and your experiences.
If we are going to try to protect the vulnerable people of Ontario, and we should, the act would have to be, in my mind, designed to fit all of Ontario. I don't think we can regionalize or even think of saying that someone in a certain location of Ontario is more or less vulnerable than someone else. So the act has got to be put in place. A protection side of the act has to fit all of Ontario.
You're a very articulate individual and you did well here today. We appreciate hearing from you.
Mr Martin: As others have said, it's good that you brought your partner with you here today to share with us some of what he's experiencing and how it relates to your concern about your own future and the future for your children and the members of your organization and their children as they look ahead at, hopefully, the prospect of a job and taking care of themselves. Regardless of who we are here, we want a better economy, and we each take a different approach to that.
Some of us believe that you develop an economy by a mix of private and public, government protecting and making sure that there are level playing fields and that there's fairness in the system. Others will suggest, as I suggest this present government is proposing, we create a better economy by minimizing the number of regulations and getting rid of government, getting government out of the face of business and creating a freer marketplace.
I guess that's the $1-million question: Is this going to work, or will this experiment that we're going through now have us, five or 10 years down the road, shaking our heads saying, "Holy mackerel, what have we done?" That's what I'm asking you now. What's your sense of all that?
Mr Jackson: I don't believe that these changes in legislation will benefit anybody in the long run. In the short term, perhaps an employer will benefit because he'll be given a greater opportunity to exploit his employees. But, unfortunately, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and there is going to be a backlash.
Of course, like I said, I do believe in these legislative reforms. Unfortunately, I just think they're moving in the wrong direction. If employers right now ignore the penalties that are presently in effect, I don't understand how these proposed changes are going to benefit anybody but the people who already exploit the community.
The Chair: Thank you both for taking the time to make a presentation before us here today. We appreciate it.
ONTARIO PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, THUNDER BAY DISTRICT
The Chair: That takes us to our last group of the afternoon, the Ontario Public School Teachers' Federation, Thunder Bay district. Good afternoon, Mr Green.
Mr Jim Green: I'm Jim Green, district president of the Ontario Public School Teachers' Federation, and I'm here to tell you this legislation is a crock. I am so distressed, so angry, so upset that I'm going to have to constrain myself by reading rather than telling it as it is.
The introduction of this bill as housekeeping amendments to make the Ontario legislation similar to other provinces is misleading. This bill is another in a series of anti-worker, pro-employer actions of this government. This legislation will adversely affect all three groups of workers: unionized, non-unionized and those in the process of unionizing. The government missed no workers.
Ontario is rapidly degenerating, and I use that word advisedly, into a place where the government will help the rich control more and more of the wealth of the province, while at the same time sentencing the workers of Ontario to exploitation, degradation and poverty. This bill will fundamentally alter the entire concept of minimum wage and employment standards. The bill also proposes radical changes to the way workers' rights will be enforced in Ontario. The changes will clearly benefit employers and reduce or eliminate an employee's ability to require just treatment from his or her employer.
An employee without the benefit of a union will, in most cases, be unable to secure reasonable redress from a transgressing employer. Many employers will treat their employees in a fair and humane fashion, regardless of the economics of the times or the presence or absence of legislation. Legislation was never required to control these employers. However, at a time when jobs are few and the unemployed are many, this bill will make it tempting for unscrupulous employers to cheat their employees and difficult or impossible for employees to obtain justice.
The legislation will affect unionized labour, in that protections that were provisions of the law for decades in Ontario and so were never written into collective agreements, will be gone. The unions will thus be unable to defend their members from many inequities imposed by their employers.
This legislation will weigh the scales of justice so hard in favour of employers that the individual employee will have no chance of budging them in the direction of fair treatment. Even smaller unions will rapidly exhaust their funds trying to balance these scales weighted so heavily against their members.
The current provisions of the act do not provide an Ontario worker with even the basics for a decent living. The act, however, does provide protection from exploitive employers who would deprive workers of their rightful public holidays and vacation pay, who would rob employees of their rightful overtime, and then fire them without severance pay if they dared to complain. The proposed changes will remove these protections by allowing employers to provide equivalent packages.
