Tuesday 27 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
Sault Ste Marie Chamber of Commerce
Mr Gene Nori
Mr Jody Curran
Mr Gord Acton
Algoma Community Legal Clinic
Ms Gayle Broad
Mr Mark Klym
United Steelworkers of America, Local 2251
Mr Ronald Bouliane
Mr Del Vandette
Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 16
Ms Della Case
Ms Lynda McFarling
Sault Ste Marie Business and Professional Women's Club
Ms Shirley Mantyla
Ms Marlene Mathieu
Ms Sharon Selkirk
Sault and District Social Justice Coalition
Ms Renata Fisher
Sault Ste Marie and District Labour Council
Mr Eric Greaves
OTF All-Affiliates Coalition of Algoma District
Mr Art Caligari
Ms Elizabeth Szczotka
Mr Dennis Thompson
Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1880
Ms Cora-Lee Skanes
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 TobyBarrett (Norfolk PC) for Mr Ouellette
Mr BillGrimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay / Muskoka-Baie-Georgienne PC)
for Mr Tascona
Mr John R. O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC) for Mr Carroll
Mr DerwynShea (High Park-Swansea PC) for Mr Maves
Mr WayneWettlaufer (Kitchener PC) for Mrs Fisher
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes:
Mr TonyMartin (Sault Ste Marie ND)
Mr BudWildman (Algoma ND)
Clerk / Greffièr: Mr Douglas Arnott
Staff / Personnel: Mr Avrum Fenson, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 0930 in the Ramada Inn, Sault Ste Marie.
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.
SAULT STE MARIE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair (Mr Steve Gilchrist): Good morning. I call the meeting to order on this, our seventh day of hearings on Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act. On behalf of the committee, we're certainly pleased to be here in Sault Ste Marie today, our second stop in the north.
Our first group up this morning is the Sault Ste Marie Chamber of Commerce. Good morning, gentlemen. Just as a reminder, we have 30 minutes for you to divide as you see fit between presentation time or questions and answers. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to introduce yourselves for the Hansard reporter, please.
Mr Gene Nori: Mr Chairman, honourable members, welcome to Sault Ste Marie on behalf of the chamber, who are present here today. We welcome you to the Naturally Gifted City of the North and hope your stay will be a pleasant one.
My name is Gene Nori. I'm the general manager of the chamber of commerce. I'd like to introduce to you Mr Jody Curran, who's the president of the chamber, and Mr Gord Acton, who is a director of the chamber. Unfortunately, John Reynolds, who is on the itinerary, is unable to make it because he was called out of town.
I would like to call on Mr Curran to start us off.
Mr Jody Curran: My name is Jody Curran. I'm president of the chamber of commerce. Mr Chairman, honourable members, the Sault Ste Marie Chamber of Commerce is a business organization representing approximately 700 employers in and around Sault Ste Marie. The members of the chamber represent small, medium and large enterprises employing unionized and non-unionized workers.
The Sault Ste Marie Chamber of Commerce welcomes this opportunity to address the standing committee regarding Bill 49, which proposes changes to the employment standards legislation. I'd like to turn the rest of the presentation over to Gord Acton, one of our directors.
Mr Gord Acton: Thank you, and good morning. The Sault Ste Marie chamber, first of all, believes this is a beneficial reform of the act. The act has somewhat aged. It's been developed in a piecemeal fashion. There have been many exemptions, many amendments to the bill such that it is not very user-friendly, and we think a wholesale amendment to the bill is needed and is welcomed. We're happy to see these committee hearings take place; we're happy to be able to present our views and we support the efforts in terms of a wholesale revision.
Second, we think one of the aims, in trying to take the dispute mechanism out of public hands and more to the parties' hands, is a worthwhile endeavour and we support that. We think there are well-trained contract administrators, employee representatives, business administrators who are better able to solve many of these disputes than having standards officers involved, and they can do it quicker and cheaper.
The goals of Bill 49, namely, to enable the Ministry of Labour to administer the act in a more efficient manner, to promote self-reliance and flexibilities among the workplace parties and to simplify and improve the act's language therefore are supported by the chamber, and we believe they can be accomplished in this two-step reform.
However, the chamber also believes and supports the continuing protection of minimum employment standards for workers, and we hope you receive this brief in the manner in which it is delivered. We do not think it's a radical support of this bill. We think it's balanced and we think it's a thoughtful approach to it. We're not simply saying everything that is being proposed is perfect, but we are saying that we're supporting the aims and the general thrust, with some things for your consideration.
In terms of minimum employment standards, section 12 of the bill enhances the current minimum standards by allowing for the accrual of rights during pregnancy or parental leave. This ultimately will mean a higher cost to employers, as all rights in employment contracts that are service-driven will continue to accrue during such leave. That being so, we support it. We believe our members will support it and will adopt it and follow it.
Similarly, the amendments proposed in respect of vacations will mean that employers who have dealt with this benefit by way of pay in lieu will now have to pay and schedule the vacation time, or provide vacation time with pay. This will have a direct impact on those employers hiring casual employees, as the proposed amendments enhance the vacation benefit. Similarly, we support it. There are some employers in the workplace who currently offer this, but not everyone does. Not all employees have this benefit.
The duplicate routes of proceeding, limitations, and appeal periods, we have looked at. The chamber of commerce supports the provisions of Bill 49 which will prohibit an employee from commencing a wrongful dismissal action in court if he or she files a complaint claiming termination or severance pay under the act. Similarly, where the employee files a complaint under the act for wages owing, breach of the building services sector provisions or the benefit provisions of the act, then a civil action by the same employee seeking remedy for the same complaint is prohibited. The vice versa is true. We believe there have been duplicitous, costly and expensive proceedings and you get into almost a legal blackmail situation in some situations, which should be eliminated or reduced by these provisions. The amendments would require an employee to choose whether to pursue the matter through the court system or through the act, which will bring an efficiency in time and expense to the resolution of disputes.
We also believe that limiting the entitlement to recover money under the act to six months instead of the current two years ensures that the complaints are made in a timely manner by employees so that the evidence is not lost due to the passage of time or, if the complaint is pursuant to the act, allow the matter to be investigated while all the evidence is still fresh. A quicker investigation and assessment of complaints or actions will usually mean a more rapid settlement of issues, which generally benefits the working environment and provides for a much happier and dispute-free workplace.
The proposed change to increase the time limit to appeal the employment standards officers' orders from 15 to 40 days also shall allow both parties to negotiate a settlement in lieu of an appeal or more fully consider the merits of filing an appeal. Alternatively, that 45-day limit will allow the necessary payment of the amount ordered, including administration costs, to the director in order to apply for the appeal. This particularly is applicable to our smaller member employers, where the current 15-day period in which to make payment causes a hardship.
The chamber believes there are other issues that you may wish to consider and that we would encourage you to consider in the current amendments. Arbitrators, under Bill 49, are given the power to make the same types of order that an employment standards officer is able to make. Therefore, should there not be an enhancement of the guarantee of qualifications of arbitrators and a clarification of the arbitrator's powers? Employment standards officers, as you know, have the power to investigate complaints, require production of documents for inspection and to make inquiries of any person relevant to the investigation. If an arbitrator now has these powers, he will have the power to act not only as an investigator, but also then as an independent judge. That is a trend which is much different than our usual adversarial traditions. It is more in line with some of the civil law courts that we see in countries like France, and arbitrators to date have not really been trained to conduct an investigative process. They are trained as independent judges, or hopefully trained as independent judges.
The chamber recommends that the grievance procedure ought to take the place of the investigative role which possibly the arbitrator now has under the amendments in order that the arbitrator hears the case in an unbiased manner. To do otherwise would mean that he would investigate, possibly form an opinion and then sit as a judge with a particular bias. Our history has been that the judge comes to the table, comes to hear the disputes as presented by the parties, in an unbiased way.
Further, arbitrators are being asked to interpret legislation, and the parties should be assured that those arbitrators on the panel are qualified for such a task. This reduces arbitrator shopping, which is an ongoing and well-known process, and will enhance a quicker settlement and a quick selection of an arbitrator to hear the case.
The new powers proposed to be granted to arbitrators also well relate to the ability of an arbitrator to make related employer declarations. However, the provisions of the act with respect to "related employer" are unclear and need amendment. It's suggested that these provisions should not be enforceable by an arbitrator until such provisions are clarified, because to do otherwise would unnecessarily complicate and lengthen the hearing process.
In an appeal or review of an arbitration decision, it should be clarified whether the arbitrator's order can be appealed to an adjudicator or a referee, given that an arbitrator can make any order which an employment standards officer can make and such an officer's order is appealable to an adjudicator or referee.
Second, with respect to time lines, all collective agreements currently have time lines in which grievances must be filed and processed, and these time lines are in most cases different from the act or the proposed act.
The chamber believes that the collective agreement time lines which are negotiated freely by the parties should prevail, in particular as grievances may be filed which allege both violations of the act and violations of the collective agreement. In such a case, consistent time limits would be imperative or, as the chamber would propose, the time lines provided for in the collective agreement would prevail.
Third, is the arbitrator's ability to award damages restricted by the six-month recovery limit? We believe it's not clear in the proposed amendments whether this is the case. The chamber believes that the remedial jurisdiction of the arbitrators should also be restricted in order to provide equal rights to all employees.
Fourth, is the expedited arbitration pursuant to the Labour Relations Act available for grievances seeking to enforce the Employment Standards Act? Again, we believe the proposed amendments need to be clarified.
Fifth, should not the minimum severance pay provisions of the act fall in line with the generally accepted awards made by the common law courts, and should there not be a single route of complaint regarding severance? Currently, if you read the Employment Standards Act, you see minimum severance requirements. If someone goes to the common law courts, they are usually awarded minimum severance much greater than the Employment Standards Act.
The Employment Standards Act therefore, in most cases with respect to minimum severance, really is of no use, and we suggest to the committee that it be considered that the time lines for minimum severance come into line with the common law courts, and second, that similar to the other amendments which are being proposed, only one route of complaint with respect to severance be allowed and the employee be allowed to choose which method he wishes, whether it be through the officer or arbitrator or, alternatively, through the common law courts. This again would provide an efficiency to the system and would provide an assurance that there is a true minimum standard and what the minimum standard is.
Sixth, it has been indicated by news releases that the amendments of Bill 49 allowing for a greater right or benefit assessment as a package have now been moved to the second phase of reform, and therefore we make no comments in respect of the proposed changes other than that the chamber strongly believes that allowing for a greater right or benefit as a package is a fundamentally important component of allowing the workplace parties the freedom to mutually agree to arrangements which, when viewed separately, would not be in compliance with the act.
This is particularly true with respect to northern Ontario employers who may have remote site locations. For instance, the statutory holiday can be worked by the employee and it may be negotiated for greater time back in the community in which the employee lives as opposed to being taken as a day off in a remote site location where it really doesn't mean the same to that employee -- remote mines, tourist camps etc.
In summary, the chamber supports the two-stage Employment Standards Act reform process and supports Bill 49 as a step in that process and would urge consideration of the questions and issues we've raised in order to clarify certain provisions of the amendments and consider additional amendments to the act, either in this stage or in stage 2.
Thank you for the opportunity to present these submissions. We're prepared to answer any questions that we can.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That's exactly 15 minutes, which leaves us five minutes per caucus. As usual, we'll start our questioning with the official opposition.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): Good morning, and thank you for your presentation. Did I understand you correctly to say that you don't believe these amendments reduce minimum standards?
Mr Acton: What we say is that in some instances they enhance minimum standards. For instance, in the parental leave provisions of the act and in the maternity leave provisions and also with respect to vacations, there is an enhancement of the act.
Mr Duncan: We understand that, but did I correctly understand you to say that you don't believe the other clauses reduce minimum standards?
Mr Acton: What I said was we support minimum standards for workers.
Mr Duncan: I don't understand. You had indicated that you support the two-step process, and you just indicated to me that you support minimum standards and see enhancement to standards here, and then you indicated further on that you had problems.
If you accept all those as being true -- and we don't agree with you; we believe there is a reduction in minimum standards -- the difficulty I'm having is that that really means there's only one substantive section of the bill, section 20, which deals with arbitrators, and you've got six recommendations with changes to that, and you said you're concerned about the piecemeal approach to the legislation in the past. Don't you find that contradictory?
Mr Acton: Not at all. The comment with respect to the piecemeal approach was that the bill has been amended in successive years without any government taking a wholesale look at the entire act.
Mr Duncan: So do you think this is a wholesale look at the act?
Mr Acton: I do, in a two-step process, yes.
Mr Duncan: We don't agree with you. We think there should be a complete review of the act. We think there are errors in the arbitrator section; we support your position there. The government already withdrew the only section of the bill that it said originally was a substantive section, and we think it also affects minimum standards in a negative way towards working people. Frankly, you're right, there are three sections that do improve the standards, and I think there's been universal agreement on them.
The only thing that concerns me is, here we go again with another piecemeal amendment to the bill. You can't argue that a two-page bill -- your presentation is longer than the bill. It's taken out the main clause on one hand and then, if we accept that what you say is true, the notion that there are no changes to the minimum standards here, nothing but an enhancement -- I would submit quite the contrary, that it is a piecemeal approach. We would have preferred an entire discussion paper first before these amendments were made and we would have preferred to see the whole package.
We agree that there has to be a better way and a more efficient manner in which to administer the act and we're prepared to work on those things, but I just had some concerns around your presentation where you indicated that you didn't think there was anything substantive in it and then you were also concerned that we're doing amendments in a piecemeal fashion. The major issues in the Employment Standards Act are hours of work, minimum wage, a whole range of things, and we don't even touch them. I would have thought that you, like a number of other business organizations that have made representation, would have preferred to have seen a complete review of the statute. By your definition the only major section that's left is the arbitrators section, and you've said that there are major flaws with that.
I thank you for your presentation and just indicate that we would have preferred too to have had the full package and be able to discuss the act and have a discussion paper prior to doing yet another piecemeal amendment of the bill.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Thank you, gentlemen. Mr Acton, thank you for your presentation. I note that the actual wording you use in your brief on page 2 is, "The chamber also believes and supports the continuing protection of minimum employment standards for workers," which leads me to believe that you're in lockstep with the Minister of Labour, who says these are minor housekeeping and indeed don't take away any minimum standards. You also mention that this was -- I wrote it down -- "a beneficial reform of the act." Further, you said, "It is a protection of minimum standards."
We have some real difficulty with those statements, given that -- and I don't think you addressed it in there. If I'm wrong, I'd ask you to point it out to me, but I don't believe you addressed the issue of the $10,000 cap that is now being placed on the amount of money a worker can claim for money they're owed, and that there will also be a minimum threshold they have to cross before the Ministry of Labour will step in. We also don't know what that minimum is going to be; the government won't tell us. To my mind, that is taking away a right that a worker now has.
I have posed this question to other chambers of commerce and they have said, "Well, there's still remedy available through the courts." But that requires that employee, who has done nothing wrong except work for someone who was unscrupulous enough to owe them money that they won't pay back and therefore the worker had to claim for it, to hire a lawyer, and they likely will have to take time off work to pursue the matter through the courts. That means they're out money. The way we decide winners and losers and whether you're up or down on something is whether it cost you anything. I would submit, with great respect, that it's difficult for anyone to accept your position that there's no loss of minimum standards when indeed workers have lost rights in that area alone.
I'll move to the second area so you can comment on all of it: the fact that workers can no longer claim for money owed beyond six months. Currently, they can go back two years for money they're owed. This law will limit that to six months. That is a minimum standard of protection that's guaranteed in law that now exists that will be watered down and taken away from workers. I really would ask you to explain to me how you reconcile that denial of rights, that watering down and lowering of rights that workers will have under Bill 49, and your contention that minimum standards continue to be maintained.
Mr Acton: The exact quote is that the chamber "supports the continuing protection of minimum employment standards." The debate as to whether there is a real reduction or not will continue, and I'm sure you members will continue that debate. The chamber supports minimum standards. We believe that in the workplace they're beneficial and they should be known and they should be clear.
I will give you an answer which you've heard before and maybe don't accept, but I'll give it to you again: that indeed there is resort to the common law courts, which, as you say, will cost money; absolutely, it will cost money. There are no rights in this society that don't cost somebody money: society in general, which we fund through taxation, and the government gets involved with officers who help to resolve that dispute; or hire lawyers and the lawyers charge a fee, and the losing party in our common law courts tends to pay all or a portion of the fees of the winning side.
Yes, there are costs, but where costs -- for instance, if someone is claiming an amount over $10,000, which is above the Small Claims Court limit of $6,000, there is an already established, well-known route for recovery.
I can't resolve the debate with respect to whether there is a reduction in minimum standards. We've heard much and read much about it. We support minimum standards. What those standards are certainly has to be decided. Statistically, there would seem to be some levels which are more appropriate for the government to be involved, for example, those where the monetary level is below $10,000, which is being proposed in Bill 49, as opposed to something which is a greater amount where there still is an avenue for pursuit and recovery, yes, at some cost, but those costs are recoverable. It then is up to the employee to take that route.
There's still no guarantee, as we've seen in the papers and as reported. The employer, who may be unscrupulous, where people have worked for that employer for nine or 10 months and haven't been paid, may be bankrupt and ultimate recovery may be impossible. We still don't have any debtors' prison or we still haven't returned to debtors' prison in this province or in Canada. Therefore, ultimate compensation is still not guaranteed, I don't care who orders it -- an employment standards officer, an arbitrator or a judge.
Mr Christopherson: I'd very much like to pursue your response today, but time doesn't allow.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): Thank you very much for your presentation this morning. One of the things that's come up around the province has been the issue of collections of employment standards orders. Obviously, we want to encourage workers to be aware of their rights and that where they're not being respected they could make a complaint to the employment standards office, an investigation would ensue and then eventually an order would be issued. A period of time for an appeal would expire, and therefore the order would stand as is.
What we've found over the last four or five years, or even under the last two or three governments, of all parties, is that only 25 cents on the dollar is being collected. Even after all the time and expense and all the huge emotional toll these very fundamental aspects have for workers themselves, we're only collecting 25 cents on the dollar.
One of the parts of the bill is designed to ensure that workers can get the money they have every right to expect. Right now, like I said, it's only 25 cents on the dollar. There was a collections branch at the Ministry of Labour that was disbanded by the previous government in 1993; 10 employees were discharged. Actually, it went down to 15 or 20 cents for a while, but it's stabilized at 25 cents on the dollar. One of the proposals we've brought in with this bill is collection agents to go after what I call deadbeat employers, those people who aren't accepting their responsibilities under the act and are being negligent in terms of following through with payment they've been ordered to pay to the worker.
Can you tell us, with respect to your members, what else you think could be done to ensure that these moneys are collected? We've heard across the province groups saying, "Just put more teeth in it." If there were any easy answer, I think it would be there. I know my colleagues in the opposition care deeply about this issue, and if there was an easy answer they would have gone out there to try to find it. What would your thoughts be, in terms of your members and your experience in the business community, to ensure that -- albeit it's a very small minority in the business community who aren't accepting the act.
One of the unions that came forward a few days ago not only pointed out, obviously, the human rights issues of the act but also pointed out that it's not fair to businesses; that if business A fully accepts its responsibilities under the act and is a good corporate citizen, pays its workers a fair wage and obeys the Employment Standards Act to a T, company B right next door could be flagrantly disregarding it, and company A would be at a competitive disadvantage. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Mr Acton: There's no guaranteed method of collection, as I've said in answer to the last question. Certainly making the collection proceedings quicker and having a single route by which you can collect moneys, albeit if it's over $10,000 you have an alternative route, is the best method that we believe at this point in time will, to a greater degree, assure collection. The cruel reality is that there will still be people who will declare bankruptcy or leave the jurisdiction of this province -- and it is provincial legislation -- or will make themselves so difficult to collect from that it will be nigh on impossible to collect.
I don't have any recommendations which would be any better than I've seen to date. Insurance funds, bonding, all other forms of financial surety which might be posted to guarantee workers' wages would simply be another cost to the marketplace which would translate into a higher cost of doing business. In particular, in a city like Sault Ste Marie where many of our members sell to Americans, in the United States that kind of legislation doesn't exist and therefore there would be a competitive disadvantage because there would be an added cost. So I don't have any wild or innovative answers for you, unfortunately.
Mr Baird: One thing you brought up was with respect to bankruptcy. Obviously you can't get blood out of a stone, but I know it's a position that Minister Witmer has taken to contact and be in touch with one of her colleagues in the federal cabinet to try to seek changes to the Bankruptcy Act to give workers a greater priority than banks, for example. These are the people who earned that money and have every right to expect it.
Mr Christopherson: Why did you cut the wage protection plan then?
Mr Baird: If you think we can afford a Cadillac in today's society, why did you cut the employment standards collectors? Why did you fire 10 people? Why did you cut health and safety inspectors?
Mr Christopherson: Come on, John, don't blame the federal government. It's your responsibility.
Mr Baird: Why did you cut health and safety inspectors?
Mr Christopherson: It's your responsibility and you cut the wage protection plan.
The Chair: Order. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate you taking the time to make a presentation before us here today.
ALGOMA COMMUNITY LEGAL CLINIC
The Chair: Committee members, there's been a change in the agenda. Two groups changed positions and so the next group up will be the Algoma Community Legal Clinic.
Good morning. We have 30 minutes. Feel free to divide that as you see fit between either presentation time or allowance for questions and answers.
Ms Gayle Broad: First of all, I'd like to thank the committee for accommodating the change in schedule so that we can accommodate Mark's work schedule today.
My name is Gayle Broad and I'm a community legal worker with the Algoma Community Legal Clinic. With me today is Mark Klym, who's been a client of our clinic and has graciously agreed to come before the committee today to talk briefly about his own personal experience to illustrate some of the concerns we have about the changes introduced under Bill 49.
The Algoma Community Legal Clinic is one of 72 legal clinics across the province of Ontario. We provide free legal advice and representation to individuals who are on a low or a limited income and who live within an area bordered on the west by the Algoma district and on the east by Iron Bridge, a small community located about an hour and a half's drive east of Sault Ste Marie. Most of our clients come within the city, but we also serve a significant number of people who live in small and rural communities throughout the district.
The Algoma Community Legal Clinic, as an incorporated group, has endorsed the brief prepared by Professor Judy Fudge of the Osgoode Hall law school entitled The Real Story: An Analysis of the Impact of Bill 49, the Employment Standards Improvement Act, Upon Unorganized Workers.
Today what we plan on doing with the comments that Mark and I make is simply highlighting some of the areas of concern that Professor Fudge has raised that we feel are most pertinent to our clients. We recognize that this committee is hearing from a significant number of trade unionists today, and on other occasions as well, and we wish to go on the record as supporting their work and their concerns and issues as well. However, in our own work at the legal clinic it is the people who are not organized and who are not members of trade unions in the workplace whom we most commonly represent and whose needs we are most familiar with. Those are the people on behalf of whom we wish to present today.
Professor Judy Fudge in her brief states that there are four basic problems with the Employment Standards Act as it is currently enacted. First of all, there's nothing done to prevent violations of the act in the first place, to protect workers before the violations occur. Secondly, investigation of the violations of the act is quite time-consuming. Thirdly, there is too much room for pressure to be brought upon employees to have them compromise their claims for wages owing and, fourthly, the collection of money owed by employers to employees is inadequate. Those are the four issues that we have particular concerns about.
I would like to ask Mark now to tell you a little bit about his experience and also his eventual resolution of the problems he had with his employer.