Since the various provisions have the potential for vastly different values for every employee, the danger is that employers will value the provisions to be cut at the lowest value for any worker and the enhanced provisions at the maximum for any worker, thus resulting in significant losses for all employees. A non-union employee without a collective agreement will be greatly disadvantaged in this dispute and few, if any, will be able to achieve equity because of their dependence on the employers' largess for their livelihood, regardless of how meagre it may be.
For any employee with a collective agreement, current legislated rights not ensconced in the collective agreement could be rescinded with the new act, and employees will, in many circumstances, be met with an argument that the collective agreement provides greater benefits as a whole and that as a result the minimum legislative protections do not apply.
The terminated employee could find that the employer claimed exemption from the severance provisions of the act because hard-won provisions for holiday and vacation pay exceeded the minimum requirements of the act. The current high unemployment has created a significant inequality of power between employees and employers, including unionized workers, and therefore detrimental tradeoffs will be agreed to in many instances, or significant labour strife will result as employees try to bargain back the rights removed by the legislation.
This legislation will allow an employer to carry the unacceptable tactics of the childhood playground bully forward into the workplace. With no help available from the law and little chance of unionizing, small service and retail establishments will become employment ghettoes. Larger non-union employers in these same sectors will be able to arbitrarily change employee entitlements to maximize employer profits.
It would appear possible for an employer whose employees were being organized, or who as a group were merely asking for improvements, to reduce the number of hours required to receive overtime pay in a week maybe to 36 hours, even though no one ever worked more than 35, and then eliminate all severance provisions. This could allow the employer to discharge any employee involved in unionizing or even asking for a raise or other improvement, without the employer being required to pay any severance allowance.
The reduced enforcement provision of the act would probably prevent the non-unionized employee from even seeking full redress or receiving employment insurance if the employer claimed just cause for the dismissal. In the above cases, non-unionized employees will be restricted to filing a case either for wrongful dismissal or for a failure to comply with minimum standards, but not both, even though they were shafted twice. Even if the employee wins a wrongful dismissal case, the wage order cannot exceed $10,000; or if the amount is less than an as-yet-unstated minimum, the employee could receive nothing.
As an added bonus for an unscrupulous employer who provides a package that, when taken together, is less than the required minimum is the provision that restricts the employer's liability to six months rather than the current two years. In other words, an employer can cheat his employees, risking only six months of ill-gotten gains, a definite incentive for exploitive employers, especially those whose employees have little fluency with the language or who are not well acquainted with their rights, albeit greatly diminished, under this legislation.
Another devastating possibility is that an employer could withhold the minimum amount, not yet stated of course, under the legislation from each employee every six months and be subject to no administrative action, a veritable bonanza for the unscrupulous employer.
The enforcement provisions of the proposed changes to the act will adversely affect unions and their members. Currently all employees in Ontario may receive assistance in investigating and prosecuting a claim from an employment standards officer. These officers have extensive powers to inexpensively pursue a claim and issue remedial orders. The proposals under consideration will basically eliminate this right for union members.
This will effectively transfer the cost of pursuing employee rights from the government, where it rightfully belongs, to the employee, through his or her union dues. Since the union will not have the investigative powers of the employment standards officer, union members will in many cases not receive fair treatment, and where they do, it will only be after a lengthy and costly intervention by the union.
The amendments, if passed, could cause unions to be responsible for pursuing employment standards claims as part of their duty for fair representation. Unions could be required to defend their actions in Employment Standards Act cases, even though the union personnel do not have the knowledge or the training to deal with such issues. Since employees are bound by the decisions of the union in these cases, employers could require unions to abandon outstanding claims for violations of the act as part of a new collective agreement. This would appear to force unions to spend significant sums to train personnel to deal with this legislation, be forced to abandon claims by unscrupulous employers and still be liable for the employee's entitlements. In other words, the union could end up paying what the employer should have, another bonanza for the unscrupulous employer.
The final irony of the act is the government opting out of collecting. The act provides that the employment standards director can authorize a private collector to pursue a claim for a worker and then the director will apportion the amount collected among collector, government and the residual to the employee. In other words, workers who have been grievously treated by employers and who are in desperate need of funds to survive could have their rightful claim -- it could be $20,000 or $30,000 -- first restricted to $10,000 and then have that reduced by a collection fee and a government administrative fee.