Mr Mark Klym: I never saw myself running into an employment standards problem or, as I now am, on social assistance. I came out of high school and went to work for Algoma Steel for seven years in a good, unionized environment, bringing in a healthy wage. Then, through no fault of my own, I got injured. My employer could not accommodate my injury, and as a result I ended up having to return to school, with the help of the Workers' Compensation Board. Going to school, I threw myself into it wholeheartedly, leaving for school at 6 in the morning, returning home close to midnight every night, earning three bachelor of science degrees in four years.
I came out of school into an environment where there simply wasn't a market for my skills. As a result, I ended up taking employment in 1993 with a small firm here in town. I wasn't making a great wage but made enough to keep the wolves off my back. I worked for them until August 1994. In that time, approximately October 1993, the firm began a slow movement to shift operations out of town, so by January 1994 I found myself commuting back and forth every week between the Sault and Sudbury, spending my weekdays in Sudbury, the weekends at home with the family. I wasn't making enough that I could afford to move my family down to Sudbury and the pressures began to mount to make just that move, to move my family to Sudbury.
I couldn't do it. Eventually the employer bought a house in Sudbury and put me in a spot where either I was going to have to begin paying room and board or find lodging in Sudbury or leave the firm. The choice I had to make was to leave the firm.
When I informed the employer of my decision, he asked me when I was planning to make that effective and I we negotiated a one-week notice period, although two weeks is the standard under the Employment Standards Act. He accepted a one-week notice period. The next day he called me, didn't even take the courtesy to talk to me face to face, left a message on my answering machine saying, "Don't bother reporting to Sudbury next week; we're going to cut the ties now."
When I contacted him, asking him about my severance pay, my vacation pay, he said: "There's nothing owing you. You've taken it all through various days off and such during the time of employment." Asked to substantiate those, he admitted that no, there wasn't time taken off in lieu of pay, but he wasn't going to pay me anyway.
I contacted the employment standards office. It took me nine months to resolve this issue. The delay was primarily engendered by the employer's refusal to make documents available -- this is what I was told by the employment standards officer -- by his constantly having an argument to support his position but never being able to substantiate by documentation and, finally, simply by his not making himself available to the officer to answer questions.
The nine months that it took resulted in my having nine months' interest on bills outstanding that I could have paid with that money, and when the money finally came in, it didn't benefit me anyway because by that time I was on social assistance and it was all clawed back.
Would I have been better off going to the courts? No. From personal experience, I know that the courts are just as slow. I would have had to hire a lawyer. I couldn't do that. In the end, with an order from the court you've still got the problem of collection. So I fail to see how any benefit is made by the changes proposed by this act.
Ms Broad: I think Mark's presentation highlights a number of the problems which do result in a need to improve the Employment Standards Act. We agree that the Employment Standards Act needs to be improved. Unfortunately, Bill 49 doesn't seem to accomplish what we feel needs to be done. We believe there's a need for minimum standards for all employees and we do not believe that it is beneficial to any group to have that as a negotiating item at a bargaining table for unionized employees.
We also feel that we need to expedite the process. It should be speeded up. However, the reduction of time in which an employee can file a claim and the reduction of retroactivity to six months certainly does not penalize any employer; it only penalizes the employees.
We feel that the need for access to justice will not be assisted by people being obligated to pursue civil court action or by the need to make a decision about either pursuing one avenue or another within a two-week time span. If you are not familiar with the current state of affairs of legal representation, in northern Ontario, first of all, it's very difficult to find lawyers who represent employees, as opposed to management, in negotiations. That's because business here is not that great for employees, because we do have a smaller population and a very dispersed population across the north, but also because the major employers are unionized in the north so those employees are represented by their bargaining agents. For the small individual employee in northern Ontario, it's very difficult to access good legal advice regarding their rights, their opportunities and what benefits they are likely to obtain if they go through a civil court action, so a two-week period penalizes the employee.
The problem of making a choice and pursuing means for many people that they will drop their claims, and I guess in that respect Bill 49 may in fact expedite quite a few things. There may be a lot fewer claims going through because people will indeed drop their claims, not because the money is not owed to them and not because they don't have a good case, but simply because they cannot access representation to pursue that.
I think Mark's situation also highlights the efforts and the hardships that people on social assistance will go to to find employment. I think it's very relevant at this time in Ontario for this committee and for all members of the Legislature to pay attention to because there's certainly a strong movement out there that says people on social assistance aren't interested in working and that they must be forced to do to work. In fact, people on social assistance, like Mark, frequently will spend weeks away from their family in order to obtain employment at a very minimum rate of pay, so that they feel that they are making a contribution to society and to their family and to their community. I'd just like to point that out to the committee.
I think it also raises a very significant issue for social assistance recipients in that if they do not feel able, under these amendments proposed in Bill 49, to pursue the money owed to them through the courts, then does that mean they're going to be denied social assistance because they're not making reasonable efforts to pursue money owed to them, as is currently the obligation under the social assistance legislation?
What happens to persons who don't know about the new six-month statutory limit and therefore lose their right to pursue the money owed to them? Does that also mean that if they do not pursue it within the six-month limit, then they will have social assistance denied or benefits severed because they have not pursued that money owed to them?
I think Bill 49 needs to be looked at again. We believe, as the chamber of commerce does, that the Employment Standards Act certainly needs to be improved in a holistic fashion, not in a piecemeal fashion. We encourage this committee to make recommendations that the improvements be ones that are carefully considered, that are discussed carefully with employees and with people who, like Mark, have had the experience of using the system in place and can point out the benefits as well as the problems of the current employment standards.
We've submitted a written brief and we would be happy to answer any questions you might have on that as well as on the comments we've made this morning.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I think it's appropriate that we should have your presentation early on in the day so we can focus some attention on the fact that this piece of legislation will have probably a greater impact on non-unionized workforces out there, the small operations that have people working on minimum wage for the most part, with very little protection because there is no union. Somebody has to speak on their behalf to protect their rights, which all governments of various stripes contributed to building up over a long period of time, and now we see an attempt to take away, diminish those rights.
We know that in Ontario over a long period of time anything that organized labour has fought for re the workplace, sometimes at great personal expense, and ultimately, through efforts and with the support of political parties like our own, has enshrined in legislation things that accrue to everybody in workplaces, has in many ways -- and you've described some of them very clearly in your brief here today -- gained some sense of stability for the workplace and for workers and the economy out there that I think is going to be seriously damaged in a significant way if this bill is allowed to go through.
You brought Mark today, and it's always good that we hear stories, that we're able to put a face to some of what's going to happen and what has happened and to exemplify the need for even stronger basic standards for people.
How much of this work do you see or do as a legal clinic worker either directly or indirectly because of this, and what do you anticipate will be the fallout, given that we're moving to the courts in a very significant way here and the cost will be prohibitive for most low-paid employees? Any idea, any thought, any work going on to try and determine that?
Ms Broad: I can't give you a precise figure. I know that in 1995 we handled 27 cases. Actually, we do not advertise employment standards as part of what we do as a clinic and we do very little of that work. Most of our work is direct referral to employment standards officers with sometimes coaching people in how to deal with employment standards or how to identify what their issue is. So that's a very small percentage of the work that is certainly out there because, as I said, we don't tend to do this work as a clinic. Because of the large area that we have to service, we have to make decisions around what we list as priorities. Social assistance, unemployment insurance, disability benefits and tenants' rights tend to make up the largest proportion of our work. Human rights and employment standards we basically refer over to the government offices that have been, up until now, available to people.
Mr Martin: You have painted a pretty grim picture. We all know that probably upwards of three quarters of the workforce in Ontario is non-unionized and very much dependent on some very basic standards to make sure they have what they need to keep body and soul together and keep a job. You don't do that kind of work for the most part because you are busy with other things and it is not within your mandate. People do not qualify for legal aid on issues of this sort, is that correct?
Ms Broad: That's right.
Mr Martin: If they're non-unionized, they don't have the backing and the resource of unions, so where do they go?
Ms Broad: Up until now they have been going to employment standards, but I think that's a very big question.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's nice to be here in Sault Ste Marie. I hope you don't mind, Gayle or Mark, if I just ask you u a couple of questions to clarify some of the story. I appreciate the story but I do not understand it. You attended university for how long, Mark?
Mr Klym: Four and a half years.
Mr O'Toole: I commend you for the effort. That's good. You were on WCB at that time?
Mr Klym: Yes, I was.
Mr O'Toole: My next question is, how long did you actually work for that company after you graduated? Was it around 11 months?
Mr Klym: For 11 months; July 15, 1993, to August 8, 1994.
Mr O'Toole: Okay. Now you haven't worked since 1994.
Mr Klym: I have worked on make-work projects, section 25 projects.
Mr O'Toole: Are you on a WCB FEL or NEL award or anything like that?
Mr Klym: No, I was pre-1990, so I am on a 10% disability.
Mr O'Toole: Based on which? Your Algoma pay or your previous pay?
Mr Klym: Algoma Steel.
Mr O'Toole: And you still qualify for social assistance on that?
Mr Klym: Yes, I do; 10% of my Algoma Steel pay is $149 a month.
Mr O'Toole: Your story tells me -- and I guess quoting the Judy Fudge report, and Gayle has said this morning that she agrees there are four areas that need to be amended or changed. So you fundamentally agree there have to be changes. What would you like to see, Mark, as the most important change? You're a real case, a real story, as Judy Fudge called hers a real story. Yours is the real, real story.
Mr Klym: The most important change would be to expedite the process. It took me nine months after I filed. The first delay came from the fact that I was originally hired in Sault Ste Marie, I worked in Sault Ste Marie, I lived in Sault Ste Marie, but in the time between my original hiring and my leaving the firm there was a slow transition to where the operation was now solely out of Sudbury, and as a result there was a delay in getting the file even started because it had to be placed in Sudbury.
Mr O'Toole: What was the amount of your claim?
Mr Klym: It amounted to $1,100.
Mr O'Toole: The average claim is $2,000. We're going to hear a lot of presentations this morning -- I hope you hear them -- about why the $10,000 threshold is too low. The average is $2,200; 96% are under $10,000. We're trying to focus scarce resources in a province that has no money left -- I'm not trying to be smart -- to help the most vulnerable and those who aren't protected, as Tony Martin said this morning. We really are trying to do that, and the large unions are -- do you believe? You're at Algoma -- capable of taking care of the workers' rights and issues.
Mr Klym: The large unions for the most part are capable of taking care of the unionized workers. But as Mr Martin and Mr Christopherson said, 75% of Ontario's employed people are non-unionized.
Mr O'Toole: Yes, so we've got to be very careful with the scarce resources in that ministry.
I appreciate your presentation this morning and I hope the changes we're making in this and phase two really do help the most vulnerable. That's the intention of the Minister of Labour and it's my intention as a member as well. Thank you for your presentation.
Mr Baird: Thank you for your presentation. Certainly a message that I'm going to take back is that we've got to make a better effort with respect to customer service, when you hear stories of cases going on forever, whether it's a good decision or a bad decision to have an expeditious investigation in a reasonable period of time and get back to you. I think we can do a better job and I'm certainly going to take that back. I don't think any of us in any party are satisfied with it taking that long.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Good morning. I appreciate hearing from both of you. Mark, I appreciated hearing your experiences. We have at various hearing dates heard from people who can tell us at first hand how the employment standards or other laws have affected them in combination, so I was pleased to hear that.
I want to ask about the brief. You talked about the limitation period going from two years to six months. We had a presentation the other day that said approximately 95% of the people who claim have left employment before they start. They are worried about reprisals such as you state here. Do you have any estimate or a firm figure with your experience in how many people leave their employer before they start to initiate a claim?
Ms Broad: I don't have current figures on that at all.
Mr Hoy: Would you have an opinion whether it is a significant number, or is it not a particular issue that they leave first?
Ms Broad: In our experience, almost everyone who contacts the clinic has already left employment before they are willing to file a claim. One of the major concerns we have, which we outline in our written brief and which Professor Judy Fudge has stated very clearly in hers, is that the large need, the real gap in people's information about employment standards and the rights they have currently existing under the act -- if you look at northern Ontario you will find that our literacy rate is much lower, the distances between court offices, between government offices providing services such as employment standards are very great -- many people do not know where they can access even information about it.
Most of the people who come to our clinic whom we wind up often referring to employment standards come to us through word of mouth. Someone else has used the clinic's services at some point and said, "I don't know if they do this work, but here's where you can get information about it." That's how word spreads.
One recommendation we make is that there needs to be much more information, a real effort made such as I understand is being made in British Columbia, to educate people about what rights they have, how they can enforce them and what the penalties may be, what kinds of actions employers might try to take that they may be able to object to and maintain their employment.
Mr Hoy: You're talking about knowledge and information as to what one's rights are. We had a presentation in Windsor where it was strongly suggested that people know of their rights. That comment was probably in the minority of views we've heard through the hearings. We're hearing more often that people are not aware of their rights, similarly with some of the personal protection they have at home in purchasing, for instance various insurances that have nothing to do with employment, but they're for their own protection and until claims are opened they didn't realize that maybe they were less covered than they thought.
The $10,000 limitation as a maximum for claims, I'm having difficulty with the notion that if 96% of the claims are under $10,000, why we are so concerned with putting the maximum in. It seems to me that, as was mentioned, most claims are averaging $2,200. Why are we worried at all about a maximum here?
You represent people who in the main are unorganized as far as their relationships in the workplace. Are there people who exceed the $10,000 claim? How is this going to affect them if they have to take the route suggested by the government?
Ms Broad: I can't answer that question. I haven't myself been in contact with anyone whose claim was above the $10,000, but I do find it difficult to understand why there has to be a limit of $10,000. I'm not sure where that concept comes from in terms of improving the Employment Standards Act.
Mr Hoy: We would have to open up the discussion again into that particular case, but for myself, I have great difficulty wondering why we're putting a cap when only 4% of the claims exceed that cap currently.
Ms Broad: One of the concerns we do have, though, is about the fact that retroactively the person can only claim for six months retroactive, which reduces it down from the current two years. Again, I do not understand the rationale for that. Revenue Canada requires that -- my understanding is that all business financial records have to be kept for a minimum of five years, so why would we reduce it down to six months? Those records should be easily accessible.
I don't know why we would want to limit an employee's right when they may have continued to work under duress. We all know what the unemployment rates are right now. If this is the only job that's available to you, you're not necessarily going to risk your employment in order to ensure that you're getting moneys that you're entitled to, whether they be vacation pay or whether they be an hourly rate that has been reduced or whatever. For many people, quitting a job is not an option. Particularly now with the penalties that accrue with unemployment insurance and with social assistance, you cannot quit a job. So we have to be very careful about what kinds of standards we're going to put in place for people when quitting a job is not an option for the vast majority of people in this province.
The Chair: Thank you for taking the time to come and make a presentation before us here this morning.
Next up is the Sault Ste Marie Construction Association. Seeing no representative, it's my understanding the next group is here.
UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 2251
The Chair: I see the next group is here, the United Steelworkers of America, Local 2251. Could you come forward.
Mr Ronald Bouliane: Good morning, Mr Chairman and honourable members. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to get my presentation photocopied. However, I will make it available by the end of the day. I'll undertake to have it photocopied hopefully during the lunchtime hour.
My name is Ron Bouliane and I represent the United Steelworkers of America, Local 2251. This happens to be the largest Steelworkers local in this area. We comprise, I believe the estimate is around 3,400 members at this point. As such, we undertake to actually represent the views of many of the other Steelworkers locals in this area.
I hope you will allow me a slight digression at this time. This past Sunday, as I was preparing for this presentation, I paused to recall the homily which was given in my church as a lesson to us. The homily regarded the word "authorship" and its cousin "authority," the ways in which we put words and ideas together and how the same words with different intents can cause entirely different scenarios to evolve. The priest who gave the homily said of the word "authority" and its root "author" that the Latin root is very precise in its definition and usage, and the obligation to use it correctly that we are put under when used.
So may we also consider the exercising of "authorship" and "authority." When used in the proper context and spirit, many good rules and laws are authored and enacted for the benefit of those who live in a society. Similarly, authority, when exercised, can be used to help a society to progress for the benefit of all, it can be used also to maintain the status quo or it can be used to roll back progress to the benefit of a few at the expense of many. This latter is what I fear is taking place in the society we know of as Ontario.
The proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act, known as Bill 49, are of grave concern to the working people of this province, the real contributors to our society, the ones who are burdened with the cost of the operation of this province. What you are proposing here is legislation which will make it harder for those workers, both organized into bargaining units and unorganized, to successfully achieve the wages and rights which are their due.
If what the present government is seeking to achieve is a low wage, low expectation, poorly protected, uneducated workforce that will subject this province to unheard-of levels of labour unrest, then this Bill 49, when combined with the other anti-labour and anti-education legislation which has been enacted over the past year, is certainly a definite step in that direction and we shall certainly see some negative results because of it.
On the other hand, if the government of the province of Ontario did less listening to the wheelers and dealers and users -- and I was going to say the pimps and whores of Bay Street and the BCNI, but decided to be less contentious -- whom they travel hand in hand with and who collectively owe this province and this nation over $40 billion in unpaid and deferred taxes, and instead paid some positive attention to what the working people of this province really need, much could and would be accomplished. To see evidence of that, you have only to look at what has been done at Algoma Steel, St Marys Paper, Algoma Central Railroad, Spruce Falls Power and Paper, Provincial Papers, de Havilland Aircraft and any of the other workplaces in Ontario which have been the beneficiaries of cooperation between labour, management and government as equal stakeholders.
Privatizing enforcement of the Employment Standards Act, section 20 of Bill 49: With this change, the government is dropping the function of enforcement of the act into the lap of labour. The bill removes the ability of working people to access the investigative and enforcement arms of the Ministry of Labour. Instead, unionized employees are forced to use a grievance procedure within the collective agreement to realize their rights. The result of this is that now unions will have to foot the cost of the investigation and determination of complaints of violations to the ESA and deal with the results through the grievance and arbitration process. This will give the arbitrator the powers that presently reside with the various agents of the ministry.
This will cause a tremendous burden on the resources of unions. The cost, legal complexity and drain on manpower for many unions will be staggering as they face the prospect of having to carry out what is presently the role of the Ministry of Labour. Faced with this burden, many unions and individuals will have second thoughts about proceeding with a legitimate complaint. This will unfairly penalize the unions for violations of the act which employers have undertaken to commit.
Enforcement of the ESA as it applies to non-unionized employees: There are four sections of Bill 49 which are of concern to non-unionized employees: sections 19, 20, 21 and 32. When added together, these proposed additions become an all-out attack on those workers who have not the resources to defend themselves from unscrupulous employers.
In the first place, they prevent an employee from pursuing both a complaint under the ESA and a civil action. The employee must pursue one or the other, but not both.
Secondly, for many working people, seeking a legal remedy through litigation is not an alternative because of the costs and time involved. This makes a complaint through the ESA the only viable alternative, because it has the resources at its disposal. But now, anyone opting for this route is faced with having to decide within two weeks on pursuing the claim, which is somewhat unreasonable in our view, or taking their chances with a civil action. Those who are unfamiliar with these requirements will inevitably suffer the consequences of loss by default.
The imposition of a six-month time frame as opposed to the present two-year period to collect moneys owed also causes some problems as many do not choose to file a complaint until they are secure in another job and will not suffer retribution from the offending employer.
Also, the monetary recovery cap of $10,000 is far less than some cases which have involved sums that were two and three times that amount. There is also a minimum claim which is yet to be decided.
We of Local 2251 believe that these changes are unfair and that again it is the aggrieved party who is penalized and not the employer who perpetrated the offence in the first place.
Privatizing collection: Under the new legislation, section 28 of Bill 49, private collection agencies are to be given the power to collect fines, penalties applied and moneys owed to employees. This is a radical departure from accepted practice and is a major devolution of authority from the government to the private sector. It is a mistake to believe that private agencies will be any more successful at collecting moneys owed than existing government agencies are. In fact, it is because of lack of enforcement mechanisms that the present system appears to be so ineffective. If there were more effective measures developed aimed at preventing delinquencies and enhancing recovery as well as more effective deterrents to abuse of the act, then there would be a higher success rate.
The potential for collection agencies to misuse the system themselves is also present. If the agency can only collect a partial settlement, the agency may choose to apply a recovery fee for services rendered. This amounts to a user fee, which if charged against an inadequate settlement is not only unfair, it also penalizes the employee again.
Also, collection agencies may pressure employees to opt for smaller settlements in order to expedite recovery, thereby giving the employer a break while collecting a user fee from the employee. This will only encourage future violations by offending employers.
It is our belief that the government should not absolve itself of the responsibility for collection and enforcement issues and that these areas have to be strengthened to be effective.
Other notes: It is pleasing to note that one of the most possibly contentious issues has been temporarily dropped from Bill 49. I am referring to those sections that would have enabled employers to force their employees into accepting standards that were less than the provincial minimums as long as the overall package is deemed to be equal to or greater than the existing package. This would have been terribly difficult to police and would have led to much labour unrest. It would also have been like comparing apples and oranges where wages, hours worked, benefit entitlements and so on are concerned.
These standards are our society's accepted minimums and should only be improved upon, not negotiated out of existence at the whim of some unscrupulous employer. We have learned long ago not to depend on the largess or the benevolence of our employers and do not wish to be placed in the position of fighting again for the same minimums that our parents and grandparents fought for.
One can only hope that this issue is dead, but I can't help but feel that we will be seeing it again in the future from this government.
We are similarly pleased to see that vacation entitlement of two weeks per year will accrue regardless of whether the employment was active or not, section 28 of Bill 49; that termination pay is due seven days after termination, section 5 of Bill 49; that parental and maternity leave will now count when calculating service and length of employment, section 12 of Bill 49.
Although there have been some minor positive changes, the overall impact of Bill 49 will be negative and therefore we of United Steelworkers of America, Local 2251, are opposed to its implementation. There is a serious problem with the provisions of this legislation putting those least able to defend themselves at even greater risk than they already experience. As was said before, the answer is not to dilute and jeopardize, but to strengthen and enforce. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. You've allowed us six minutes per caucus each this time. The questioning this time will commence with the government members.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): Can I ask you if you have managed to identify two of the issues that are of chief concern to unions, and I'd like your comments in so far as Bill 49's proposals are concerned. The first is that the proposal seems to place an onus and therefore a cost upon the unions that the unions don't feel appropriate to bear.
Mr Bouliane: I surmise that you're referring to the process of following through on the grievance procedure?
Mr Shea: Yes.
Mr Bouliane: Many small locals do not have the financial resources to pursue those costs. For the large locals, as has been stated before by others and by I believe Mr Christopherson, by and large they do have the resources, although it is a costly measure. Many of us have that embedded within our collective agreements, but for the smaller locals this becomes a very, very large drain on their resources.
Mr Shea: Is that cost factor -- I want you to draw upon your experience in the trade union movement -- is that in fact a significant issue?
Mr Bouliane: Yes, it is.
Mr Shea: Is that a real driving issue, the motivation behind some of the concerns with this?
Mr Bouliane: Within our local itself, whether or not to pursue grievances under the collective agreement becomes a very large issue because they are expensive issues and we have to decide which to pursue and which not to pursue.
Mr Shea: That would pick up on a comment made by the Transportation-Communications International Union, I guess, yesterday that suggested that unions aren't bottomless pits of dollars to fight claims.
Mr Bouliane: I wish they were bottomless pits. Unfortunately that's not the case. There is a definite limit to what you have.
Mr Shea: Yes. It's like the way some people have viewed government as bottomless pits of dollars.
Mr Bouliane: In some cases.
Mr Shea: But I see what you're saying.
Let me do the second point to sort of flesh out where there's some concern here on the part of the trade union movement. It has been suggested that some of the reasons for complaint by unionists towards Bill 49 is the possibility that the membership is going to begin to use Bill 49 as a launching pad for fair representation suits.
Mr Bouliane: That is certainly a concern. In my experience, all approaches in the grievance procedure have been treated equally as to their merit. But one could see down the road that if a union's financial resources were somewhat limited, yes, somebody would have to make an arbitrary decision on what they were going to do.
Mr Shea: So there be may more suits, and that obviously is not something that --
Mr Bouliane: No, it's a cost to the system.
Mr Shea: Sure. Obviously being held accountable is sometimes a costly thing as well.
The issue of how to provide employee protection is something that troubles the committee, I know. There are some unscrupulous employers. We all know that. In fact we heard earlier the chamber itself admitting that there are some, a very small number, but there are some that leave the province to escape judgements of one sort or another. They go into bankruptcy, and on the issue of bankruptcy you may have some opinions of how we begin to press upon the federal government the need of getting its act together to change the laws so we can at least put employees up at the front end of the claim rather than leave them at the back end.
Mr Bouliane: That is a very real concern to many people, especially in the smaller to medium-sized workplaces running into financial difficulties. I wish you well on getting the federal government to address this issue. We would like to see, obviously, some kind of deterrent fee or some kind of a mechanism in place, as you said, that would put the moneys owed to the employees first, on the top of the list.
Mr Shea: A final question involves the fact you represent a very large, a very traditional union. It's got a lot of experience in the field and it deals with what one may call the traditional workplace. You understand it, you can see it, you can taste it, you can smell it and so forth. But the fact is that the world is changing. We saw last week the city of Toronto with some surprise discovering that one in five jobs within the city is now what we call distant or home work and so forth. So the whole workplace is changing.
The intent of the minister in terms of Bill 49 is to begin to find ways to extend protection to workers who are not just in the traditional field, but beyond. There lies some of the debate about what some perceive as the minimum standards themselves may be negotiated to meet local needs. It may be geographic. The north's needs are far different than the needs perhaps in the large metropolitan area of Toronto. Does that at least seem reasonable as an approach? We may bandy about what this line is, but at least beginning to recognize that there are some changing circumstances in the workplace, is that something we should recognize?
Mr Bouliane: There are certainly changes within the workplace, but we do not believe that any of what we accept presently as minimum standards should be up for negotiation as a package.
Mr Shea: So a worker in, say, Algoma on the floor is the same as the worker in a home.
Mr Bouliane: They should have basically the same right to those minimum standards.
Mr Shea: Whatever they are.
Mr Bouliane: Whatever they are. Now --
The Chair: Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. Thank you, Mr Shea.
Mr Shea: I was just going to send a message on to his pastor, as well, about authority, but I'll do that privately.
Mr Hoy: Good morning. I appreciated your presentation. You did speak about the two-week period where people could decide on a course of action. In all cases we hear that the employer, and most certainly the employee, wants to see a remedy come quickly, even the presentation just prior to you where you wait 11 months, I guess it was. Do you have an opinion on, if it isn't two weeks, what it should perhaps be?
Mr Bouliane: That would have to be examined but I certainly think in some instances that I've read about that people who are unfamiliar with the system, two weeks is not a reasonable amount of time, especially when you're dealing with people who are recent immigrants or from ethnic groups that don't really have a lot of exposure to what they're entitled to as far as the law is concerned.
Mr Hoy: In one part of the act as it regards appeals, the government proposes to change the decision-making time from 15 days to 45. So in this particular case, do you have an opinion that maybe 30 days to decide would be adequate?
Mr Bouliane: From my point of view, obviously you need a reasonable amount of time to reconsider your position. If you're considering an appeal or if you're considering, in the case of an employer, paying whatever fine you've been assessed, 45 days, as the government has indicated, might be an appropriate length of time. There again, that would be open to discussion.
Mr Hoy: In that this bill is before us now, it'll be open for discussion, and then the time lines are that this is going to close, one would think -- unless the minister changes her mind about certain aspects -- relatively soon.
You talk about privatizing and society, as well, at the beginning of your presentation. Some day, not soon but historically, someone is going to look back on past governments and how they treated society, and what we see here is the government saying -- or, at least, from my view what the government is saying here, "We think society should be able to handle these problems themselves," this being the employer-employee aspect of this act, "and we rather like the idea that we can just back off quite a fair distance from this." One good example is collections and the idea that they are going to have others go out and try to achieve to bring in more dollars for employees than presently is the case.
We had a presentation yesterday that the fees for that private collection were approximately, if my memory's correct, 25% to 40% of the actual dollars in question. So the fee could be as high as 40% of a $100 claim. It seems that there's quite a downloading here to someone, and quite often, the employee. So I think this government and others will be judged on how they treat society and how they download or abdicate their responsibilities as it applies to all of us.
The government often says, "Well, in many cases, the employer has no money." But they have to recognize at the same time, and try to balance this whole question with the opening fact, which is that the employee has no money either, so I appreciated your comments this morning.
Mr Christopherson: Ron, thank you for your presentation. I appreciate your coming here today. I think it's interesting that you started your comments with some discussions that happened in your church. One of the things that we're seeing more and more is a lot of church leaders from different faiths speaking out, which they don't do lightly, about this government's agenda and what it does to the most vulnerable and the poorest people in our society. I think that's a strong indicator of just what kind of agenda we're seeing at play here with the Common Sense Revolution.
I probably speak for a lot of your members and a lot of other workers when I suggest how offensive it is for the government to ask questions about the federal government's responsibility to workers in a bankruptcy when they gutted the wage protection plan which we brought in. It was the first one that gave workers somewhere to go to recoup wages and vacation money they were owed when there was a bankruptcy. They slashed that from $5,000 to $2,000. They did it in their Bill 7, which of course was a bill that not only legalized scabs, but they did it in a way that didn't even involve any public hearings, and I find that quite offensive.
Also, to talk about the most vulnerable and their care and concern about the most vulnerable -- one of the first things they did was slash the income of the poorest people in Ontario by 22%. I think it's just hypocrisy to the highest degree.
I want to talk to you a bit about the issue of the concession bargaining and what you see happening there. The minister has said she's deferring that for now, but clearly it's still there on the agenda. The government would have you believe it's a question of flexibility and making things easier to accommodate the needs of the various parties, and yet I would suggest to you the reality is that with scabs now legal again in the province of Ontario, the ability to move capital so quickly anywhere in the world, the constant threat of relocating jobs if a contract isn't to the pleasure of an employer and with an employer-friendly government that clearly is not going to stand behind the workers in any situation where they're under a threat, we could see collective agreements foisted upon unions, particularly smaller ones, isolated ones, maybe weaker unions, that include overtime provisions that not only affect the quality of life of workers but the health and safety. In fact, we've had some of your colleagues from your union speak to us about that in other parts of Ontario.
Would you just elaborate on how you see that might affect workers here in the Sault in your union?
Mr Bouliane: For the Steelworkers Local 2251, we have a different type of system. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the restructuring that we went through over the previous five years. We have protections embedded within the system that guarantee us basically a right to sit at the table where the decisions are made. We really don't have a great deal of fear about something being slipped by. For smaller locals, it becomes a somewhat more delicate issue, because they have not got the resources nor do they have the ability to sit in the boardroom where many of these decisions that you're referring to are made.
It's our belief that when you develop minimum standards, those are non-negotiable. Those are the least that society should accept from an employer and an employee, and it's incumbent on both the employers and the employees to see that these standards are met. That refers also back to health and safety. I'm sure you know well the Steelworkers' involvement with health and safety issues over the past number of years, and it's not by accident that they do get involved in that, because we have learned over many, many years that if we don't get involved with developing programs, then the employer certainly won't.
Mr Christopherson: One of the things the government said about the second round of the overall review over the next year of the Employment Standards Act is that the workers of Ontario ought to have faith that this government will protect their rights in this year-long review. In light of the fact that, again, scabs are now legal in the province of Ontario and the resulting violence that can happen as a result of that, the attack on WCB, the shutting down of the Workplace Health and Safety Agency, the bringing in of forced labour under workfare, just how much faith do you have that this government really plans to give more protection to workers during this year-long review?
Mr Bouliane: You're kind of putting me on the spot, but I have to honestly say that I have not really that much faith in the ability or the desire of the present government to protect the rights and needs of the working people of this province.
Mr Christopherson: Thanks a lot, Ron.
The Chair: Thank you for taking the time to come and appear before us today. We appreciate it.
The Chair: That now leads us to the Injured Workers Advocates of Sault Ste Marie. Good morning.
Mr Del Vandette: Mr Chairman, members of the employment standards committee, it's an honour to be present here today to voice my personal opinion regarding the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act. I'm quite certain that those have preceded me as well as those who will follow me were and will be quite eloquent and thought-provoking with their words.
I do not come before you today with reams of sophisticated research or opinion polls. These you are already privy to. I also do not come here before you with great words of wisdom, professing to have the cure-all to the labour problems and unrest afflicting our great nation. I do not have the ultimate answers we are all seemingly desperate to lay hold of.
What I do have are some words that I truly hope and pray you will receive with open ears and hearts. When our great country was first opened and settled upon, it was done so by men and women with courage, dreams and vision. It was not the industrial corporations, banking institutions, paved roads or fancy high-rise buildings that made our country what it is. It was people, men, women and, yes, even children working alongside their parents. They were the ones responsible for the beautiful land we enjoy today. They were for the most part down-to-earth, commonsense people. They struggled, sacrificed and built for the benefit of all and for the future.
It was also these same kinds of men, women and children who by the thousands fought and died for our rights and freedoms. These individuals made the ultimate sacrifice for our sakes, that we should enjoy freedom from tyranny, oppression and dictatorship. They gave their all that we might have the freedoms we enjoy today: freedom to choose our government and representatives, freedom of speech, religion, thought and so much more, things that we merely take for granted, giving no thought to the supreme price paid for our way of life.
These people knew from experience that hardship could and would revert man back to the brink of savagery, both in the means he uses to get his food and the lengths he will go to get it. They saw through experience that change is an irrevocable law, that the world could not and would not remain static. They and future generations saw that to survive and work as a nation, there had to be compromise and neutrality, a place where cultures, ideas, religions and people could work and live in harmony with each other, but those changes had to be positive.
Many of those men and women who first opened up our great country became quite prosperous through their own blood, sweat and tears, yet among these hardworking individuals came those who wanted nothing more than to profit by the blood, sweat and tears of others. They did not hesitate to engage in the use of slave labour, which included children, to get what they wanted. They gave no thought whatever to the health, safety or wellbeing of their vassals. Slavery, bondage and the use of child labour are still prevalent in many parts of the world today, as we are all well aware.
As time went on, these tyrants were looked down upon by most of the civilized world. Slavery became unpopular. Through time, dotted by wars and unrest, governments were pressured into enacting laws to protect the rights, health and safety of these working men and women. Laws relating to workplace health and safety, compensation to workers injured on the job, hours of work, overtime, pollution, stress, wages, all these and more were created as strict guidelines aimed at protecting workers from the unscrupulous corporations, individuals and businesses who could not or would not accept less than excessively large profits from the skills and labour of others.
It is advantageous to all when someone takes it upon themselves to become an entrepreneur, but when exorbitant profits are made to the detriment of society, it is the responsibility of our representatives in government and labour to step forward and protect society from those who do so without shame or concern for the rights, health and safety of others. Profit is good, it can help to build and strengthen our way of life, but it can also destroy lives.
A famous writer once penned this statement: "There is no greater honour than for an individual to assist in the governing of the people, yet there is none lower than the individual who betrays that trust." When business people use some of their exorbitant profits in an attempt to influence government representatives to lessen or eliminate the laws protecting society and labour from their irresponsible actions, they are dishonouring and placing themselves among the lowest forms of life there are in existence. The same fact holds true for labour. When the labour movement attempts to influence our government representatives to enact or create laws which make it excessively difficult or impossible for business to operate or realize some profit, then it too lowers itself.
When the people go to the polls on election day, they elect and place their trust and hopes in representatives who promise to represent their best interests and the best interests of the nation as a whole, not just a select few. Those who worked hard in these election campaigns were not forced to do so. Those individuals who sought these political positions did so of their own free will, promising to represent their constituents to the very best of their ability. When these individuals gain their positions in government, they are compelled by moral and legal obligation to represent the best interests of all of society, not just the influential or wealthy who made large contributions to their election campaigns or political party. They are supposed to represent all the people, not just those who can best afford it.
As a worker injured on the job, I have experienced personally the degradation, frustration and sometimes overwhelming bureaucracy involved in dealing with business and government representation. As a reward for being injured, I was fired. Now not only am I forced to remain a cripple, enduring chronic pain and even further injuries resulting from complications to my original injury, I am bombarded with an almost daily dose of accusations of failure to provide obligatory paperwork which the system required yesterday. Even though I am expeditious in all that is required of me, I am made to feel degraded and have been treated as though I am a burden to the system which was put in place to represent and protect me.
I know from experience all about deep depression brought about by frustration and unbearable pain. I know through experience the terrible frustration encountered in dealing with seemingly uncaring adjudicators. I know from experience the torment and overwhelming frustration of trying to get someone to listen to reason. There have been many, many occasions when the pain and depression have caused me to consider committing suicide. Through deregulation, biased laws and improper or neglectful representation, suicide may become the most favourable option for all of those in my situation.
Our people do not need a lessening or deregulation of labour standards. We do not need regression; we need progression. We need enforcement and respect for those laws set in place to protect society, laws and standards which already exist, laws that were given objective thought to, laws that were meant to allow freedom and protection for all people, not just a select few.
It is openly obvious to anyone with the gifts of sight, sound and thought that our labour standards and laws are being stripped and rewritten to such an extent that our society is being propelled backwards to the time of forced labour, slavery and even use of child labour. Shame, decency and morality have been replaced by the profit margin. Laws, regulations and guidelines which were set in place to protect all of the people of our great nation are being scrapped and are being replaced by rights and freedoms to only the most influential and wealthy.
This process of elimination and bias is beneath the contempt of any supposed free society. Government, business and labour can and must work together in harmony in an attempt to stop the insanity overtaking our society. We must all work together towards some neutral compromise which will benefit all of society. Workfare over job creation is not the answer. Exorbitant profits over the welfare of all Canadians is not the answer and must be stopped.
We have all been aware for some time now that we are slowly but most assuredly losing our health care system. Our hospitals are overadministered and dangerously understaffed. Through cutbacks and downsizing, our health care system is reaching dangerous lows. Health care is being compromised by the ever-present huge profit margin. It seems that when inflated profit margins are not attained, cutbacks in staffing and patient care suffers while upper administration remains intact. This I have seen with my own eyes and have had painful experiences because of these cutbacks.
Our education system is also not immune from the profit-making disease. Not only are our children going to suffer from this, we as adults who may decide to return to the educational system some day will also feel the dreaded effects of the terrible profit-only disease. Because of some of the thoughtless laws and restrictions placed on the rights of parents to discipline their children, these children now show little if any respect for their parents, authority or themselves.
It should be obvious that this attitude and disrespect will be carried with them throughout their lives and will be spread like any dreaded disease. These children will grow up with total disregard for the rights or wellbeing of others. If by some miracle of chance they do complete their education, they will carry this self-serving attitude into their respected futures, perhaps as business people or into government, caring nothing for anyone but themselves, may God help us.
Each of us has been placed on this earth for but a short time. Each of us is given the responsibility of making it a better place for future generations. Time is not ours to keep, it is only borrowed. Can we state in truth that we have done our very best to make this earth, our nation or even our neighbourhood a better place for our being here?
It is an undisputed fact that not one single one of us will leave this earth with even one material possession. It is a fact, whether we wish to believe it or not, that each of us will stand before the judgement throne of God, where we will be individually judged and held accountable for our thoughts and deeds here on earth. Will we be rewarded by eternal peace and joy or will we be committed to an eternity of pain and suffering such as no one could imagine?
Government has been given the trust and responsibility of representing all of the people, not just a select segment of our society. Those individuals who choose to shirk or take their responsibility lightly will pay a very heavy price in turn. Government, business and labour must work together to stop the present course towards strife and destruction. Each is given the responsibility to work towards a common solution which will best represent and serve Canadians as a whole, not just the chosen few.
If this cannot be accomplished, if we refuse to even try to compromise and find a neutrality beneficial to all, we can and will all be held responsible for the possibility of civil war and the anarchy which follows. We will be forced to revert to a Stone Age attitude where each individual will feel responsible only to himself, will only care for his own personal wellbeing. If you think this is a joke or couldn't possibly happen here, think again and take a good long look at what is happening and has happened in other parts of the world. We can and we must make the effort to work together and it must be started by those who campaigned for government office with their promises of representation for all, whom we have honoured and placed our faith and trust in. Failure is not an option.
When our MPs step forward with the courage to represent us, they should not be chastised or dismissed from office. This is not part of the democratic process which I have been brought up to trust and believe in, nor do I recall, in over 30 years of casting my ballot, voting for a tyrannical, dictatorial style of government. Those representing the wishes of the people should not be degraded or humiliated by the leaders of their respective political parties for acting in a responsible manner. They should not be compelled to feel obligated to condone what they feel are irresponsible actions by their political leaders or unscrupulous influential business leaders.
Government, business and labour are together given the burden and responsibility of moulding and binding our nation together, not the freedom to do everything in their respective powers to divide it, as it now seems they are doing. This is treason, pure and simple, and must not be allowed to proceed. If this responsibility is too great a burden for any of those to whom it is given, each should pray to God for the moral decency and courage to vacate their position and allow someone to replace them who does have the courage and fortitude to represent the good of the whole of our country.
With responsible and trustworthy leadership, we can be the greatest nation on the face of the earth and not just the wannabes that we now are. Working together as a responsible, caring nation, we can all hold our heads high and be proud to be Canadian and free. We cannot, we must not, accept or tolerate division of our country. Though we do have, and no doubt always will have, differences of personal opinion, we must strive to find the common ground on which to stand and rebuild that which has so thoughtlessly been destroyed in our country and our moral makeup.
Business does have the right to expect to be able to realize some profits from their respective businesses. With this, they are obligated to pay a fair and equitable wage to those they employ. They are also obligated to use every means at their disposal to ensure a healthy, safe and care-free environment to their employees and to ensure them of adequate compensation should they be unfortunate enough to be injured on the job.
Labour has the right to expect reasonable pay for performance of labour. Payment should be consistent with the type of labour involved. With this, labour is under the obligation to work for the employer to the best of his or her ability. They must ensure that their work is of the highest quality they can produce and must strive to assist in every way their respective employers that they might achieve a reasonable profit margin.
It is the responsibility of the government to do all in its power to maintain the spirit of cooperation between business and labour. Tyranny and dictatorship cannot, must not and will not be acceptable in our supposed democratic society. Division can only breed strife, hardship and all the other atrocities we witness from other countries. We must unite together as a complete nation working towards a common goal, namely, the preservation of our country, meeting the needs of all of the people, and ensuring that everyone has the right to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Together we can do it; divided we will fail miserably.
The Chair: Thank you. That leaves us three and a half minutes per caucus, and this time the questioning will commence with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Good morning. Thank you for your presentation. You discussed a great many things this morning and I want to touch on at least one. You talked about work and some historical points to it. I think we have to remember a great many things as we look at legislation. I can recall the stories told to me by my uncles who dearly wanted to work and during the Depression rode to the western provinces looking for that very work. People want to be employed and they will go to great lengths to find work. Sadly, at that time the people from the west were coming to Ontario looking for the work they thought was here; people were passing each other in the night, and in the daytime, and there wasn't any work in either area. That's Depression time. Since then, we've developed a safety net where hopefully we can help the people under certain employment conditions.
We move to today where we do have certain safety nets in place. I'm meeting people who want to work, there's no doubt about it, but they want meaningful work. Maybe in the short term they would accept some work that is not of their choosing, we'll say, but most of them want to work and they want meaningful work that would be the type of work they'd be proud to put down on a résumé when they actually get to the place they do want to work, presumably for many, many years. I think that's something we have to remember. These people are looking for work they would be proud enough to put on their résumé as they move forward. I'm not going to pick on any particular type of work that they might not choose to do because, admittedly, there are people doing that now who have done it all their lives and are proud of what they do.
I appreciate your comments. You made comments in a great number of areas, and for all of us here they were very good reminders.
Mr Vandette: Thank you, sir.
Mr Martin: Thank you very much for coming today and challenging us in the way you have. It helps us put some context around the legislation we have in front of us and the whole agenda of this government, because if we don't put it into context it's difficult to see how it all fits and how it ultimately affects people. Certainly we are at a time in our province, in our country, when some courageous leadership is required, is called for.
We're entering a new millennium, and as you suggested in your presentation, the leaders who brought Canada to fruition at its birth were people of courage who were willing and able to dream and had a vision as to what Canada would be like. I'm sure then, as today, they recognized that the greatest resource we have -- and this province is rich in resources -- are the people who live and work and choose to make Ontario home. Anything we do has to be held up to that screen: How does it affect people, particularly those people who are the base, the root of all the communities in which we choose to live and stay from one generation to the next, and contribute with their skill and ability and with the education they acquire?
I suggest to you that this piece of legislation is not about that. This piece of legislation is about giving an edge, cutting off a corner for what's often referred to as bad bosses out there, people who would take advantage of good people, who would want standards lowered so they can even take advantage of their competition. We know there are lots of good bosses out there. There are lots of workplaces where workers are respected and educated and treated, in terms of health and safety, with the best that's available in education. What this legislation does in effect is create a situation where they also will be under great stress to compete and to maintain the standards they have put in place for themselves, which in most cases are above and beyond what's in law and legislation.
I really would like to believe some of what I heard from the members across the way here by way of what they think this legislation is about, because they do say some things that make a lot of sense from time to time. Protecting those who are most vulnerable -- that's what we're all about and that's what this should be about. But their track record so far belies that. It doesn't support that that is what they're about.
When I woke up last year in July to the news that they had taken 22% out of the income of the most vulnerable and the poor in this province and in this community, I was shocked. I knew they said they were going to do it -- it was in the Common Sense Revolution and they talked about it during the election -- but the fact that they really did it, I have to say, was a shock. It removed effectively $2 million per month out of the economy of this community, and since then they've laid off health workers and social workers and teachers, people who have spent most of their lives investing in the knowledge they have and their ability to do the job well, and a base of worker we need, as everybody knows in this community, to maintain a civilized society, to take care of each other. The health care system you mentioned, and we know what's happening to that.
I suggest to you that this government should be using the scarce resources -- and we heard Mr Shea on a couple of occasions this morning talk about the scarce resources -- in more appropriate ways to help people rather than introducing legislation such as we have before us today. I suggest that they should get on with the promise they made in the election to create 750,000 new jobs, because if you give people jobs you help people help themselves and you help communities. Unless they can show me that they are sincere about trying to help workers with this legislation, I suggest that they withdraw this legislation and get on with the more important work of creating work for people and improving the economy.
My question for you as an injured worker is, if you could suggest to the government what's more important, maybe continuing with this legislation and improving the standards or something else, what would you suggest?