This provision will undoubtedly lead to employees getting considerably smaller settlements. Collectors will be inclined to recommend settling for less than the full amount to expedite settlements. After all, they're just in the money-making business, not in dealing with employee problems. The collector will still be paid, and the unscrupulous employer will get off more cheaply -- not much of a disincentive to the employer and certainly not fair treatment to the employee.
I ask, as I've heard from the other side of the table over to my right, that you strike down this legislation and restore a semblance of balance to the employer-employee relations in Ontario. Thank you.
The Chair: That leaves us just one minute per caucus for questioning, this time commencing with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for being here this afternoon. I enjoyed hearing your comments. You opened by talking about unionized employees, unorganized employees, and then you talked about those who will be making decisions because of this bill, whether they want to be unionized or remain unorganized. That's an added feature to the decision of whether you want to be organized or not, that an employment standards bill would have cause to make up your mind whether you want to be organized or not, and it's outside of what probably most people would be considering when they decide upon unionization or not.
In regard to the $10,000 limit you mentioned in your brief, the government has stated that 96% of claims are under $10,000. The other suggestion was that it was executive types or those with high incomes who generally are claiming over $10,000. But I also want to let you know that we've had significant numbers of presentations that suggest that those people who are making smaller amounts of money, minimum wage or somewhat above that, are in that 4% of claims area too, and that's something we're going to have consider when the government proposes this limiting at both ends, minimums and maximums. When you start drawing lines, it causes great problems, and I appreciate your concerns this afternoon.
Mr Green: Thank you, and it's only fair to say that it doesn't matter how much you make; you should be treated fairly.
Mr Martin: I want to thank you as well for coming before us today, for taking time out of what I'm sure is a very busy schedule, given that you're working on another front under attack by this government, the whole question of the quality of education in the province and what has been contributed there and some of what is being taken away. It's good that you've come today to share with us your thoughts on this very important piece of legislation, which I think is part of a larger affront to poor people, vulnerable people, working people across this province, unionized and non-unionized.
I think you make some really important points, not the least of which is that this piece of legislation is in the interests of what's often referred to as the bad boss. We have good employers out there across this province in every community who know that it's in their best interests to treat their employees well, to make sure they're safe and healthy, that they come to work happy every day and that they have some sense of stability re their job situation. Those kinds of employers are not the people clamouring for this kind of change. It's the employer who is looking for a little edge, looking for a way to shortcut a corner or whatever, who's being served here, so I think it's good that you've come and shared that with us today.
You referenced a few minutes ago that you think the government should just withdraw this bill and get on with the business of stimulating the economy, "creating the 750,000 jobs that you suggested you would create during the election," which would go a long way to solving a whole lot of the problems that we're confronting right now. Is there anything else that you'd like to add re advice to these guys? Because you're the last one they're going to hear today.
Mr Green: I reiterate, we're looking at the playground bully. Unfortunately, the playground bully we're dealing with right now is the government.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. I think there is certainly room for reasonable people to disagree on public policy issues. Our different parties from time to time disagree with different legislation and I think that's an important part of our democracy, but I think it's important we debate things on the facts. A good number of things you've said just simply aren't in the bill, and it causes me great concern.
You mentioned as an example specifically relating to this bill that an employee discharged for trying to start a union would get no termination pay under this bill. Let me tell you, there's absolutely nothing in this bill that affects that whatsoever. In our Bill 7, one of the first laws this government passed, we made as the only single exception during a unionizing drive that where there's no vote, if an employee is fired, if there is retribution by the employer, he can go right to the Ontario Labour Relations Board and they'll grant certification without a vote, because we treat that issue simply that seriously. I don't know where you find that in the bill. It's amazing to me.
The second issue is with respect to the apportionment of the fees. The employer will pay the administration costs associated with collecting an order. The fee from the collection agent is added directly to the order to pay, so if you're ordered to pay $100 and the fee is 20%, you owe $120 now and 100% of the apportionment would go to the worker. That's very important to get on the record. I could go on, but I guess my time is up.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Green, for appearing before us here this afternoon. We appreciate it. That concludes our hearing here in Thunder Bay. Thanks to all who presented and thanks to all who came to witness. This committee stands recessed until 9:30 tomorrow morning in Sault Ste Marie.
The committee adjourned at 1647.