Mr Vandette: As you just mentioned, people working for someone have the right to expect a reasonable wage. Why should I, if I'm working and paying taxes -- I have representatives in government -- have to go and hire a cotton-picking lawyer, a high-priced lawyer, to get wages I've earned? I have a right to expect those wages. I have a right to expect health care that I'm paying for. Why should I have to do anything like that? Yet regulations that were set in place to protect my rights, to protect my wages, to protect my right to live, are being taken away. They're downgraded. I'm being cut up a little bit at a time into something less than you'd find on a street corner.
Mr Martin: I suspect you don't think this piece of legislation is going help you achieve that.
Mr Vandette: It's not going to help anything. If you can't enforce what already is here, how are you going to enforce something that's only half as strong?
Mr O'Toole: I have to start by apologizing. I didn't catch your name at the beginning.
Mr Vandette: My name is Del Vandette.
Mr O'Toole: I'm very pleased, Del, to hear your very sensitive historic overview of not only Ontario but indeed Canada, perhaps the world. If we look to our foundations, as you said, perhaps the founder of Canada, John A. Macdonald, was most notably known for being an artful politician, which he described as "the art of compromise." Do you agree that that's what politics is really, trying to find that balance?
Mr Vandette: That's life; it's not just politics.
Mr O'Toole: And I espouse that same view myself. You're always trying to move from the extremes of individual freedom to collective slavery, dictatorship. That's the balance. You're trying to find where the individual's rights and entitlements begin and where my enslavement through taxes ends.
You talked briefly about the profit disease and you made broad reference to the public sector in that, that health care is under threat. Federally, it's been a debate; it's on the front page of the paper this morning. On education, you talked about our children being less than up to the challenges, as I heard you say it. You don't have much confidence in today's generation.
Mr Vandette: No, I don't.
Mr O'Toole: Would that be indicative that perhaps the educational system needs some significant repair? That's what I take from your message.
Mr Vandette: I just came out of two years of returning back to the educational system. I completed my high school education, which I'm proud of.
Mr O'Toole: Good for you.
Mr Vandette: In working with and around the young people at the school, there's absolutely no respect for the adults, for the teachers, for themselves, for their friends.
Mr O'Toole: When you used the term "God help us," which I feel was kind of a plea, a sort of yearning for better times -- again that's the balance you want. Individuals have responsibilities. Society's not responsible individually. Those children have duties, and with rights go responsibility. It's a balance.
Mr Vandette: It is.
Mr O'Toole: I don't think Big Brother or the government should solve all problems. Individuals, those most vulnerable, we have a duty to protect. We have a duty as a government to the minimum standards, not only in pay equity, employment equity, employment standards. We have a duty. I think many of the unions, in your collective agreements, enshrine those rights and responsibilities within the language of those particular workplaces, and I think the individual workplace far exceeds the provincial workplace. It's unique to each workplace. Algoma Steel is a perfect example where the union and the leadership of both management and union restructured and took over a company that was otherwise failing. That's the responsibility and that's the balance we're talking about.
You basically recounted being mistreated by the current system -- that's what I heard you say -- that you felt betrayed and almost suicidal at certain points through your last five or 10 years. It has been a tough five or 10 years. I'd have to agree with you. I think there are good bosses and bad bosses, good employees and bad employees, and you're always looking for that arbitrated fair balance. That's what this legislation is about. It's trying to focus the resources. If you look -- and I could give you statistics either now or after the meeting, if you'd like to discuss it -- do you think the current system is working when it's only paying 25 cents on the dollar owed to that particular employee who's already worked and is only getting 25 cents out of the dollar? Don't you think we, as a government, have a responsibility? You used the term "no greater honour than to serve," and that's exactly what my motive is, is to focus the resources where they're most needed. When I see legislation that's only paying 25% on the dollar, I'd say that system needs an examination.
It's people like yourself who are calling on us as a government to take those tough decisions and make the system respond to the people who most need the help. Injured workers are probably the top of the list. Those very large international unions are well positioned to take care of themselves, wouldn't you agree, to a large extent?
Mr Vandette: Somewhat, yes.
Mr O'Toole: I'm pleased with your presentation. It's very sensitive. You looked at the history from where we were to where we are and what can we do to improve to the future. I really appreciate your coming forward this morning, and I saw you listening there all morning as well.
Mr Vandette: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Vandette. We appreciate your time to make a presentation before us here today.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 16
The Chair: That leads us now to another group that's accommodated a change in schedule. We had a cancellation this morning, and we appreciate the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 16 altering their spot in the agenda and helping us flesh out the morning. Good morning to you both. Just as a reminder, we have 30 minutes for you to divide as you see fit between either presentation time or question-and-answer period.
Ms Della Case: Mr Chairperson, honourable members, my name is Della Case. I'm the group vice-president of our plant department, CUPE Local 16. I'm presenting on behalf of Lynda McFarling. She's currently employed in a unionized workplace and is also the recording secretary of CUPE Local 16.
First of all, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to do this presentation today. This is a short presentation, as you can see, and it's on a personal note. After the presentation, Lynda and I will try to answer any questions you may have regarding her personal story.
This true story involves a violation of the Employment Standards Act by Lynda's former employer. In approximately 1986, Lynda commenced employment with a non-unionized workplace. The establishment, which is this Ramada Inn, was and is still owned by Tony Ruscio. Within a period of four and a half years, Lynda held the position of banquet waitress, then she was promoted to hostess and finally to a more responsible position of assistant manager of catering, which included duty managing. During this time, Lynda felt confident and secure in her position.
In the spring of 1991, Lynda went to work at 9 in the morning and worked until approximately 2 in the morning the following day. These long hours were not unusual, as she had worked this and longer hours on previous occasions. At approximately 11:30 that night she was approached by Tony Ruscio and was informed that she was not to report to work the next day as she was being laid off due to downsizing. The following day the manager of catering called Lynda to request her assistance as a favour to him to help prepare the payroll for the banquet department. Being a cooperative person, she said would, even knowing she was laid off by Mr Ruscio.
Within a couple of days of being laid off, Lynda reported the incident to the department of labour, as she wondered what recourse she had. The department of labour indicated that Mr Ruscio had violated the Employment Standards Act because he had not given her proper notice -- clause 40(d), four weeks' notice, and clause 40(7)(a). They informed her that Mr Ruscio had a required number of weeks to recall her or pay her severance pay. If he did not comply within the required time, then she was to return to them and file a formal complaint. He did not comply.
Once the complaint was filed, the labour board contacted Mr Ruscio and informed him that he had to pay Lynda four and a half weeks' severance pay. Following this, Mr Ruscio had his manager of catering call Lynda to see if he could cut a deal. He asked her if she could accept two weeks' severance pay instead of her entitled four and a half weeks, as times were hard. Lynda replied negatively to the lesser amount as she knew what she was entitled to under the employment standards, which she did receive at a later date. Shortly after refusing the lesser amount from Mr Ruscio, Lynda became victimized, as she was told she could no longer set foot on Mr Ruscio's property, which meant she could no longer have coffee or lunch with her former co-workers.
This story is one of many examples of why the employment standards laws are so important to preserve. Without these laws, employees will be constantly subjected to uncaring employers, with no recourse. This does not make for a fair and equal society to live in. We hope you are listening to all our concerns as they will affect the dignity and the future of all working people, which belongs to our children and our grandchildren.
The Acting Chair (Mr Ted Chudleigh): Thank you very much. That leaves us with about 25 minutes or about eight minutes per caucus, and we start with the third party.
Mr Martin: I appreciate how difficult it is to come before a group such as us, even to present a formal presentation that deals with some of the more technical aspects of bills etc, but to come and tell a personal story has to be even more difficult. For you to come today and to share this with us I think is an act of courage. But it's not a surprise or unexpected, because there are a lot of courageous, hardworking, caring and hurting individuals out there who have been caught in the machinations of the system and not dealt with in a fair and kind and respectful manner.
It's good that this committee hears stories such as yours, because then we're able to put a face on how legislation already in place is working, or not working, and out of that perhaps we can begin to decide what it is we can do to make it better. We want to do everything we can to improve legislation so it helps people. We had a story earlier this morning from a gentleman who came forward and told a story, and it was equally as helpful as yours.
Is your gut feeling -- the story you told was on a very personal level -- having looked at this bill, having prepared to be here this morning and perhaps having talked to some folks about it, that it is going to be helpful or unhelpful in light of your experience and perhaps the experience of others out there who may find themselves in the same boat as you?
Ms Lynda McFarling: I don't believe it's going to be helpful. I'm not exactly sure of everything in the bill, I'll have to admit that, but if it wasn't there for me when I -- that was how many years ago, four or five years ago. Maybe because I grew up in a union family, I knew I had some rights because I was taught it all my life. But there are people out there who may not know their rights, and if they're not given the employment standards, people are going to lose. "Well, go to court" -- trust me, a single mother with two children cannot afford to go to court and pay her legal fees. If employment standards hadn't been there to help me, I guess Mr Ruscio would have won and I would have been out four and a half weeks' wages.
Mr Martin: You certainly make a good point that's specific to the bill. With the fact that we're going to lose the resource of that employment standards office in many substantial ways, you would be forced to either fall back on the resources of your union or your own resources. I mentioned earlier this morning that two thirds to three quarters of the working population in Ontario today are not unionized, so it falls back on their --
Ms McFarling: See, that's the thing. When I worked at Ramada Inn, it was non-unionized. I believe now there is a union in here finally, which I think is great, but then I didn't have a union to fall back on. I knew where to go because of my family background, hearing it and knowing about some labour law because my father was very involved. I knew I could go to the labour board or the employment standards office and find out what was going on, but probably the person next to me who worked here wouldn't have known that.
Mr Christopherson: I also want to thank you for coming forward and sharing your personal story. I accept that you're not suggesting that you're here as an expert on Bill 49 but merely someone who has experienced a real-life situation under the Employment Standards Act and wanted to share that with us, and I accept that context of your presentation.
I'd be interested to hear your reaction, though -- you're now active in the labour movement and have some sense of not only what your rights are but how government works and how it doesn't work etc. Part of the impact of Bill 49 will be to allow the government, because there will be fewer rights enforced under the Employment Standards Act, to lay off at least 45 employment standards officers. From a commonsense point of view -- a phrase we hear a lot these days -- do you think having 45 fewer employment standards officers will make for greater or less protection for the most vulnerable workers who need to rely on the Employment Standards Act to have their rights enforced?
Ms McFarling: Less, far less protection. It's just ridiculous. I am lucky because I have a union to help me now, but for anybody out there who doesn't, not to have anybody here in Sault Ste Marie -- even if they even take them out of Sault Ste Marie and say, "Oh, we'll put them in North Bay or Sudbury," how are we going to access them?
Mr Christopherson: What we're attempting to point out with these hearings is that this all fits. By removing rights from the law and downloading the enforcement of whatever is left as much as possible down to the unions or to force people to go into the courts, this government doesn't have to employ as many employment standards officers; therefore they can find the $40 million that they're taking out of the Ministry of Labour which goes towards paying that ministry's share of the 30% tax cut, which of course is benefiting the most wealthy. All of this fits together.
The losers in all of it -- and we've seen it without doubt in every community we've been in, in terms of the overwhelming response -- the real losers in this are the workers who no longer have their rights enforced, and the real winners are the ones who already have the power and the influence, who will have greater influence and power and at the end of the day will have more money because they'll benefit most from the 30% tax cut.
By bringing forward your story, I think you've helped other Ontarians understand exactly what's at play here. By allowing everyone to comment on the whole game plan, we're able to see that this is not an isolated bill in terms of taking away rights; it's a calculated agenda that at the end of the day leaves those who have little much worse off. In fact, one person, a labour leader -- it's a great quote -- said it's like Hood Robin: You rob from the poor and legislate for the rich. I want to thank you very much for coming forward today.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much for your particular incident report. Just to clarify a few details, I'd appreciate that, you started, I gather, Lynda, in 1986 with Ramada?
Ms McFarling: Approximately, yes.
Mr O'Toole: It was new at that time, probably. Were you full-time or part-time?
Ms McFarling: Full-time.
Mr O'Toole: You were full-time right through till 1991. At that time, there was no representation; you were sort of on your own. As I understand the recounted story, you moved through a number of progressively more senior positions. Was there any particular reason? Were they actually downsizing the organization? Were there other people involved in this?
Ms McFarling: Yes, a couple of porters, maybe, got laid off.
Mr O'Toole: Was it done on a seniority basis?
Ms McFarling: No.
Mr O'Toole: No? I think you're right. We have to look at the workplace, each individual workplace, whether it's unionized or not. I think those duties follow. Would you classify them as a good employer or bad employer overall?
Ms McFarling: Overall?
Mr O'Toole: Yes. You stayed there five years.
Ms McFarling: I know I stayed there for five years. More or less because I needed a job, I stayed for five years. I had certain bosses that I really liked working for, and then there were others.
Mr O'Toole: Trying to separate the two situations, in those five years were you paid the appropriate amount of money for the work performed?
Ms McFarling: Yes, until they put me on salary.
Mr O'Toole: So I guess there was an infraction at the end on the severance disagreement thing. I'm trying to understand it.
Ms McFarling: I would say yes.
Mr O'Toole: That was the claim, was it?
Ms McFarling: Well, he wouldn't pay it. Yes, that was the claim.
Mr O'Toole: But he tried to make a deal of some settlement.
Ms McFarling: Times were hard. He knew times were hard for me because I was single, two children.
Mr O'Toole: I'm glad that you were able to get help. I think that the Employment Standards Act isn't being diminished. If you look at the time limit, for example, from two years to six months, what that's trying to do is -- people like yourself in different sectors of the economy, home work, whatever -- bring those cases forward more quickly to not allow an employer to take advantage of not just you but a whole string of employees over a two-year pipeline, to bring the issues forward more quickly and bring prosecution more quickly and focus resources.
Phase two is that once you have that judgement on that particular employer, you can spend your time on the collections, which is currently in disarray, it's failing, it actually isn't helping the people. It's fine to get the judgement against the particular employer, but really we're not collecting the judgements, and we're really, I believe, focusing the resources. I ask you if you think that's the right thing to be doing, not from a political kind of perspective. We really want to fix this for the right reasons. Your story being the one we're discussing, don't you think that getting to the issue quicker is important?
Ms McFarling: I got to the issue quickly, though. I just don't think it's right to put limitations on it. I knew what my rights were, but if somebody came along and told me a story and I said, "Jeez, you could have gone to the employment standards about that," and then they would say, "Oh, yeah, but it was like seven months ago" -- too bad.
Mr O'Toole: These public hearings are part of that education process, which have a duty to do.
Ms McFarling: Exactly, and I know people are supposed to know what their rights are, but not everybody does.
Mr O'Toole: It's difficult. A lot of people watch television. But anyway, thank you very much.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate your coming. When you went through the process, I think it was in 1991, did you eventually get the four and a half weeks that were coming?
Ms McFarling: Yes, definitely.
Mr Baird: Terrific. I guess you're a very small minority, not only to get something back but to get the entire amount back. We're only collecting 25 cents on the dollar now, and that was the same under the last government or two. Even then the last government, this government, governments of all parties, because of bankruptcies, insolvencies and so forth, have had to ask workers to settle for less than that. So to receive 100% is -- I hate to use the word "fortunate," but with the way the current rules are, it is. We want to try to improve that situation.
Even once someone knows about the act, complains, it's investigated and an order is issued the collection has been a big part of the problem. We know the previous government disbanded the entire collections unit, 100% cut, discharged all the employees there and just said, "Listen, the existing employment standards officers can take care of it," with no plan for training, absolutely nothing. I guess that's part of our plan, to bring in professionals who go after what I would call these deadbeat companies which aren't accepting the responsibility to treat their workers fairly. I know that's a concern for us. Our view is that we can't tinker with it, we've got to ensure that we can deliver on it, and just changing the status quo won't work.
We heard from one union leader yesterday who said he has a 100% collection rate. He is able to collect 100% because under his collective agreement there are mechanisms for him to get it. He delivers 100% for his workers, and I was pleased to note that.
We heard from one individual this morning who, like you, gave a very personal story that was good. This fellow was from Algoma Steel, I believe, and he said, "The large unions are capable of taking care of their members." I know the Steelworkers, a very well-respected union, do a terrific job for their members. It's part of our priority to say, "Listen, where there is a unionized environment" -- as you mentioned, where you are now in a union, CUPE is the biggest union in the country and very well respected. My father was a member for more than 25 years. If they've got the defender -- we're getting very few requests from Employment Standards Act violations there. Let those advocates -- one presenter said yesterday they're the best ones; they're on the ground and they know the situation to free up the resources to help those workers who are most vulnerable and might not even be in a position to know about the act. That's something we've heard from around the province, in what ways we can help communicate better what the standards are, not to employers so much but to the workers themselves because they'll be the best defenders of their own rights.
Thank you very much for your presentation. We really appreciate it.
Mr Duncan: Thank you for your presentation. Oftentimes a vivid example of what can go wrong in a system is a good reminder to those who write public policy about what is good and what is bad in the system.
I just want to address a couple of issues and perhaps ask your opinion. Just to reinforce, you had indicated it is your view that these amendments proposed by the government reduce minimum standards. Is that correct?
Ms McFarling: I'm not sure of the act. As far as I'm concerned, if they're going to take away some of the rights from employment standards, then yes.
Mr Duncan: So your concern is that despite what the members of the government have said, this won't make it easier for somebody who was in your position; it'll make it more difficult.
Ms McFarling: I think it's going to make it more difficult and more expensive. I don't believe what the government is saying, that this is all they're going to do. They're liable to start tearing more of it apart. I think it may be improved on but not made less.
Mr Duncan: You're a CUPE recording secretary for the local, so you've been in a non-union environment and now you're obviously working in a unionized environment with that protection. It would be our observation that this statute, the Employment Standards Act and the amendments proposed to it, is much more important from the perspective of an unorganized worker who does not have the backing of a union. Would that be your view as well, having been in both?
Ms McFarling: Because we have protection, I think yes. It's for people who don't have unions to back them and people who don't understand. I'm not that knowledgeable on the bill anyway, but people who don't have protection need it.
Mr Duncan: It would be our view that they are the people we are most concerned with. I think we need to address a couple of things. There were statements made by the gentleman from the injured workers' group, Del, and just now. First of all this government -- I think the term used was "trying to find a balance" -- has effectively gutted pay equity, made it more difficult for the unorganized to organize, reduced health and safety and cut funding for the enforcement of health and safety and employment standards.
They've been sitting here smugly charging the previous government for eliminating the collection aspect of the Employment Standards Act, neglecting to say that they attempted to deal with it in other ways: (1) by creating a wage protection fund, and (2) by reassigning the work to employment standards officers. They submit that a delegation yesterday said he collects 100% of settlements and neglected to mention that was a public sector representative.
We're of the view that yes, you should always be looking to find efficiencies and make better not only the enforcement of employment standards but the administration of the act itself. What we see is a deliberate attempt to undermine that, and those who work in the field have repeatedly said that. We also see this as yet another half-baked attempt to deal with a very complicated piece of legislation that ultimately doesn't even deal with a number of real concerns that go beyond the changes in minimum standards, the reduction in minimum standards they are proposing today.
I concur that this government is very much Robin Hood in reverse, taking from the poor and vulnerable and giving to the rich and powerful, and not finding balance, as has been suggested. The real agenda here goes well beyond administration. In fact, the logical inconsistency in the amendments has been borne out by a number of delegations.
Without commenting on the specifics of your situation and on what you experienced I can say that we have heard other stories at these committee hearings, we have heard stories in our constituency offices and we've read in the newspapers that our objective, if it is to improve enforcement, isn't being met by these amendments. I would concur with you that in the government's attempt to deal with its efficiency issues it is, in my view, making it more difficult, particularly for the unorganized, to get fair treatment and fair enforcement.
If the government says that 96% of claims are for less than $10,000, what's the big deal? Why do you need a maximum? If the government isn't going to set a minimum -- why don't they say what the minimum is? Why do they need it? Why should there be a minimum? We've had business organizations in here time and again suggesting that they like most of what they see, that they concur with the notion of getting greater efficiency, and we concur with that. Some aspects of what the government is suggesting we think are right, and we shouldn't just bury our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is well. It's not.
But if the majority of employers in this province are good employers and this statute only affects those bad employers, then what's the big deal? As a former employer who tried to meet obligations, I can tell you this piece of legislation was probably the least intrusive in terms of red tape and burden. You only dealt with it when somebody was coming on or going off the payroll.
Our view is that you're absolutely right. I thank you on behalf of the official opposition, the Liberal caucus, for sharing your personal story with us and helping us to remember that despite all this talk, it's real people who are affected by this in their day-to-day lives.
You as a government have an obligation to listen to these people and understand what they're saying to you and realize there have to be certain minimums in place to protect people.
The Chair: Thank you both for taking the time to appear before us. We appreciate it.
That concludes our morning session. I guess a group discovered they had two people who had independently requested spots, so the 1 o'clock session has been cancelled; it was a duplicate of the 2 o'clock. The committee stands recessed until 1:30.
The committee recessed from 1158 to 1331.
SAULT STE MARIE BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL WOMEN'S CLUB
The Chair: The first group up this afternoon is the Sault Ste Marie Business and Professional Women's Club. Good afternoon. Welcome to the committee.
Ms Shirley Mantyla: Good afternoon. Sharon Selkirk, our Canadian immediate past president, will do the body of our presentation and Marlene Mathieu and I will make a few opening comments.
My name is Shirley Mantyla and I am the president of the Sault Ste Marie Business and Professional Women's Club. In 1994, downsizing challenged me to start up a small computer consulting business. I also teach computer training on a contract basis.
We welcome you to Sault Ste Marie today and appreciate the opportunity to present our input regarding the impending changes to the Employment Standards Act. However, we are concerned that the attention needed for this important issue is perceptually diminished with the other government hearings, on housing, in our community on the same day. The growing trend of regionalization within media with smaller news outlets in local markets and limited coverage does not lessen the importance of crucial issues. It is my concern that the public may not be getting the full benefit of these hearings as they cross the province.
As a non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-profit organization promoting the interests of working women, it's been our good fortune to meet with each government of the day to discuss our resolutions. Sault Ste Marie is one of the many clubs of Ontario and we feel the honour to have local members serving in all levels of our worldwide organization. Right now, I would like to turn this over to Marlene Mathieu, BPW Ontario's District 6 director.
Ms Marlene Mathieu: Hello, everyone. As director for District 6, I represent Sudbury, North Bay, Kirkland Lake, the Tri-town area and Sault Ste Marie. Our five clubs in northern Ontario are a part of the larger Ontario organization with 30 clubs. Our clubs have spent many years working on improving the economic status of working women. We have a large base to draw our research material from and compare this material with other provinces under our Canadian federation.
Sharon Selkirk, our Canadian immediate past president, who just turned over the presidency this past Saturday, is also international resolutions chair for our international federation, which covers more than 100 countries. Employment conditions worldwide have been worked on by our organization for decades. At our international congress just this July in Italy, we were pleased that Sharon was voted in as international secretary for a three-year term. We now turn this over to Sharon Selkirk with our concerns regarding the changes to the Employment Standards Act.
Ms Sharon Selkirk: It gives me great pleasure to be here to present our concerns from the BPW members of Ontario. Over the years BPW clubs throughout Canada have presented resolutions addressing employment standards in the form of briefs to both the provincial and federal governments. A sampling of our resolutions addressing employment conditions and labour issues are included in appendices A and B of our handout.
The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs was incorporated in June 1930 and is a non-sectarian, non-partisan, non-profit organization. It is composed of more than 80 clubs in Canada and approximately 2,500 members. The Sault Ste Marie club is one of its member clubs.
Our primary concern is improvement of the status of women employed in Canada, and for more than 60 years BPW has worked to improve the economic, employment and social conditions of women; to stimulate interest in federal, provincial and municipal affairs; to encourage women to participate in the business of government at all levels; and to assist women and girls to acquire education and prepare for employment. We represent a diverse group of women employed in the professions and businesses in both the public and private sectors.
The highlight of the Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing, at which I represented BPW Canada's part of the government NGO team, was when Canada was chosen from over 100 countries and presented with the award by our international federation for the most achievements in women's issues in the last decade. These accomplishments were achieved by working closely with the governments in power at both the federal and provincial levels.
We are gravely concerned that recent and pending changes by all levels of government will erode our decades of progress. Of major concern to us are the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act in Ontario. This act is designed to create a level playing field for all employers by setting minimum requirements for the protection of the majority of working people in Ontario. It specifies the rules governing minimum wages, overtime pay, vacation pay, equal pay for equal work, hours of work, pregnancy and paternal leaves, and notices of job loss.
The enforcement of the provisions of the act is somewhat inconsistent and ineffectual, as in cases which take years to be resolved while compliance orders served on employers are not enforced. Some of the areas in which enforcement is lax, such as maternity and parental leave, are of particular concern to women.
While Minister of Labour Elizabeth Witmer states that Bill 49 is just introducing simple administrative amendments to the Employment Standards Act to encourage compliance and simplify administration, we feel that the proposed changes will have long-range ramifications for working individuals in Ontario.
Today, as immediate past president and as a member of the Sault BPW, I come on behalf of the members of Ontario who have expressed their concerns about the long-term ramifications of the proposed changes on working individuals.
Women make up the majority of the workforce in Ontario, comprising a large number of the part-time workers. Many are employed in non-union positions in the service sector and small businesses and must handle complaints on their own. The majority of these workers face uncertainty as they have few benefits and limited resources to secure their futures.
For many years, there has been a concerted effort to encourage women to enter non-traditional occupations and managerial positions. The erosion of the ESA could position genders unfavourably against each other. We recognize that both men and women are challenged by the current economic times. We must work together to overcome these obstacles presented in the ESA changes.
The recent repealing of the Employment Equity Act and the possibility of major changes to the Pay Equity Act are of great concern to our members, as they have lobbied for this legislation for many years. Now the proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act further add to the concerns of the working women in Ontario, as women are often the targets of harassment and unfair treatment in the workplace.
Present legislation allows an employee up to two years following the violation to formally make a complaint against an employer. The proposed change limits the time period that an employee has to bring a grievance against an employer to six months. This change will have major consequences to many individuals.
Today, with the present rate of unemployment, individuals are often afraid to initiate complaints against employers for fear of reprisal leading to dismissal. Many women in Ontario, especially those employed in small businesses and the service industry, feel they are unable to initiate any grievance procedures against their present employers. Their welfare is dependent on the retention of their present positions. They must continue working until other posts are secured. Thus, due to the limited job market, they are often forced to work under adverse conditions, enduring hardships and violations of their basic rights.
Our mandate includes eliminating all violence, especially against women and children. Statistics support the fact that often women endure years of abuse before they take some positive action to remove themselves from the offending situation. Similar scenarios are often seen in the workplace, as workers are reluctant to come to terms with the injustice. We would encourage the government to thoroughly investigate this often overlooked reality.
Under the proposed amendments, complaints against their respective employers must be issued within six months of the violation. The act states that only the past six months of the employer's practices will be considered during the investigation of the complaint. This limited time period forces the employees to choose between keeping silent to help ensure retention of their jobs or coming forward and risking the possibility of giving up their security. Even if they are fortunate in establishing new positions, it may be too late to initiate complaints against their former employer, as the violations occurred more than six months before.
Women form the majority of domestic and home workers, often live-ins, and part-time workers in Ontario today. Most of these workers are employed in non-union settings, with no support systems. Over the years, many of these employees have found themselves in situations where their wages are in arrears and they have no recourse but to remain on the job until something is secured. They are on a perpetual treadmill, with no foreseeable solution to their problems. These situations create undue hardship, as the workers do not have the resources necessary to seek new employment or to challenge their employers.
Limiting claims to a maximum of $10,000 will not always compensate for the wages lost and the suffering endured by the employee. The employer is the winner in such cases, as any portion of the debt beyond the $10,000 maximum is automatically and unfairly forgiven. Allowing this to happen encourages unscrupulous employers to continue such appalling practices.
As indicated before, many of the workers, especially those with no representation, cannot afford to even initiate a complaint, let alone decide to take their cases to court. Ontario legal aid is not available for employment law issues, leaving no government funding resources to assist with the engaging of professional counsel. Thus, the choice of taking the complaint to the Ministry of Labour or having it heard in the courts is not available to many Ontario workers. The cost of taking the matter to court is unattainable.
Further, if the outcome of the complaint filed with the Ministry of Labour is not satisfactory to the worker, unless the decision is made to withdraw the complaint within two weeks after it is initiated, there is no recourse. The worker is not entitled to pursue the matter further, even though the total amount of wages owing to the employee may be greater than the amount of settlement reached in the case. Two weeks is an unreasonable time frame to make such an important decision. One can hardly gather all the factual data necessary to effectually support the decision within such time constraints.
BPW has been aware of and worked on many of the same issues as the International Labour Organization for decades. Our joint work within the United Nations has addressed employment issues through human rights worldwide. We have long recognized the importance of organized labour for full- and part-time employees and have lobbied for a higher minimum wage and improved working conditions and benefits. Collective agreements are guidelines for all parties. With the proposed changes, union workers will no longer have access to the Ministry of Labour's enforcement procedures. We believe Bill 49 will eventually lead to lowering the working standards in Ontario. What will be the state of workplaces without any structure?
Time means money. Private collection agencies will want to bring closure to claims as soon as possible. With added harassment from these agencies, the claimants could feel intimidated and be forced into accepting incredibly low offers. How will this be monitored? How do we ensure that the claimants get the moneys due to them?
Today the job market is shifting and the number of people employed in small businesses and the non-unionized service sector is steadily climbing. These employees want to be sure their rights are protected. They want to be treated fairly and justly, receiving a fair wage for their services. They want to be assured that they have some recourse without reprisal if their employers fail to live up to their end of the commitment. When one's financial base is threatened, violence can escalate, many of the victims being women and children.
BPW Ontario's resolution 1996/07, which is shown in appendix A, asks the government to strengthen the power of the investigating officers to oblige employers to comply when in violation of the act and to require investigators to follow through and ensure that compliance orders are carried out. We have asked to improve training on gender bias in the workplace for employment standards adjudicators, for example, maternity leave and parental leave, and to shorten the length of time to investigate within 30 days and to resolve disputes within 12 months.
While a few of the items can be classified as housekeeping, Bill 49 disproportionately favours the employer and inversely reduces the rights of the employee. The greatest impact will be felt by women in low-paid jobs.
Over the past year, there have been numerous changes affecting the people in Ontario. Bill 49, while attempting to simplify the Employment Standards Act, is creating additional hardship for the majority of workers in Ontario.
The Chair: That leaves us about three and a half minutes per caucus for questioning. This time the questioning will commence with government members.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. We certainly appreciate the time you've taken to come out.
This is a two-stage approach. That's one thing I'd point out. This is the first phase. There's a complete review that will take approximately eight months. I think it points out many of the issues you pointed out. Obviously the participation of women in the workplace has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and that's something that has to be reflected in the act. That certainly will be a big part of the review process.
I'm a member from eastern Ontario, but I read the other day that in the city of Toronto one out of five workers is working at home. Obviously that's gone up considerably in recent years, and the act has to reflect that.
One of the things you mentioned in your brief, near the end, with respect to collections, is the issue of forcing companies to comply. This has been a recurring theme throughout the province. We've heard pretty much consistently wherever we've gone that we've got to do a better job. We're now collecting only 25 cents on the dollar. Assuming our minister, Elizabeth Witmer, is not satisfied with this, we're certainly not prepared to go without a better try at it.
One of the provisions in the bill, as you know, would be to have collection agencies go after what I call deadbeat companies more aggressively. You mentioned other measures. What could I tell Minister Witmer specifically that you would suggest we could do? I know both opposition parties have been in government in the past and I think there's certainly been an earnest attempt to try to collect more. I think we've got to do a better job, so I guess I'm completely with you there. What specific suggestions could I bring back to Elizabeth Witmer that you would have in terms of compliance?
Ms Selkirk: Collection agencies, to me, have a stigma around them.
Mr Baird: They go after deadbeats.
Ms Selkirk: They may go after deadbeats, but they also deal with the employee who's putting in the complaint and that could often have an adverse effect on them, forcing them to feel it necessary to come to closure before they really have reached a proper agreement. There's just that stigma attached with collection agencies that I think people would find unnerving.
Mr Baird: That of course wouldn't be a change from the status quo. I've checked the figures for the last number of years and of the $16 million that we're collecting for workers, which is the 25 cents on the dollar, about $3.5 million to $5.5 million of that is settled at less than the employee was entitled to. It certainly does happen now, so the collection agencies wouldn't bring that about.
Your point about the stigma, though, I think is a very valid one. When you have a collection agency legitimately going after you, it means you've done something wrong as a consumer. If it puts a stigma on a company that's failed to accept its responsibilities, to live up to its obligation to its workers, I have no problem with that whatsoever, because I think they should have that stigma.
The Chair: Moving to the official opposition.
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): I want to thank the three women for coming in front of this panel today. There are a few points that you've touched on in your brief here. If I go to the proposed change in the time limit that an employee has to bring a grievance, I fully agree with you that in today's world it's very hard to find another job. So people will have to suffer all that time and then cannot go back any further than six months.
There's an area in the employment standards that is really going to affect the woman: the fact that the employer will be able to ask the employees to work more than 44 hours now before he gets his overtime. An arrangement could be made between the employer and the employee, let's say, to work 48 or 54 hours. Knowing that the woman plays a big role in the family, do you think this will have an effect on the quality of life in the family?
Ms Selkirk: Personally, it would have a big effect on my quality of life in my family, being forced to work more than a 40-hour week, which I have now. I imagine most of our members would feel the same way, that it would definitely have an adverse effect on their family life. We are promoting quality of family life within our organization. It's been one of the platforms that we fought for even in Beijing, so I feel that is very important, the family unit.
Mr Lalonde: During your dealings, have you had anybody in your organization who had to make an appeal in the past who went over the $10,000 limit that we are imposing at the present time in the bill for collection process?
Ms Selkirk: I don't know anyone personally in our organization, but I know of incidents that have been brought forward at our various meetings citing incidents. A lot of them have been immigrant women who have really suffered for quite a long period of time because they had no recourse whatsoever, and the wages owing were much more than $10,000.
Mr Lalonde: The government is saying that only 4% of the appeals at the present time are for amounts that are over $10,000. I just remember when I met a district engineer at the Ministry of Transportation. I was telling the district engineer that there was an area which was very dangerous for drivers, and he said, "Well, it doesn't matter; 95% are regular commuters." He forgot about the other 5%. In this case, it's the 4% that are higher than the $10,000 that we'll be forgetting in this new act.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. The work of your organization is well known and well respected and we appreciate your taking the time to be here today.
I note that on page 8 you make the very direct statement, "The greatest impact will be felt by women in low-paid jobs."
You also point out in your historical information section that women have been disproportionately affected by a number of measures. You mentioned repealing of the Employment Equity Act and the changes to the Pay Equity Act. To that I would add: the 22% cut to the poorest in our province, which are mainly families headed up by women who are on their own; the cutting of support to battered women's programs; the recent announcement of folding up all the local family support programs in all of our communities. All of these things show that we have an agenda unfolding by this government that disproportionately, negatively affects women, and it's really important that you and others come forward and make that case.
I want to draw attention to one area that you spent some time on, the limitation periods. You talk about the fact that "Individuals are often afraid to initiate complaints against employers for fear of reprisal leading to dismissal." I really need for you to talk to the government members because they will not move on this issue, they will not address the issue of the fact that the reason people don't file -- 90% of the claims are after people have left the employment of the offending employer -- is because they were afraid to. They keep reiterating and mimicking the words of the minister that this is all to streamline things and do all these things and they refuse to talk about -- or say you're wrong. I'd love to hear one of them, when their turn comes, say that you are wrong, people aren't afraid, because that is the case.
We had a chamber of commerce representative in Kitchener who said that it will stop a person from "sitting on his can and mulling it over," that somehow the time lines are being abused. The fact of the matter is that by cutting to just six months, people will not make claims because they won't leave the job because they're afraid. They're afraid to make a claim while they're there. Will you please tell the government members that's why there's a loss to working people, particularly women. They just don't seem to get it.
Ms Selkirk: I'm sure we will reinforce your thoughts, because those are our thoughts. We will be presenting a brief to the provincial government and those thoughts will be definitely within our brief.
Mr Christopherson: I'm going to start pushing from here on in and every time somebody raises it, like these people, I'm going to ask the government to either say that you disagree with them, whoever is sitting there, and that this is all just make-believe, or admit you're making a horrendous mistake and that you are going to hurt people and will agree to recommend to the minister to change the law at the end of these hearings. I think it's time we started to take this thing head-on.
The Chair: Thank you all for taking the time to make a presentation before us here today. We appreciate it very much.
SAULT AND DISTRICT SOCIAL JUSTICE COALITION
The Chair: That leads us now to the Sault and District Social Justice Coalition. Welcome to the committee. We have 30 minutes to be divided as you see fit.
Ms Renata Fisher: I'm Renata Fisher and I'm very pleased to be here this afternoon. Can everybody hear me? I'm presenting this submission on behalf of the Sault and District Social Justice Coalition, which is based in Sault Ste Marie. We have been in existence for approximately two and one half years and comprise around 200 members, including both grass-roots community groups and individuals. The bulk of our membership, however, is low-income individuals, women and students, and the focus of our work so far has been on poverty issues and issues affecting women and children.
We would like to speak to those amendments that would affect the most vulnerable workers, that is, students, women and others in unorganized workplaces and workers who are working in the low-end wage scale. I feel that it is important to consider and do an analysis of the impact of these proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act in the broad context of all the other changes that are affecting our most vulnerable workers, especially women and students.
As if they haven't already been assaulted enough with the impact of all the cuts, they will become even more vulnerable. Those working in organized workplaces and covered under collective agreements already have more than the minimum protections. Federal cuts to UI, provincial cuts to social assistance, the end of employment equity and pay equity, the possibility of higher rents for rental accommodations in the future and on and on -- I think this group has been so hard hit, and it will just make the sting of unemployment sharper. People will put up with intolerable conditions in order to keep their jobs. High unemployment rates, especially in social service jobs, which are a traditional source of employment for many women, will ensure that no one will quit a job except for the most flagrant abuse of workers' rights. The poor job market also gives a lot more power to employers -- the power to intimidate, abuse, harass and the power to threaten a worker with job loss if they dare to complain.
I will present three typical examples of women who have had their rights violated or worked in unhealthy conditions. These are all true case histories and they have occurred locally, and they have come to our attention. I have to slightly alter the identifying information, however, to protect confidentiality. All three women intend to stay in the community and hope to continue working in their fields and are afraid to be identified. This is a real fear in a small community, this fear of reprisals. I'm pleased to offer their stories on their behalf.
Case A involves "Catherine," a single mother of one, newly graduated from a social services diploma program in 1994. She found part-time employment in her chosen field as a counselor at a local agency from September 1994 to March 1996. Her wages were supplemented by child support payments. She was very happy to be working in a field where she had hoped to make a career, and extremely happy to finally be off social assistance. All indications were that she was performing well and that her job, though part-time, was secure. She had an evaluation after one year of employment, which was customary for all staff. There were some problems that were very minor and correctable, but all indications were that the agency was very pleased with her job performance.
At the end of February 1996, the supervisor called her in for a routine supervision meeting and told her that her confidence level was not what it should be after one year of employment, according to what the supervisor expected. Catherine had no prior indication that this was a problem and it wasn't brought up in her yearly evaluation, nor was there any discussion of this being a problem, either verbally or in writing. No important policies, such as confidentiality or safety of the clients, was breached by Catherine. She was not given a time period to improve the supposed problem or constructive assistance on how to meet her employer's expectations.
Anyway, the options that were given to her were quit, be fired or take a demotion to night support. This night support position was a cleaning and meal preparation position, paying $4 per hour less. This was also a part-time position. Three shifts that were already booked for that week were taken away from her. Also, her parenting responsibilities did not allow her to take night work, because she would have had the additional burden of paying day care for a job that paid considerably less; her child was school-aged, so she was at least not having to pay those day care costs during the day. The alternative position offered her was also not dealing with clients, which was the employment experience that Catherine wanted and was trained for.
She was devastated, shocked and angry. She quit because she didn't think she had an option, and also she didn't know she had any rights. But a co-worker suggested she go to the labour board and find out if she did. It was one month before Catherine found out that she may indeed have had her rights violated. In April, she went to the labour board office to pick up her papers. The staff there was very helpful and explained her rights to her and helped her fill out the forms, which she had to present to her former employer. She was told to give them seven to 10 days to respond. She did meet with the executive director of her agency in that time period. The director seemed surprised at her termination of employment as well. She didn't know about it, and asked her what her expectations were from the labour board. Catherine stated that at the very least she wanted severance and compensation for the three lost shifts, but she did want her job back too.
It appeared that no process was adhered to in the termination of employment and the executive director was not aware of this decision. Catherine said low self-esteem, which was cited as a reason for her dismissal, was not an issue because her self-esteem was actually soaring due to her job, which she enjoyed very much, and because she was finally off social assistance.
This story has a partially positive outcome because of the Employment Standards Act. Catherine did not get her job back, but she was able to resolve this issue quickly because of the threat to the employer of a labour board investigation of the case. She received severance based on time worked as well as financial compensation for the three withdrawn shifts. She also received a good reference, and her separation papers stated, "unsuitable for work" instead of "quit" so her UI eligibility would not be affected. She feels strongly that if the agency had not had the threat of a labour board investigation, they would have dismissed her complaint and not taken her rights seriously. She also would have been on social assistance again, instead of UI.
In the past year, she has taken the opportunity of UI training to gain new skills, and now I'm pleased to report she's starting a new business.
Under proposed changes, it is unlikely that Catherine would have been able to resolve the situation with her employer or known that she even had any rights. She also would have had a deadline of six months to file a complaint, and it may have taken her longer than that to find out that her rights indeed had been violated. It was unnecessary for the labour board to continue to be involved, because the matter of compensation was dealt with internally.
This true case illustrates how employers can use the threat of unemployment to lower wages or demote workers. The current standards are especially important for unorganized workers in low-paid sectors or part-time positions, many of whom are women. This legislation is the prime device for ensuring that workers are not exploited in these types of jobs.
Case B involves "Marianne," also employed at one of our local agencies from September 1995 until May 1996. Because of very unhealthy workplace conditions, which included severe verbal harassment and being forced to do tasks which put her at physical risk, she was forced to quit. When she quit, she was owed vacation pay for the nine months she was employed. Her employer claimed he included them in her biweekly pay, but she was never provided with any pay stubs to substantiate her claims. Her separation papers also stated she was fired, but she was forced to quit due to these unhealthy working conditions. Of course, this affected her UI eligibility. She felt quitting was the only option, because complaining to the labour board in this small workplace would have made her working conditions even more intolerable.
Marianne did eventually get her vacation pay and she did qualify for UI after the cause of termination was changed on her separation papers. Again, Marianne found the threat of a labour board investigation was very helpful in receiving the moneys owing to her by her employer. Marianne came to this workplace from outside the community and she did not have friends or family to give her support with the stress she was dealing with daily. She felt it was very important to her to have an outside body that was advocating for her rights and have those clearly defined minimum standards of employment conditions.
Like most employees, Marianne had to leave her place of employment before complaining. There are no protections for workers to prevent being harassed or fired if they complain. There is no provision to have a fired worker reclaim their old job. In today's insecure job market, workers will put up with harassment rather than claim their basic rights. Under Bill 49, those rights, weak to begin with, will be further eroded. With federal changes to unemployment insurance compounding this, quitting is not a viable option, especially for single mothers with dependent children.
Under Bill 49, employees will only have six months instead of two years to make a complaint. The ministry's investigation will only go back six months from the complaint, instead of the two years under current legislation. The six-month claim limit will reward the very worst employers. They can rip off their workers for many months or years and only have to pay for six months of violations. In periods of high unemployment, many workers need the extra time to find a new job before they quit the old one, and it often takes much longer than that. Most workers don't file a complaint unless they find a new job or the employer shuts down or fires them.
Many unorganized workers work in small business. Since small firms are where the main growth in jobs are occurring in our economy, it is important to ensure that they adhere to basic legislative minimum standards and they do not negotiate them downwards in an attempt to take advantage of a large unemployed pool of workers who are desperate to work. I would like to add that the threat of workfare looming in the not-too-distant future is going to really put that pressure on even more, where people, rather than work for nothing in order to have their basic needs met, will take any jobs under any conditions.
Employers today often argue to government that in order to be competitive in a global economy, they no longer can afford to adhere to minimum standards that provide a decent living wage and healthy working conditions and do not force workers to put in long hours that will harm their health or disrupt their families. However, this argument does not make sense. In fact, it's bizarre when you're talking about food service workers, domestics, nannies, cleaners, people who work in social service agencies, because they're not competing in the global workplace. This is simply a means of exploiting the most vulnerable workers in our economy in the race to the bottom for low wages.
Over half of the employees in Ontario today are not protected by a union. Many of these are women at the low end of the wage scale. Increasingly, they work part-time, contract work or do home work. The Employment Standards Act is the only protection they have, and it determines the basic minimum standards and working conditions of their place of employment. With all the recent cuts in, for example, social assistance, and the imminent threat of workfare on the horizon, workers are increasingly more afraid to assert their rights and complain about bad employers and bad working conditions. There are a lot of bad bosses out there and a lot of unhealthy workplaces. If workers will put up with more, you can be sure that some employers will exploit this.
I just want to end with one final case history. Case 3 is an illustration that there are bad bosses that make workers extremely vulnerable. This cases involves "Judy," a 25-year-old social worker also employed at a local agency for eight months, from 1994 to 1995. She suffered intolerable working conditions in the form of harassment and verbal abuse under a supervisor. The stress-induced illness that she suffered forced her to quit for health reasons.
After quitting, she had two weeks' wages owing to her that she could not recover, as well as vacation pay for the eight-month period she worked. Her employer also refused to give this to her. In addition, her boss refused to give her separation papers, which she needed to apply for unemployment insurance. She was fortunate to find another job almost immediately and she was also fortunate because she was one sharp woman and she knew her rights. With the safety of a new job, she complained to the labour board, and after four months she finally received her wages owing, and her separation papers after one year. So she was really lucky that she did find a job right away or it would have been a devastating situation. She would have had no income at all.
Judy says that the labour board initially recommended that she pursue her case with the Human Rights Commission or undertake civil litigation through the courts, because she did have a very strong case. The first option would have taken many years, and the second option she simply couldn't afford. She worked, clearly, for a bad employer. Judy was on medication for many months and she had to undergo counselling for a year. Six months after quitting her job, she was hospitalized for bleeding ulcers and had to undergo surgery.
Women in non-unionized workplaces are extremely vulnerable to bad employers and unhealthy workplaces. The existing protections are full of loopholes and exemptions, but they do work to keep bad employers in line and they do provide basic protections to our most vulnerable workers.
I just want to sum up with saying what I feel the basic protections workers need are:
(1) Clearly defined rights that are understood by both employers and employees.
(2) Methods of enforcement of the Employment Standards Act and penalties for violations of these basic rights.
(3) Swift investigations and decisions.
(4) Basic minimum employment standards that are non-negotiable.
Bill 49 provides none of these protections to vulnerable workers and, indeed, makes their situation worse, it makes them more vulnerable. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. That leaves us with two and a half minutes of questioning per caucus. This time the questioning will commence with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Good afternoon. Thank you for your presentation. Your presentation and the one prior focused mainly, but not exclusively, on women and other vulnerable people as well. In the beginning you were talking about costs that people are currently having to deal with as far as maintaining their own lifestyle, bills that they have to pay, and increasingly as we approach the school season, I'm hearing about the increase in tuition and other fees that universities are implementing that were either increased or were never there before until this coming September. So there's another cost that families will have to be looking at.
Your presentation of examples of people who were helped by the ministry seems to fall in line with most of what we have heard thus far. In a general sense, people are saying that the ministry staff were very informative, they told these women what their rights were, they were very helpful, and I don't recall that we've heard anything to the contrary that the ministry staff were generally quite polite. The problem seems to be now that after discussing their rights and telling them what they are and giving them some guidance is enforcement and, of course, collections. For anyone in the workforce we simply must do better in that regard.
The service sector, to me, it appears has a lot of part-time opportunities. We've been told -- well, women in general are working two or three different jobs on a part-time basis but, as well, I know from experience within my community that some women prefer to only work part-time so that they can share some time at home and work. They enjoy that flexibility of working part-time and also being at home maybe three or four days a week. So it's not always a purely economic choice that they work part-time at three or four different jobs, it's one that they rather enjoy, that freedom of being home and away.
I appreciate your examples. It will help us out a great deal as we discuss this bill with the government. Thank you for being here.
Ms Fisher: Okay.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. I appreciate it very much. You are now the second presenter in row, third one today, probably well over 25 or 30 presenters before you in different communities who have focused on this issue of people being afraid to file a complaint while they're still working, and therefore going from two years to six months will hurt those fearful, vulnerable employees. I want to point out to you that the minister -- and I'm reading right from her remarks on the day we launched these hearings -- said on this issue, "Filing a claim within six months will result in speedier resolution of complaints and allow employees to receive the money owed to them more quickly." No reference whatsoever to the circumstances that vulnerable employees will find themselves in and how much they'll lose as a result of that.
Through you, Mr Chair, having heard so many people talk about this issue, I want to challenge the government members who are here to unhook the leash that the minister has around your neck and either refute what people are saying on this particular issue or admit that this is going to hurt people and that you will recommend it be changed. It's time to put up or shut up. We heard this issue time and time again, and you sit there silent and say nothing. Let the chambers of commerce come in and say that's all about expeditious procedures, and let the parliamentary assistant talk about privatizing collection agencies, and you don't talk about this issue at all. Talk about it. You're next. There's somebody right there. Take them on. Either take them on or admit you're wrong; one of the two.
The Chair: Mr Baird, and then Mr Wettlaufer.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. In response to my colleague the member for Hamilton Centre, obviously if we think that we can immediately change the entire employer-worker relationship in the province of Ontario with one piece of legislation, I think that's a little bit naïve. I think if you look at the Employment Standards Act --
Mr Baird: Well, if he had such great ideas I don't know why he didn't do them. The Legislature only sat for five weeks the last year, and that's a reality. If you had such great ideas, where were you?
Mr Christopherson: You said you're not hurting anyone.
Mr Baird: My point is that this bill contains strong, strong -- the Employment Standards Act, not this bill, it's not affected by this bill -- protection for anti-reprisals. It's a very serious offence. When we brought in Bill 7 the only condition by which a union could be recognized without a vote is if an employer seeks to reprise someone organizing. That's how serious we take it. If you've got any specific examples to keep employees while they're there, while they're there, or what we can do to protect them, I think we'd most be thrilled to run back, not walk, to the minister with them. Specific ideas. We'd welcome them.
If there's a better way -- we'll accept complaints anonymously and investigate them. If you've got other ideas, I'd be happy to take them back; specific ideas. It's great to talk that way, but I haven't heard any suggestions on how to stop this. If there's employees working there, they're leaving because they feel they don't have the protection. We've got a strong anti-reprisal position in the act -- not this bill but in the act; the one that was there under the previous two governments -- and we're happy to take it back.
Ms Fisher: Well, if I just may comment on that. I don't think weakening the protections for these vulnerable workers is going to do anything to help them.
Mr Baird: But what specifically -- you've had a lot of experience in this area. I'm the first to admit that I don't. If you can tell us what specific things we can do, I think we'd be more than thrilled to receive your comments. If there's things that the previous government couldn't think up, the Liberal government couldn't think up, and we have -- I think the fine is $50,000 for reprisals --
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): And six months in jail.
Mr Baird: -- and a potential six months in jail, or both. If you can tell us what else we can do to add to that, I'd be pleased to take them directly to the minister, as I know my colleagues would. I think that's an issue we treat very, very seriously.
You say this hasn't come up. It's come up. I've certainly talked about it on more than one occasion.
Mr Christopherson: Why are you doing something that's going to hurt them more? You call it --
Mr Baird: None whatsoever.
Mr Christopherson: It's something that's going to hurt them. Don't play games with the presenters. Face them head on.
Mr Baird: None whatsoever.
The Chair: Mr Christopherson. Come on, Mr Christopherson. You invited them to respond. You're in their time.
Mr Baird: What's your alternative?
The Chair: You can respond during --
Mr Baird: What's your alternative?
Mr Christopherson: My alternative? Scrap this bill.
Mr Baird: I think it's an admission of failure on your part that you have no specific --
Mr Christopherson: I'll challenge your labour legislation against ours any day you want.
Mr Baird: You bring your specific proposals and we'll measure them up.
The Chair: Gentlemen --
Mr Baird: Right here. Bring them forward. You got 25 cents on the dollar, you fired the employment standards officers, you cut back health and safety standards, you brought in the social contract --
Mr Christopherson: How about you and I have a debate on this, John? Anywhere you want a public debate.
The Chair: You're both out of order; especially you.
Mr Baird: I'm not going to take any advice from you.
The Chair: Order. Mr Wettlaufer, you have two minutes.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): I'm really disappointed that debating is going on in this forum, because both members know this is not the time or place for debate. We're here to hear your input and I thank you very much for your input.
One of the things that I've observed, however, in the presentation that you made is that there is some unsubstantiated representation, and I would refer specifically to page 2. You're talking about case 1, Catherine, where you say: "Under proposed changes it is unlikely that Catherine would have been able to resolve this situation with her employer or known that she even had any rights. She also would have had a deadline of six months to file a complaint. It may have taken her longer to find out that she had rights."
In point of fact, it didn't take her longer under the existing legislation, and it wouldn't take her any longer under the proposed legislation. There is absolutely nothing in here which would affect her ability to find out what her rights are. Secondly, it has no bearing on her ability to resolve the situation with her employer. There is no place in this legislation where it would do that.
The second point that I would refer to specifically is under page 3 where you say: "Under Bill 49, those rights, weak to begin with, will be further eroded. With federal changes to unemployment insurance, quitting is not a viable option either." I'm sorry, I have to say again this legislation doesn't affect that.
The next paragraph you say, "Most workers don't file a complaint unless they find a new job or the employer shuts down or fires them." Ninety-five per cent of cases are resolved within six months. Most people get a new job. You say: "Employers often argue to government that in order to be competitive in the global economy, they can no longer afford to adhere to minimum standards that provide a decent living wage" etc. I would like to know specifically who those employers are. We often hear allegations of who the employers are, but no specific employer is ever mentioned.
Ms Fisher: There were a lot of comments there. I don't know which one to respond to first. The six-month period, this is after the complaint is lodged, you said most employees find a job within six months?
Mr Wettlaufer: Or the complaints are resolved within six months.
The Chair: Sorry, Mr Wettlaufer.
Mr Wettlaufer: Thank you.
The Chair: Sorry to cut you off, but we're over our 30 minutes there. We appreciate your taking the time to make a presentation before us.
Ms Fisher: Thank you very much.
SAULT STE MARIE AND DISTRICT LABOUR COUNCIL
The Chair: The next presentation will be from the Sault Ste Marie and District Labour Council. Good afternoon and welcome to the committee.
Mr Eric Greaves: Good afternoon.
The Chair: You've already heard my rejoinder to every group that comes in so I won't tell you about the time allocation.
Mr Greaves: Yes, it's been an interesting day.
My name is Eric Greaves. I am a Steelworker employed at Algoma Steel here in Sault Ste Marie. I own part of a little steel mill up in the bush here, as you may have heard. I'm a worker-owner. I'm also a Steelworker delegate to the local Sault Ste Marie and District Labour Council. I am a parent and a taxpayer here locally. This is not a situation that I'm comfortable with, but rather than make myself too comfortable I didn't prepare a brief and I'm ad libbing. I just wanted to try to give you some kind of a view of what it's like to be from the Sault and be a Steelworker and belong to a labour council and be faced with this kind of legislation.
In the north, we have cult figures that we talk about over the fireside when we're roasting marshmallows or whatever we like to do of an evening. One of them is Conrad Black. We remember him. When I was eight years old I used to go to the local A&P store with my grandmother and buy cookies. It's kind of a familiar and friendly store. Conrad, some years ago, developed ownership of the place and raided the pension money of the employees. We all heard about it because it's a small town and eventually due process asked him to give it back, I understand.
Anyway, Conrad recently purchased or acquired some serious control over Southam press, so I expected that the employment standards hearings that were coming up would not be reported in an extreme way, because I thought that perhaps he would have some editorial influence and that in fact the upshot would be that there wouldn't be much in the way that would stir the waters.
Just last week, our local paper, the Sault Star, printed an article under the heading "Employment Standards Act." It's by John Hamilton of Southam press, and it says: "`Bill 49, malicious legislation,' lawyer says. Critics charge that rights of the worker will be limited while cheats and con artists will benefit." This knocked me right off my dining room chair where I was trying to digest the day's news.
Employment standards, as we've been hearing today, are not necessarily widely understood or widely known in this community. I personally have had two brushes with that branch of government and I'd like to share them briefly.
My 19-year-old son, tree-planting not far from here, worked very hard, developed calluses and cuts and strains, but generally thought it was a good experience. However, he would have appreciated being paid for his work, and this didn't happen. Because I belong to a union and I had heard that our contract, our collective agreement, is based on the Employment Standards Act and also because one of my neighbours, whom I had given a lift to work, said, "Oh yeah, I work right next to the employment standards office," that's how I knew where it was. I said, "Why don't you go and ask somebody there if there isn't a law to protect you from working like hell and not getting paid for it." He went and after a period of time he did get paid. That's how it's supposed to work and that was pretty neat.
We had a labour interruption. It's sometimes called a walkout, it's sometimes called a lockout and it's sometimes called a strike, but whatever it was, it happened just a few years ago here in the Sault. After discharging my picket duties and working on various groups to try to smooth the period of unemployment for our brothers and sisters in Local 2251, I sought part-time employment locally because I really wasn't having my time filled. I got work with a construction outfit that was building a school here in Sault Ste Marie. The owner was a numbered company. It's one of these outfits we have in Ontario where you can basically make a bid, get a job, move in and do your work. If they don't like what you did, you can fold up and run away.
Anyway, this is what happened: I worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, here in Sault Ste Marie. I was paid, then I wasn't paid right, then I was paid again and then I wasn't paid at all. Because I'd had this experience with my son, I proceeded to find an employment standards officer and asked if I was doing something wrong here. Shouldn't payment follow work? I was told I was in the right so I made loud noises. I got the cellular phone address of the owner of the company, who was travelling around Toronto; he didn't have an office. Anyway, I got through to them and eventually they decided they would pay me for a couple of weeks. I had to stop work because of an accident on the work site. That's all well and good. I know this is in the vernacular, but this is how I remember it: About three or four weeks later, the work was done, the site folded and local people lost up to $1,500 apiece, for which they worked very hard, to this numbered company and they didn't get it back.
So I feel we need employment standards; I don't think we would ever want to reduce. When the United Nations tells us that Canada is the place to live in the world, that it has the best quality of life out there, and when they make the point of announcing that and the world press picks it up, what's happened is we've embarrassed America. The United States of America is somewhat embarrassed that they don't make it and we do. It's obvious that it's a lot harder -- and this is just a little bit of between-the-lines, backroom labour council thinking from me -- for the States to bring their standards up to a point where the United Nations will say, "Nice place to be." It's a lot easier for the current wave of small-c conservatives to simply bring down the standards in Canada. I understand why this might happen; I just don't approve of it.
I understand that at the first hearing, which the minister attended, the idea of flexible standards, one of the proposals for this act, was withdrawn. I was very pleased to hear that because I was lying awake at night last week, having read a brief on the subject, trying to figure out how in the heck you can have a standard which then becomes flexible and negotiable. As part of a local union like 2251 with thousands of members, I agree we can to some extent negotiate and we have some protection, but obviously 75% or so of the workforce in Ontario doesn't have that organization behind them. Anyway, I'm glad the contradiction was clear and I sure hope it's not coming back in phase 2, but we'll see.
There are very positive things you can say about this minor housekeeping that Mrs Witmer has encouraged. A couple of formalities: I believe the idea of clearing up the fact that people are entitled to vacation pay, various circumstances notwithstanding, is pretty well what the referees have been saying, so it probably saves a lot of time and money to formalize that. I can respect that as good housekeeping. The same with the idea that service and length of employment with a company would include parental and pregnancy leaves. That kind of thing, again, is respectable, it definitely is efficient and it definitely makes government look better and improves the quality of life of people who are trying to earn a living.
Termination pay in seven years: Another goodie; sorry, it would be good if it was seven years. Around Algoma Steel we talk in terms of how long we're going to last. That's just to keep ourselves sharp, not because we're worried. Termination pay should be delivered to an employee within seven days. That's fairly prompt and that certainly would address some of the issues that have been raised at this table today.
Essentially labour councils, like most unions in my experience, like most Canadian citizens in my experience, prefer cooperation. They prefer partnership. We're all willing to produce more. We don't think it's too much to ask for an improved quality of life as time goes on. We don't think we have to globalize Sault Ste Marie or workplaces in general based on coming down to anyone else's standards. We have something worth protecting with our workplace standards and generally that's what we'd like to keep on doing.
Enforcement under a collective agreement: I think I've heard today that there is some thought that it's okay for a union to take on the costs of every single employment standard grievance or problem. I suppose if you had a really wealthy union that had nothing else to do and volunteered to do that, it would be a great thing, but at the moment, as we know, it has been a government responsibility to protect these standards, enforce these standards. What this legislation seems to be trying to do is enforce a massive user fee on union members. The union members are the ones who develop any coffers that the union has, so if we're going to redirect our union officers to spend their time doing what a government department used to do instead of, in the case of Algoma Steel, for example, trying to make the business both viable and a growth proposition for the economy, locally it doesn't make sense to me, it doesn't ring true, it doesn't resonate, or whatever the word might be.
Enforcement for non-unionized employees: We're hearing that most new jobs in the economy are in smaller workplaces. That being the case, we're cutting these people off without a hope of minimum standards if we mess around with flexible standards, for example, in my opinion.
Use of private collectors seems all wrong to me. It seems wrong because the responsibility was the government's, and to give it to a private corporation that will then proceed to wheel and deal to expeditiously pick up a fee which the employee is going to end up paying does seem a bit much.
The positive features of restructuring and worker ownership and of life in the north -- that is, being good neighbours, having a sense that there is hope -- are being eroded, put at some risk by the tone of this legislation. It all comes down to philosophy, and that's why I'm talking at this level rather than trying to get into the nitty-gritty of the legalism.
I think I'd better be quiet and let you hit at me.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate it. You already had some, but I'll give you some more bad news. You were hoping that the flexible standards weren't coming back. I want to read to you from the minister's prepared text when we kicked off the hearings. She said, "We remain committed to providing more flexibility to the workplace parties. However...we believe this provision should be considered in the context of these future discussions...." All they've really done is move it out of Bill 49 and into a larger review, which I dare say is not going to be any more good news for workers than Bill 49 was.
But it is important to state again that the only reason that happened was because we pushed this government into having public hearings. The only reason we're here is because we pushed the government. Their game plan was to have this bill, with flexible standards included, law by last June with no public hearings. That was their game plan. So when we accept the fact that it's not in this bill, we should see it as good news that we were able to force them to blink, but we ought not sleep thinking that it's dead. It's still alive and it will rear its ugly head elsewhere.
I want to move, though, to the issue of the grievance procedure in collective agreements being used to enforce the Employment Standards Act. As a representative of the Sault district labour council, I know you'll be somewhat familiar with not just your own workplace but others. We've heard different presentations that a grievance, when carried all the way, can run anywhere between $40,000 to $70,000; that's not an unusual range for a grievance. That is a price the union pays. The union is not an entity unto itself. It's not a natural element of the earth. It is working people coming together and working and using their collective voices and their collective efforts to act as one. But it means that each of those individual union members is going to have to use some of their union dues to pay for something that's already provided by the government and rightfully should be.
Do you think it's fair to suggest that it's two things; first of all, a downloading of responsibility or an offloading of responsibility from the provincial government to the labour movement so that they can lower the cost to the ministry? That lets them lay off employment standards officers because they won't be doing the work; you will be. You'll be doing their work. That lets them lay off the officers, puts more pressure on the labour movement, and we already know that this is an anti-union government. Everything they've done around legislation affecting unions has hurt them or attacked them. And secondly, that in some ways this really is a user fee on the ordinary union member who is now having to pay for something that they didn't have to pay for before as a result of a cut this government has made. Do you think that's a fair statement or am I being unfair?
Mr Greaves: You say it better than I did, but that's exactly what I was getting at. I think it is a downloading of responsibility. I think it's an attack by this particular government on unions at large and I think it's kind of funny, except that it's happening. I mean, it's absurd, from my point of view, that government would turn around to what is essentially a service organization and say, "You will now perform different services and you will now foot the bill for it," and this is minor housekeeping? I find it outrageous.
Mr Christopherson: I do too. The fact that the government continues to call this an improvement, do you think it's fair to say the improvement is all on the side of the employers and that indeed workers are losing something big time in this bill?
Mr Greaves: Yes, the employers are going to definitely have a bit of a field day. I mean, they can have a field day with this if they want to lower their standards. They are free to do that. I would hope that a lot of them will choose not to. What bothers me most is the tax cut that's coming up. People who really don't need the money are going to be given a break and people obviously who do need help have already been cut, and through situations like this, it looks like there's more and worse and stronger measures coming down the pike and I don't see how it's good for Ontario, Canada, any town in sight or any company in sight. I think it's a mistake.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much, Eric. I was very pleased the way you opened your presentation with introducing yourself as the owner of a steel mill. I think that truly is the spirit today, that we individually are responsible for our lives, if we don't have a disability. I think Algoma workers here have done a fabulous job to keep something that otherwise would have died and you should feel proud about that.
With your experiences with the school situation, not one member on this side or that side would disagree with the statement that you made, that anyone who works legitimately is entitled to what they're entitled to and we support that. I want you to be clear on that. We're not supporters of bad bosses. Well, we're not. If you heard the chamber, they aren't either. So don't let all of the rhetoric get you carried away. We really are just people as well and they do not have the corner on sensitivity.
We believe that we are in serious trouble in this province and we're really about fixing it; not talking about it -- fixing it. It hasn't worked and the employment standards doesn't work and I can sit here and give you the numbers. It doesn't work. It doesn't collect the money. We're trying to work together to fix it. This government agreed to have public meetings and in fact there will be broader discussion papers and we want your participation.
Mr Christopherson: You agreed after we forced you. You do that in every city. You keep saying that you wanted to --
The Chair: Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: Chair, you know, he provokes me. He keeps talking about that the government wanted --
The Chair: Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: -- we dragged you kicking and screaming.
The Chair: Order.
Mr O'Toole: -- address my comments to you because this really is your time, Eric, and to address Mr Christopherson, ultimately we did listen. That proves the very thing I'm saying. We did listen, we are here and these have been very beneficial public hearings.
By the way, we are entitled at any time to get briefs. I meet with the labour council in my area and the union leadership there and I don't have a closed mind to change. What I hear Mr Christopherson saying, it really shocks me. I'm quite stunned, and I'm not sure, on rereading Hansard, he won't be surprised himself. The context of what he's said is, "Unions are losing here." Do I understand him to say that he doesn't think the union leadership is capable of representing people like you? Quite the contrary. I think that the union leadership is doing an admirable job of creating militancy and whatever else they're about.
But I really want to make one final point --
Mr Christopherson: Have you got room for the other foot in there?
Mr O'Toole: No, I really do think -- I'm surprised. You read Hansard. You said in your introductory remarks that your collective agreement covers most of the issues in the Employment Standards Act today. That's what you said.
Mr Greaves: I think it's the legal floor, the basis of our contract.
Mr O'Toole: And when it comes to clause 3, all it says is that you will be able to look at a range of benefits for your individual employees in your individual workplace that will be no less than the employment standards themselves collectively. That might mean, for example, someone like you, with a family and that, and you talked about the various things you're involved in, might be able to trade off overtime for time off. In certain workplaces, there are changes taking place. There are more home workers, there are people working more than one job because there isn't enough employment. So I think the world of work is changing. We need to change the Employment Standards Act for those very reasons, wouldn't you agree, to keep up to date? It's 1968; it's a few years old.
Mr Greaves: I do agree that it's a changing world and that our standards will change. My only problem is if they change in such a way that people have less quality of life than they had before. I'm very, very fortunate in my employment. Many people in Canada are not and many people in Ontario don't have a shot at a job right now that you or I would want.
Mr O'Toole: There's no intention in this legislation, despite what we hear from the opposition, to bring down the standards and I want you to go away today convinced that that's the real intention.
Mr Hoy: Good afternoon. Your presentation was just fine. You delivered it well and you obviously gave it some thought before you came in today and I suspect while you were sitting here you developed some more thoughts on what you wanted to say this afternoon. In my notes on what you talked about, the largest print that I wrote down was that you want to see the quality of life in Ontario maintained. Of course, it's taken us decades, literally decades, by various governments, to get to where we are now, and of course, you cited that the rest of the world thinks we're a pretty good place to be, and I agree with you there. So it appears to me through all the hearings to date that people are willing to help contribute to maintain those safety nets in the best way they know how and by trying to provide us collectively here as a committee the best information they have.
Your presentation was balanced enough and I want to talk about what you did say in regard to the unions. That's why I thought your presentation was exactly that -- balanced. You did say that you thought that large unions could probably handle themselves reasonably well in negotiating certain aspects of the collective agreement. But you did say that smaller unions -- and you think that workplaces are getting smaller by the nature of what's going on in the workforce now, and I don't know specifically if you mentioned the unorganized but I think you have a concern down at the smaller unions as opposed to the very huge. I don't think that you have any doubt that the unions represent their workers and can continue to represent their workers. Anyway, if you'd like to comment on any of my statement here, it's fine, but I appreciate what you said today.
Mr Greaves: It's only fair: If I rambled, you can too. If I was giving you the impression that smaller unions were my focus, I must have slipped on my note card there. Essentially, my impression is that roughly three quarters of the working population of Ontario is not part of a union, and as such, my impression is that they have even less protection under the proposed legislation than I do, and I'm being threatened. The basis for my contract of employment is disappearing as we speak. I have no doubt that the juggernaut of this legislation is going to go through. I`m just hoping that phase 2 isn't going to be what the rumblings are. I'm just trying to push the balance towards what I think is reasonable.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Greaves, for appearing before us here today.
OTF ALL-AFFILIATES COALITION OF ALGOMA DISTRICT
The Chair: That leads us now to the OTF All-Affiliates Coalition of Algoma District, our next presenter. Good afternoon. Welcome to the committee. Again, we have 30 minutes for you to divide as you see fit.
Mr Art Caligari: Good afternoon. I'd like to begin by introducing myself. I'm Art Caligari. I represent the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association here in Sault Ste Marie. To my right is Elizabeth Szczotka. She's also part of my executive. Reno Palombi is not present at the moment but he was here.
I'd like to begin with a short introduction, if I may. The OTF All-Affiliates Coalition of Algoma District welcomes the opportunity to address the standing committee on resources development. As teachers, education workers and parents, our members have very grave concerns with various provisions of Bill 49.
The OTF All-Affiliates Coalition of Algoma District represents the vocational and professional interests of approximately 1,700 elementary and secondary school teachers, educational workers and support personnel employed by the separate and public boards of education, serving the residents of Michipicoten, central Algoma and Sault Ste Marie.
We are apprehensive about the quality of life that awaits our students when they are ready to enter the workplace. The proposed amendments will aggravate the dismantling of the social fabric of Ontario and the erosion of economic and social justice.
The OTF All-Affiliates Coalition of Algoma District urges the committee to review and reconsider the amendments proposed to the Employment Standards Act in order to ensure that the basic standards currently available under the act remain in place and proper enforcement is provided.
The Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, Minister of Labour, in a statement to the Legislature claimed that over the last 20 years the Employment Standards Act "has become increasingly complex, more difficult to understand and administer, and more expensive to enforce." On May 13 the minister introduced changes she said will facilitate its administration and enforcement "by reducing ambiguity, simplifying definitions and streamlining procedures."
Through one of her changes, unionized workers will be able to negotiate changes to established standards. Hours of work, statutory holidays, overtime pay, vacation pay and severance pay can all be changed as long as "the negotiated standards as a package provide greater rights or benefits" than those in the act.
At the moment, the act states that time and a half must be paid for all hours worked in excess of 44 hours per week. Most union contracts require it to be paid after 40 hours. The act defines eight days, such as Victoria Day, as public holidays. Again, most union contracts go beyond this minimum number and allow a day off with pay on other days, such as Heritage Day or the civic holiday in August.
Should the amendments pass, employers will have the right to pressure their workers, through collective bargaining, into giving up some of these rights. For example, an employer could get away with paying overtime after 48 hours, previously a violation of the act, as long as the other benefits outweigh the loss and the total package is still greater than the minimum standards in the act, and of course as long as the union agrees to it. But who will judge whether the negotiated package is better than the legal minimum?
The minister has done nothing to streamline the Employment Standards Act. She has, rather, turned it against the very people it was designed to protect. This amendment adds one more weapon to the employers' already well-stocked arsenal while further restricting the unions' right to fair and open collective bargaining.
As standards for unionized workers decline, those for non-union workers will definitely plummet.
Bill 49 represents more than housekeeping. It is our contention that this legislation does not improve the present Employment Standards Act but deregulates and therefore weakens the protection of employees, leaving loopholes for employers to exploit.
As Judy Fudge, in her work The Real Story: An Analysis of the Impact of Bill 49, The Employment Standards Improvement Act, states:
"When the government talks about abolishing red tape through Bill 49, what it means is that it is making it easier for employers to avoid their legal obligations. When the government says it is facilitating the enforcement and administration of the legislation, what it is really doing is shifting responsibility for enforcing basic labour standards on to individual employees and to unaccountable private collection agencies. When it claims that it is saving money by changing enforcement and collection procedures, what it is doing is simply shifting these costs on to vulnerable workers."
She continues that what the proposed changes do "is force unionized employees to rely on the expensive grievance arbitration procedure. In effect, the Ontario government is proposing to privatize employment standards enforcement for unionized employees."
Both organized and unorganized workers will find it more difficult to enforce their rights while employers will find it easier to take advantage of workers. The standards which workers have counted on in Ontario for decades will be diminished.
It is the opinion of the OTF All-Affiliates Coalition that the changes proposed only further tip the balance in the workplace to the side of the employers at the expense of the province's 5.8 million workers.
Ms Elizabeth Szczotka: I would like to discuss some of the specifics in the changes. The first one is flexible standards. The amendment permits the workplace parties to circumvent important minimum standards. Under the act it was illegal for the parties to a collective agreement to negotiate provisions below the prescribed minimum standards. The bill allows a collective agreement to override the legal minimum standards prescribed for severance pay, overtime, public holidays, hours of work and vacation pay if the agreement confers greater rights when those matters are assessed together.
Employers will be free to attempt to bargain the retention of what were previously minimum standards with regard to overtime pay, public holidays, vacation pay and severance pay, in exchange for increased hours of work.
Bargaining will become more difficult. What were accepted minimum standards in the past will become obstacles to the conclusion of collective agreements.
Another area is the enforcement under a collective agreement. Under the act, unionized employees have access to the investigative and enforcement power of the Ministry of Labour. This inexpensive and relatively expeditious method of administering complaints against employers had proved extremely useful, particularly in situations of workplace closures and with issues such as pregnancy leave, severance and termination pay.
This bill proposes to remove from unionized workers recourse to this avenue of complaint, instead requiring them to use the grievance and arbitration procedures of their collective agreement to enforce rights under the act. Unions and their members will be forced to spend more time and financial resources to pursue these complaints.
Indeed, should the amendments be passed, collective agreements will have the act virtually deemed to be included in them. Unions will be faced with fair-representation complaints by members dissatisfied with the way in which they have been dealt with in respect of employment standards complaints.
Another area is the enforcement for non-unionized employees. These amendments propose a limit of $10,000 on the amount recoverable by a non-unionized worker making a complaint. They also force a worker to choose between making a complaint or taking civil action. Currently there is no limit on what is recoverable.
These changes will force workers with claims of more than $10,000 to initiate civil action, a costly measure in terms of legal expenses. This will result in many workers having legitimate claims forgoing them owing to the associated costs. Workers who decide to file a complaint will be unable to claim additional moneys through the courts.
Workers who are unaware of the proposed two-week time line under the act to decide whether to file a complaint or take legal action may find themselves out of luck. To quote an article from the Toronto Star written by Jonathan Eaton, "Bill 49 eliminates options for discharged employees while handing a huge strategic advantage to their former employers."
Under maximum claims: This amendment sets a statutory maximum of $10,000 that a worker may recover through the complaint process. This maximum appears to apply to the amount owing of back wages and other moneys, such as vacation, severance and termination pay. A few exceptions are provided, such as orders awarding wages in respect of violations of the pregnancy and parental provisions and unlawful reprisals under the act.
Since workers are often owed more than $10,000, this provision may encourage employers to violate standards, knowing that the potential for affected workers to be able to afford the legal costs and/or the time involved to follow through the court action is slim.
Another area of concern for us is the use of private collectors: These amendments propose to privatize the collection function of the Ministry of Labour's employment practices branch. Private for-profit operators will be given the opportunity to collect amounts owing under the act. These provisions would enable collectors to charge fees from persons who owe money. Even if the amount owed is not all collected, apportioning of the amount collected between the worker, government and the collector would still occur.
Obviously, this method of collection will result in workers receiving smaller settlements. They will undoubtedly face pressure from collectors to accept less and will feel they have little alternative, or risk receiving nothing at all. Unfortunately, and in addition, work formerly carried out by public employees will be farmed out to the private sector, resulting in the loss of many unionized jobs.
Another area is limitation periods: Amendments are proposed which change a number of time lines in the act. Employees will be entitled to back pay for a period of only six months from the date the complaint was filed, rather than the current two-year period. This time restriction will penalize workers who often must sever their employment before filing a complaint.
This is a serious restriction, particularly for workers who have been denied their rights for a longer period of time and cannot afford a civil suit. Workers who fail to file within this time limit will be forced to take their employer to court.
In contrast, the Ministry of Labour still has two years to conduct their investigation into a complaint and a further two years to enforce payment of moneys owing. This places an unfair burden on the worker.
Mr Caligari: In summary, the OTF All-Affiliates Coalition of Algoma District is opposed to the proposed changes for the following reasons: Workers will be forced to choose between their jobs and their rights; penalties on employers who violate the Employment Standards Act are reduced; the provision of minimum workers' rights for both non-union and union workers is removed; the amount a worker can claim against an employer is reduced; the period in which workers can register complaints is shortened; poor and low-income workers are compelled to seek justice in the court system without the benefit of legal aid; private collection agencies are given the power to negotiate a settlement; and the amendments are a transparent attempt to weaken organized labour, as we see it.
The new law "will dilute working standards across the board in the province of Ontario," said Pradeep Kumar, a professor of industrial relations at Queen's University in Kingston. "I think the government is trying to weaken the labour movement in any way it can in the name of getting a level playing field with the US."
Our recommendations: The OTF All-Affiliates Coalition of Algoma urges the committee to review and reconsider the amendments proposed to the Employment Standards Act. We recommend that the government:
(1) Maintain the minimum employment standards for hours of work, public holidays, overtime pay and severance pay currently in the Employment Standards Act, thereby ensuring the protection of the workers in this province.
(2) Clarify employee rights regarding continuation of service credits and entitlements to vacation time and vacation pay under the pregnancy and parental leave provisions.
(3) Maintain the present complaint process to the Ministry of Labour without capping the amounts workers can claim, and retain the claim and investigation time at two years.
(4) Develop procedures to enable the Ministry of Labour to more strictly enforce the Employment Standards Act with restrictions against repeat employer offenders.
(5) Let's hope it will maintain the use of public service employees to collect money owed to workers. Their commitment is to public service and to the good of the public, not for private gain.
Our conclusions: The gutting of basic employment standards for the vast majority of Ontario workers is simply the most recent victim of the government's neo-conservative agenda. The tenets of the agenda are all too familiar to those who are committed to defending the interests and rights of the vulnerable citizens of Ontario: the abandonment of social programs, reduced taxes, enrichment of the affluent.
It is not the recession that is at the core of the revenue problem. It is not the broader public sector that is at the core of the revenue problem. It is not the welfare parent nor the marginalized who are at the core of the revenue problem. Rather, it is the implementation of an economic agenda that is definitely shifting the wealth to the corporate world where it's taxed very little, if at all, and where it does not contribute its fair share to the wellbeing and social fabric of this province in which we live. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That leaves us about four minutes per caucus, and we'll start with the government.
Mr Baird: Thank you very much for your presentation. I appreciate your time. I noted that in your conclusion you mentioned it leaves the corporate world in control. The biggest property owner on Bay Street is very well known. It's the teachers' pension fund, which I think is important to put on the record. I noticed they were looking at trying to change the editorial policy of the Toronto Sun the other day.
Mr Caligari: We're learning to play this game as well as you are playing it.
Mr Baird: It's not what I'm playing. I don't treat my responsibilities as a game, I can assure you.
I was just reading, though, the concerns on page 8, and I feel it's important to clarify the record on a number of proposed changes you've cited your opposition to. The first one:
"Workers will be forced to choose between their jobs and their rights." No.
"Penalties on employers who violate the Employment Standards Act are reduced." The act is right here. There is not one reduction in penalties.
"The provision of minimum workers' rights for both non-union and union workers is removed." Again, no.
"The amount a worker can claim against an employer is reduced." No.
"The period in which workers can register complaints is shortened." That's definitely the case, because we feel we can do a better job for workers in retrieving their money if they come forward immediately so we can deal with the situation early on, not when memories have gone, when bankruptcy trustees have closed shop and when records are harder to attain.
"Poor and low-income workers are compelled to seek justice in the court system without the benefit of legal aid." There's certainly no compelling in the legislation.
"Private collection agencies are given the power to negotiate a settlement." That's certainly something that's done now. It's done every day. It's been done by the past government, and I don't think anyone has ever accused Bob Mackenzie or Shirley Coppen of being anti-worker or miserable. Maybe CUPE has during the social contract, but I don't think anyone would say that today.
"The amendments are a transparent attempt to weaken organized labour." I can assure you it strengthens organized labour. I think it's a recognition of the success of organized labour. When you look at the role that we're asking trade unions to undertake in terms of enforcing the Employment Standards Act, as most of them do already -- we heard from a fellow from a CUPE local this morning who said his collection rate is 100%. He's a public sector CUPE local obviously, and he can get 100%. We heard from an Algoma Steelworker this morning who said he thinks his big union can do a great job doing it.
The concern is, let's differ on the issues, but let's make sure we don't veer off from what's in the legislation as a whole. That's a concern many of us have, that we find the debate going off to things that aren't at all in the bill; that's a concern that many of us on the committee have.
Ms Szczotka: My response in particular to the flexible standards, if you are talking about people who are equal in strength, the employer and employee, where you can work on flexible standards to get to a mutual agreement, certainly it takes some work, but you know and I know that very often we don't have equality between an employer and an employer.
With regard to the first point we had written down, that workers will be forced to choose between their jobs and their rights, we know that some employers will ask employees to have flexibility, perhaps work extra hours for maybe a holiday pay and they really have no recourse to say, "No, it really is not to my best mental health to be working all this extra overtime for some holiday pay." That is not something that I find equal. That is something in the changes to Bill 49 and that is a concern to us.
Mr Baird: Does your union and its pension fund have strict rules with respect to the fact that they won't invest in any company that is negligent in paying their employment standards orders? If not, would you bring those in? I mean that very sincerely. I think that would be an excellent way. As one of the biggest shareholders on the Toronto Stock Exchange, I think you could do more in terms of providing leadership to everyone. Obviously, it's the owners of capital who've got to take responsibility in terms of enforcement, and a rule that the pension fund wouldn't be allowed to invest in companies who are negligent on their orders I think would be a real impetus from the ownership perspective.
Mr Hoy: Good afternoon. Thank you for your brief this afternoon. You express a concern about the use of private collectors, that workers will be under pressure to settle for less. Do you want to describe for me why you feel they will be pressured to take less?
Ms Szczotka: The private collectors are, I would presume, as private agencies, to take and make a profit; that's why they're in business. Sitting down with someone who may not be fully aware of everything in the Employment Standards Act -- it is not required by legislation, for example, to be posted at the workplace, as the health and safety act is -- they may be pressured: "Why don't you accept this amount of money? It's very close to what you're asking for, but I don't think we can get it. We have this time line. I think this is our last" -- you know how it works with negotiations. You sit down with someone and you can certainly pressure them into agreeing with something: "Right now, you can have this. This is it right now. A further six months down the line, maybe we can't guarantee this. Take what you have right now and be satisfied with it."
Mr Hoy: So the employer might have deeper pockets and can simply wait it out as the employee's bills mount or whatever.
Ms Szczotka: Yes.
Mr Hoy: In the agricultural community, which I am somewhat familiar with, from time to time the Ministry of Agriculture, through another commission, will advertise the fact that there's been fraud taking place. I don't know that they do it each and every time. Some of the cases are not large, but nevertheless there might be fraud involved. What do you think about publicizing the names of repeat offenders of the Employment Standards Act publicly?
Mr Caligari: I have no problem with that personally, if you're asking me personally. I think everybody should know who they're dealing with.
Mr Martin: I'm having a really hard time believing what I'm hearing here today. All day it's been the tag team, Mr O'Toole and Mr Baird, putting a sheen on this legislation that just belies any of the actual fact in it. I guess the phrase that keeps rolling over and over again in my mind is: Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.
I thought it was just this piece of legislation, but I was just over at the Water Tower Inn for a few hours, where another piece of legislation is working its way through the system. Over there, they're looking at the tenant protection act. At least while I was there, no group of tenants nor anybody representing tenants nor any tenant had anything supportive to say, nor do they see this as protection for them as tenants in any way.
Here we have An Act to "improve" the Employment Standards Act of the province. In Thunder Bay yesterday and here today, I still haven't heard a group of employees or anybody representing employees come before us to say that this in any way -- except for perhaps two provisions, which we give you credit for -- improves the Employment Standards Act.
It seems to me that this is another example of the smoke-and-mirror approach to life that this government has taken to introduce more and more initiatives that take more and more away from those who work in this province and the ordinary citizen who is simply trying to put bread on the table, pay the rent and keep the economy going.
I suggested yesterday that this committee send a message to the government to simply withdraw this piece of legislation, because it obviously isn't doing what it says it's intended to do -- we can't find any example of where it is -- and that they should spend the energy and effort and resource they're using to work this piece of legislation through the process on the real agenda they should be looking at, which is creating jobs, the 750,000 jobs they said during the election they would create. That would cure a whole lot of the problems we're experiencing, because 750,000 more people working would be paying taxes, would be able to afford better housing. A lot of the issues these folks here seem to be wanting to resolve would actually probably resolve themselves.
What would you suggest? My priority is to create jobs. What would your priority be if we weren't spending our time on this useless piece of legislation, Art?
Mr Caligari: Maybe I should run for Parliament, after that.
Mr Baird: You'd be running in his riding.
Mr Caligari: My belief is the following: I try to be non-political in a lot of things I think, but what I do think about very strongly is family ties, families, good social fabrics within the community, those types of things. I have to agree, and I'll be frank with you, this is smoke. You guys are going to do it anyway, no matter what we say, no matter what the people of this province are telling you, and we're telling you, "Hey, maybe you're not doing it the right way." Why don't you listen? My only rationale for seeing you doing it the way you want to do it is because your ideology differs from mine, and because you believe that's the way things should be, there's nothing we can do to change your minds, except the next election.
The Acting Chair (Mr Ted Chudleigh): Thank you very much. We appreciate your taking the time to come in and make a presentation to us this afternoon.
The Acting Chair: Our next deputant is Dennis Thompson. Mr Thompson, welcome to the standing committee on resources development. We have 30 minutes together, which we can use for a presentation and for a question period. Would you commence your presentation, please.
Mr Dennis Thompson: Mr Chairman, members of the committee, other interested parties and observers, I am pleased this day to address a few aspects of Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act of Ontario. I hope I come to this committee with some appreciation for the interests of both labour and management, who are very well represented here today. First, I am married to a teacher. Second, I am an employer. Finally, my profession as a chartered accountant has fostered an appreciation for a very diverse client base composed of workers, employers and, not to be forgotten in all of this, Mr and Mrs Taxpayer.
However, when it comes to workplace issues, quite simply, I tremble. I would rather collect an unpaid account than conduct a performance review with an employee and I much prefer a thorny tax problem to conducting an interview. I'll do just about anything, but please, please, if you would only wear my personnel hat on occasion.
For this reason, my sympathies have to go out to Elizabeth Witmer in her resolve to eliminate certain duplications in the Employment Standards Act of Ontario. I think employment laws are something we have learned to accept and have actually gotten to like, because it spells things out very nicely for us. I have a tremendous appreciation for the tradition of the Employment Standards Act over the last 20 years.
I believe that the present government, though, has looked first of all at the most effective use of taxpayer resources in the administration of ESA. A question we have to ask ourselves this afternoon is, are there any duplications in the existing legislation? It seems to me that maintaining a system that tolerates alternative avenues of filing complaints has to be revisited. For this reason, I believe that employees to whom a collective agreement applies should be bound by their union's decision. By the same token, I believe that non-unionized employees will have to decide relatively early in the process whether to proceed through the Employment Standards Act or the civil courts. However, I do not believe that two weeks is a sufficient grace period to allow an employee to seek legal advice concerning a decision. Lots can happen in two weeks: a vacation, a death in the family, a major sickness. Therefore, I would encourage you to extend that period to a minimum of, let's say, six weeks.
I do have a concern about the $10,000 maximum set out in section 21 of the bill, subsection 65(1.3) of the act. If an employee has undertaken to seek protection under the act, thereby deciding not to go the civil route, I do not believe the size of the claim should be relevant. I would wonder whether in all cases the quantum of the claim is indeed ascertainable early in the process. At a minimum, I would suggest that if an amount owing to an employee is greater than that for which an order can be made under the act, he or she should be allowed to recover this excess in the civil courts.
What is most puzzling to me in this bill is the very tight time frame of six months within which an employee must file in order to seek redress through the ministry. To be blunt, I find it strange that this government would pursue such a direction when we see trends in other levels of government towards a more compassionate treatment of people who are victims of the system and don't have the resources and knowledge that a larger entity has at its disposal. Let me give you a "for instance" here. Revenue Canada now gives an individual one year to appeal an assessment under the Income Tax Act, and for the longest time during the period in which I have practised accountancy, that was 90 days. On that note, I would strongly suggest that the present period of two years be kept in place.
In a more positive vein, there are some good things in the bill for workers. It makes it easier for employers who violate the act to be prosecuted. It extends the time period from 15 to 45 days for an appeal to an order or a refusal to issue an order. Now, obviously this also applies to the employer as well.
But I think the most significant enhancements in this bill are from an efficiency perspective. I believe that the caseload is becoming an unacceptable burden, with an average claim life of seven months. Of the claims presently on the books, over 40% are over 180 days old. I guess I would surmise that this is kind of the driving factor towards an extensive revision of existing legislation, one that clarifies certain provisions and gives more teeth to the director of the program, and in some case to the arbitrator in a collective agreement.
One of the facets of the changes which is most encouraging is the use of private collection agencies to collect unpaid wages and vacation pay. This will inevitably translate into a better use of ministry resources, as well as act as a deterrent to non-compliance with the act.
In summary, and I've been very brief, with a few changes, this can be good legislation which will allow a less intrusive approach for government with respect to the Ontario work scene. I'm of the opinion, though, that certain of these changes could jeopardize existing rights of some of the most vulnerable members in the working world, particularly those from the non-union sector composed, in a great part, by the poor, the uneducated, as well as those not well versed in the English language.
I would ask, therefore, as members of this committee, that you work to strike a fair balance between a better turnover in caseload, on the one hand, and the avoidance of those isolated situations where an individual is deprived because the clock is no longer ticking. With that, I guess my time is up.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much; we appreciate your presentation. If we could start a seven-minute round of questions, seven minutes for each caucus.
Mr Lalonde: Thank you, Mr Thompson. It's a very well-presented brief. You just mentioned something that reflects what my colleague Mr Hoy said a little while ago. You mentioned that the bad employers, we could call them, should be revisited at times after receiving a complaint. Probably the enforcement officer should at times visit those employers, because if they did it for one employee, they would do it for others after; I would imagine so. I really appreciate this point that you brought to our attention.
But I also think employers should be more educated towards the Employment Standards Act, especially in small communities. Very few are fully aware of the employment standards. After I left last weekend's visit we had up to London, I went back to my community and I started to speak about the employment standards to the employers in my area. I haven't seen one that was aware of the employment standards. We should have seminars. The government should take the responsibility of holding seminars to inform the employers.
You also mentioned that the claims should be left to the period of time that is indicated in the actual employment standard of two years. I fully agree with you on that, because it was mentioned all along, ever since we started these hearings, that people will decide not to complain because of being afraid to lose their jobs. If you do complain, the majority of time -- probably only 5% of the time it will be the employees who are still on the job who would complain -- the others will complain after leaving the job. If they'd done it for six months, the employee would have done it for probably two years. I agree. Over 1,500 of those claims that were uncollected before were mainly of groups or employers that closed shop or went bankrupt. But still, I feel that the amount, even though we only collected 25% in the past -- not even quite 25% of the claims that were due to be collected -- the government should have left this section in for two years to be able --
Mr Thompson: The 25%, you're talking total number of orders, or are you talking --
Mr Lalonde: The amount of money.
Mr Thompson: Dollars.
Mr Lalonde: Yes.
Mr Thompson: That's interesting. That's approximately the same percentage in respect to when an order is issued, as opposed to the number of complaints that are filed. That's approximately 25% as well.
Mr Lalonde: I have no other points, Mr Chair.
Mr Thompson: Your comment regarding education of the public, particularly employers -- I think also a lot of employees are certainly not aware of things like vacation pay and that. It's interesting because the chamber of commerce in our area received some information that was prepared by the government recently which explains the act and it's in a format that can be circulated in a local newspaper. I think there are avenues in which both the private sector through chambers of commerce, as well as workers, can access this information and present it in a very readable form in the local media.
Mr Lalonde: You've just touched a point. I even mentioned that on my weekends, that probably chambers of commerce should invite at times a member of the labour department to explain to the people the Employment Standards Act. One employee said to me, "Jean-Marc, if you ever come up in the public telling the people what the standards of the employment act are, you'll be in trouble."
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate those questions. Can we move to the third party, Mr Martin.
Mr Martin: Thanks for coming today. Your presentation actually was quite interesting and you obviously put some thought into it. I'd just like to ask for some clarification and maybe we can have a little discussion about a couple of points that you made. One is the issue of duplication and how we define duplication. You've defined it I think by suggesting that there are various avenues people can take to have a grievance resolved. Some other folks might say it's simply different recourses to a seen or a felt injustice.
I think we have always prided ourselves, as a society, in the fact that we provide appeal procedures, appeal processes. They may be seen by some as simply duplicative avenues, and by others as sort of another place where, if they're not satisfied here with the response they get, and they're obviously in a situation where -- for example, an employee hasn't been paid for a couple of days' work. Even if he's in the middle scale of pay, that's important, as a matter of fact. It's crucial in terms of buying groceries and paying the rent and meeting financial obligations. If he or she doesn't feel that one particular avenue is working because the person in that office -- maybe the lineup is too long or there's a personality conflict, those kinds of things. I know when I've personally been involved in that kind of a scenario, I've always felt good that at least there was another avenue I could take. Is that what you mean by duplication?
Mr Thompson: Yes, I think my comment was relative to the prospect of a union determining a resolution of the problem for the benefit of the employee, and that be the sole avenue in this situation. I guess my perspective is that the union should, in most cases, be the best avenue of approach. I think you can add to society many levels or avenues of approach in resolving difficulties, but eventually it becomes very burdensome, because there are too many players involved.
Mr Martin: It seems to me that in many areas of life today, whether it's health care or legal, the principle of a second opinion is one that we hold as something that everybody should have access to. But you're saying that in this instance employees -- and there are unionized and non-unionized workers, there are big unions and small unions, and a whole variety of scenarios that can unfold -- on an issue which has such tremendous importance re getting paid for your work or whether you get holidays or not or whether overtime kicks in, and the impact that will have on their ability to put food on the table or pay the rent, they shouldn't have a second opinion, they shouldn't have another avenue if they're not quite satisfied with what they're getting over here. You would call that duplication. I'm sure there are others out there who would simply say, "That's the way the system works for us in Ontario in 1996 and in many other areas; why not this one too?"
Mr Thompson: I guess I can envision a society in which an individual can be represented by their union, that the people who have been put in charge have integrity and would plead the cause of an employee. My ignorance in this is maybe showing itself, but is there not a higher appeal to the Ontario labour congress that can be made?
Mr Martin: Yes, and that's what we're calling duplication here.
Mr Thompson: I don't see that as a problem.
Mr Martin: You had given the minister some kudos for moving to get rid of duplication. Well, this is what she's doing in this instance, in my read of it, in my understanding of it.
Just to move on to another piece, I want to talk to you for just a few minutes if I could about the question of efficiency. You talked about creating greater efficiencies. I think as we listen, we often hear about the process of moving from publicly paid collectors to collection agencies and the efficiency that will create.
We had a woman here this morning who talked about having to go before the Employment Standards Act and get some money that was owed her. She got 100% after she went through a process, and it was a rather stressful process for her. If we were in the scenario that we're imagining today under this legislation and she had to go to a collection agency, even if she collected 100% -- which she probably wouldn't, because I suspect there will be an urgency about the collection agency people and a new environment that will evolve that will see lots of negotiation, "Can we get 50 cents on the dollar, can we get 60 cents on the dollar?" -- ultimately, no matter how much they get, unless the employer pays the cost of the collector, which I don't see, there will be a portion taken off the top. So at the end of the day, for efficiency, you're going to take away from an employee, a worker who has worked for some wages, some portion of that which she is owed, because we would prefer to be efficient than to be effective, I would suggest in this instance. Is that what you're saying?
Mr Thompson: I think you're maybe reading into the situation a lot of situations in which certainly there is the potential for that kind of abuse and that kind of scenario, but as I see this legislation relative to primarily wages and vacation pay for relatively small claims, there are going to be a lot of them that are very perfunctory in the sense that they can be accommodated very expeditiously by another individual.
Mr Martin: And take a bit off the top.
Mr Thompson: As I understand it, the employer pays that; it's recoverable.
Mr Christopherson: It doesn't go to the employee, though.
The Acting Chair: Perhaps if we move to the government's question time we can have further discussion on it.
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): Mr Thompson, I understand from your comments that in your business life you've had quite a bit of experience with the Employment Standards Act. As we've proceeded through these hearings, it seems that most of the people who have made presentations are agreed that at present the collection part of the act does not appear to be working well. This is additional to some of the earlier questions to you. I was intrigued by your comment that you felt -- correct me if I'm wrong in recalling what you said -- that the use of the private collection professionals would provide a deterrent to employers who wish to avoid the act. People I represent who own businesses -- and myself being a business owner -- don't wish to compete with people who don't comply with the Employment Standards Act. I wonder if I could hear a few more comments from you on how you feel this particular section of the proposed legislation will make the act work more efficiently in terms of collecting money.
Mr Thompson: In the sense of being a little more visible, being that it's in the private sector. What do we know about people who pursue according to the act? I know of very few situations where I have knowledge of it actually happening. It's kept relatively quiet, involving a few people. I think a private situation involves a little more publicity; it would be in front of the public a little more. That's my perspective there.
Mr Grimmett: Do you have experience with collection people yourself that would lead you to believe that they have an interest in pursuing this and that they are capable of pursuing the collections?
Mr Thompson: Yes and no. In some situations, in certain localities, we are very representative in terms of things like Small Claims Court and that particular function, but in other areas we may be a little bit weak at the present time. Possibly, though, the added business will maybe allow better people to get involved.
Mr Grimmett: So you see it as a potential for creating a bigger market and perhaps attracting more people into that industry?
Mr Thompson: I think it should add to the private sector economy, but we're not talking big dollars, I don't believe.
The Acting Chair: Thank you, Mr Thompson, for joining us today and making your presentation. We appreciate it very much.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 1880
The Acting Chair: We now move to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1880, Cora-Lee Skanes. Welcome to the committee.
Ms Cora-Lee Skanes: Good afternoon. My name is Cora-Lee Skanes and I'm here representing the Canadian Union of Public Employees. As well as being a local union president for CUPE, I represent northern Ontario on the CUPE national executive board. I'm sure you've already read CUPE's brief, which was submitted to you in a previous hearing. It's not my intention to repeat this information, but to bring a different perspective to this issue.
The message that this government has been sending out since its election is that Ontario is open for business. The government feels that attacking the workers of this province is the way to entice employers into moving into this province. Since the Conservative government took control, labour relations are on the decline and labour protest is on the rise. Not only labour, but seniors, anti-poverty groups, social justice coalitions and various other human rights activists, are taking to the streets to send a clear message: Ontario is not open for business the way this government wants business to run. Attacking the vulnerable, women, visible minorities, workers in service industries, domestic and home workers, seniors and children is not the answer to the economic problem in this province.
This government has frozen the minimum wage, attacked injured workers under the changes in the Workers' Compensation Act, made workers more vulnerable under the changes in the Employment Standards Act and apparently will jeopardize workers further under the proposed changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. How can all these changes which affect workers in this province and are causing the worst labour unrest in some time be attractive to employers wanting to move into this province?
Some of the changes proposed and their possible impact under Bill 49 are as follows:
If workers file a complaint against an employer, there is no protection in place for them -- 90% of workers do not file a complaint until after they quit their job -- thereby forcing them to choose between their job and filing a complaint. A worker now would only have six months to file a complaint instead of the current two years, the employer is only responsible to compensate for a six-month period and the dispute could take years to resolve. On the other side, the ministry has two years to investigate and two years to recover the moneys owed. A minimum claim amount can be set and to recoup below the minimum or above the maximum the worker would have to go to court with no assistance in paying for the court costs. Meanwhile the worker cannot pay their rent or put food on the table for their children. Let us not forget that all these changes will allow the ministry to lay off more employment standards officers.
Unionized workers no longer have access to the ministry for complaints. They must be dealt with through the grievance process, which will result in higher costs in arbitration. This government has already removed the grievance settlement officers, mediators who helped both sides resolve issues cooperatively. How will this attract employers to this province? These disputes are a significant cost to the employer as well as the union.
Private collection agencies will be responsible for collecting moneys owed to workers. How can this make sense? Those agencies have to make money, so the cost to the employers will increase or the moneys legitimately owed to the workers will decrease.
Apparently this government is withdrawing the proposed changes dealing with minimum standards but will be reviewing them in the fall. It is important to address this issue so that people know before the changes happen what the impact will be.
Unionized workers at the bargaining table have always been able to depend on their rights regarding maximum hours of work, public holidays, overtime and severance pay. With the changes proposed under Bill 49, these protections are gone. Minimum rights can be bargained away at the table. Who will decide when greater rights are conferred when all matters are assessed together? Those workers who have been able to achieve additional improvements through collective action could have those improvements stripped away by virtue of still being within the standards. Those of us who work in the public sector understand exactly what this means. Our employers receive their funding from this government, the same government that is introducing Bill 49. We understand this is a pressure tactic by the government to force our employers to attack our collective agreements. When the funding is reduced, the workers must pay, but how big a price?
How does this government hope to entice employers into this province when labour unrest will be on the increase? Opening up these basic worker rights is opening up a can of worms. It is declaring open season on workers, taking away rights those workers who went before us gave their lives and livelihoods to achieve. Let us not forget the Winnipeg 1919 general strike. Let us not forget those dedicated workers who gave their lives so we could enjoy protection against employers who would take advantage of the workers of this province.
We should be making minimum employment standards apply to all workers. The time has long past when people should be treated differently. Why should the standards apply to some and not to all workers? This bill should be addressing the inequities in the act, not creating more.
As a representative of CUPE, I bring the following message: We have only begun to fight. The non-unionized, the seniors, anti-poverty groups and unions have banded together to fight your agenda. You are attacking very basic principles and we will fight back. The label "unorganized" as it applies to the non-unionized of this province is a misnomer. This group is becoming more and more organized and joining forces with other groups, including unions, to stand up and be counted. The days of protest should be sending that signal very clearly to this government.
On a personal note, I have a 17-year-old son. The thing foremost in his mind is whether he will be able to get a job when he is finished his education. This government keeps talking about encouraging employers into this province, but each step it takes is a step backwards in rights for workers and still the jobs do not appear. As a mother, the thing foremost in my mind is: What kind of protection will my son have when he does enter the workforce? What quality of life will be afforded to him?
A previous Tory leader said, "Give me four years and you won't recognize this country." We hope this Tory government will not follow in his footsteps. We want to be able to recognize this province in four years.
It is becoming increasingly clear that all the sacrifices our parents and grandparents made are being counted as nothing. Must the sacrifices and the labour unrest repeat themselves? Have we learned nothing from history? Let us not allow history to repeat itself. Let us work together towards a harmonious working province where unrest does not occur.
Give us our basic rights and protection and stop attacking the backbone of this province: the people who make Ontario work, the workers who hold the future of this province.
I wish to thank you for this opportunity to present my views and I hope you will take these concerns seriously before passing this bill into law.
Mr Martin: Cora-Lee, thank you for coming today and making such a good presentation. All the points you make are certainly important and significant and need to be made, but for me the most important and salient point you make is actually the last one -- that people are gathering together, people are recognizing what's happening to them and who's doing it to them. It's important, as this group travels around the province, and there are at least government members on the committee, that they know that you know and that you're not just here on your behalf. You're here on behalf of a whole lot of other folks out there who are more and more coming to understand and realize what's going on and know who's on whose side and who's doing it to them and who probably are being challenged, by way of the attack on their very basic rights and entitlements and quality-of-life issues, to look at what alternatives there might be out there to what this government is doing.
I put a motion on the table yesterday in Thunder Bay that asked for this committee to ask the government to withdraw this legislation and get on with the real agenda that we should be tackling, all of us together, which is the creation of work, which is the stimulation of the economy. To a person, everybody I talk to who voted for this government thought it was actually going to create work. There are even some folks on welfare who voted for this government because they thought they were going to get a job. They thought workfare meant they were going to get a good job, and they're sadly disappointed now.
I'm suggesting that this government withdraw this smoke-and-mirrors effort, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act, a juxtaposition, an anomaly or a play on words -- and the bill that's across the way at the Water Tower Inn, an act to improve tenants' rights, to protect tenants' rights or whatever -- and get on with the business of creating work, which would give us the resources, energy and impetus we need to resolve a whole lot of these problems without having to create the kind of instability and stress that are being created. Given this opportunity, Cora-Lee, what else would you be doing, if you were they, as government today besides this act?
Ms Skanes: I certainly wouldn't be putting this bill on the table. But I agree with you; I think the number one concern to everyone out there, and that's not speaking as a union member, is jobs. What kind of future does this province have? We already have enough people out of work. I heard a comment earlier about people getting claims disputed, and the majority of them get jobs. I'd like to know where those jobs are, because I know a lot of people who would like jobs.
I don't think this government understands yet the situation out there and how desperate some people are to find work. I think people are realizing more and more that workfare is not the answer, that it's not going to create jobs, because for whatever period of time you're there, not only are you taking good-paying jobs away from people and replacing them at this lower rate of pay, but at the end of the day the job still isn't there.
Mr Christopherson: Is there still some time left, Mr Chair?
The Chair: Yes.
Mr Christopherson: I also want to thank you for your presentation. So far when we've been talking about the issue of contracting out minimum standards, what the government calls flexible standards, we've been focusing on the fact that the smaller unions, isolated locals, are the most vulnerable, but we haven't really addressed the fact that even the Steelworkers and the Auto Workers in their larger places still will face pressure on the bargaining table and have bargaining chips on the table that otherwise wouldn't be there, because right now you can't put the issue of something less than employment standards on the table. Those of us who have actually sat at bargaining tables and understand how that process works realize that it is a process of tradeoffs, of compromise, of setting certain minimum goals and achieving them on both sides of the table.
But there's no win there for the union in doing this. It's going to show itself mostly in concessionary-type bargaining, where the employer feels it has the upper hand. The union's in a weak position and is defending everything it's got. If they can come out with that, they consider it a victory, and that will affect larger unions as much as smaller unions. As a member of the largest union in the country, I wouldn't mind your thoughts on that.
Ms Skanes: It's a very interesting comment, because you're right, it is about give and take. If we've been able to depend on nothing else, it's that there is a minimum. There is only so much the employer can take away from us. To be perfectly honest, over the last few years that's all that's been happening: They've been taking away; they haven't been giving.
It's very difficult to get your members to go out on strike. In this day and age, when we haven't had a raise for a while -- there's no raises in the foreseeable future -- it's even more difficult to go on strike because you're never going to recoup what you lose. People have families to feed. It's a sad state to have to look at the fact that we might be walking the picket line for what used to be minimum standards, because when those are on the table, we have nothing left to give in the give and take. Most of it's all been taken away from us.
I would hate to think that in what's supposed to be the best country in the world to live in, the most profitable province, or what should be the most profitable province, would put minimum standards on the line for its workers.
Mr Wettlaufer: Ms Skanes, I have a little bit of a problem with some of the presentations where they've said that the minimum standards, minimum rights, can be bargained away. Right now, under the present legislation, when the collective agreements come due, the employer can put everything on the table and ask for the rights that are in the collective agreements to be taken away. Can the employer not do that?
Ms Skanes: Yes, they can.
Mr Wettlaufer: Of course, the reaction of the union would be no. Under the proposed legislation, I don't see too much change to that. I see that it says here, "A collective agreement prevails over section 58...if the collective agreement confers greater rights." What's the difference?
Ms Skanes: I think our dilemma would be, who decides what greater rights are? I mentioned that in my brief. Who has the ultimate decision in whether trading off overtime for an extra week of vacation is a greater right?
Mr Wettlaufer: It would be a matter of negotiation, would it not?
Ms Skanes: The bill is not clear on that. If it's a matter of negotiations, now you're going to negotiate whether things are minimum or not? I could foresee a group going out on strike because nobody can decide what the minimum is. The government at some point is supposed to protect the people of the province, and I believe that's what these minimum standards do. There is a bottom line and the employers can't go below that. It horrifies me to think that bottom line could go away, because we see some of the things we'd lose in collective bargaining now. For this government to take away the minimum standards in this province, that's a horrific thought to me. I think it's inexcusable that the government would put that in this bill so that people could be laid open even wider through manipulation and being bullied by the employer to accept less than a minimum standard.
Mr Wettlaufer: You're looking at it from one standpoint; I'm looking at it from another. I see in this proposed legislation that there are some guarantees in here that weren't there under the previous legislation. I think with any legislation there's going to be some give and take. We hope, of course, that we can improve the employer-employee relationship with this new legislation. As I say, only time will tell. We hope we've improved it, but only time will tell.
I believe, Mr Chair, that my colleague has a question.
Ms Skanes: If I could just respond to one of your comments.
Mr Wettlaufer: Certainly.
Ms Skanes: I don't understand how you think you can improve the employer-employee relationship by removing minimum standards. We've heard stories about how there's manipulation going on with minimum standards. If you remove them, how do you possibly think that could improve employer-employee standards? The employee does not have any power here at all dealing with employers. The only power we do have as far as minimums go is the Employment Standards Act. So where would we be in a position to be able to fight the employer on that and how would that make it easier? I don't understand that.
Mr O'Toole: Yes, Cora-Lee, just quickly, I will try to respond to that in a way, if you don't mind my addressing you by your first name. This government's agenda may not be immediately likeable, but I think in the long term if will be an agenda that works, because the whole focus is jobs. That is it. The strategy is to have fairness, balance and an open-for-business -- working with all of the constituent groups to create jobs. By being belligerent and us fighting and all the stuff, that is not part of what I think is a productive atmosphere for investment, and we need investment. I'm not some fat cat. We need investment.
Here's the key: I relate very personally. I have five children. I have a boy who's 17, and that's the very reason I ran. His future looked very, very pessimistic, along with my other children's. That's honestly why I'm doing this. I honestly believe that we have to change the agenda. It was going this way.
I don't blame the previous government totally for the whole demise of the world and I am not so sophisticated to presume that I understand the world. But I only know one thing: It wasn't going up, it was going down. The current system needs to have some redress and I believe that you should be a legitimate part of that. I'm glad your presentation wasn't the same as the previous several from CUPE, and it was unique in that respect.
If you read the preamble to the act, it says very clearly, "Employment standards set out in the current act are `minimum standards' that cannot be waived." Now, if you want to go to court and challenge that -- you said something too that I think fundamentally -- I'm not being critical of you -- you're not listening to what you're reading; you're listening to someone else. Does that not say, "cannot be waived"?
For those vulnerable people, I do not believe the floor, as I hear, is being pulled away. That is not in here. I've not seen it. I'm not trying to be difficult with you. I think you fundamentally are into a bit of ideology difference, and I don't have a problem with that. But honestly, this bill and what you're reading -- please read it. It's very simple. It's about three pages, four pages, when you pull out section 3.
I think the ongoing discussion about having some rights to negotiate -- I certainly don't want to see less; I want to see a balance. I want to see the workplace participants take part in that discussion, and if the particular sector of the economy therein has a seasonal aspect to it or it has a fall-off in demand of product, how we can deal with the employees in that particular workplace?
For the government of Ontario to set inflexible standards that say "everyone must," that doesn't work in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie the same as in Toronto. The workplaces differ. The world of work is changing profoundly. You said and many of the presentations said small businesses are growing. Many people are working at home. They need protection. Many home workers, whether it's on computers or making clothes, need to have protections.
I believe in the minimum standards, but by the same token we have to be somewhat aware of whom we're really selling these products to. There is a market. It isn't run by this government, or anybody for that matter. Price and quality prevail in the marketplace.
Ms Skanes: Excuse me, can I just have an opportunity to --
The Chair: Okay, very briefly. I don't want to cut into Mr Lalonde's time.
Ms Skanes: You made the comment that the minimum standards are minimum standards and they can't be waived, but then your government's introducing flexibility.
Mr O'Toole: In unionized environments.
Ms Skanes: When something is flexible, how is there a minimum standard? That's where my concern is. If in fact the minimum standards can't be waived, then take the flexibility out. We don't have a problem with that. If they can't be waived, write them in black and white. Say: "This is exactly what they are. There is no flexibility and these will be enforced."
Mr O'Toole: Do you want time off or time and a half? Would you prefer to have more time off with your family or time and a half?
Ms Skanes: Under my collective agreement, I have the ability to choose between the two.
Mr O'Toole: Isn't that one of the standards, though? You are already negotiating flexibility in your standards, which I support.
Mr Christopherson: That involves the minimum.
Mr O'Toole: That's all I'm saying. There will be no less then.
Mr Lalonde: Do you really think there was a need for a change or to amend the ESA? Was there a need to come up with some amendment of the actual Employment Standards Act?
Ms Skanes: I think there could probably have been some improvements to it, but there wasn't a burning need to make a change.
Mr Lalonde: I really feel at this time that we knew the system didn't work properly, because when we look at the amount collected in the past of the due account, it was only a little over 24%. I think probably we should have thought of retaining the 45 enforcement officers whom we are in the process of letting go, or we have started to let go, and giving them the proper training. They were getting dual tasks: They became collection agents and also they had to make sure that the law was enforced.
Ever since we started hearing people, what I've been hearing is that our people could not function properly because of the lack of training they had. Don't you think, at the present time, since they were given the task to do the collecting that was due to the employees, the percentage has gone down to a little over 24% of the amount due that was collected and it is really because the people we have in our office were not trained properly?
Ms Skanes: I don't know exactly what their job was and what training they've had, so I don't think it's within my right to say why the collections were so low. One comment I would like to make is that it always amazes me when a government tries to change something from public sector to private sector and thinks the job is going to be done better and it's going to be done cheaper when in fact the private sector has to make money. So someone's going to lose at some point. Either the employer or the employee is going to lose, because someone has to pay that private collection agency. I think if it's the law and the law says a certain thing, then you have an avenue to follow when people break that law. I think maybe the government should be taking the legal steps it needs to take and shutting employers down if it has to to get the money back. I think there's been too much pussyfooting around about trying to get employers to pay, and it's the employees who pay the price for it.
Mr Hoy: I apologize that I wasn't able to hear your presentation, but I've been here for most of the questioning.
I just want to make a comment about the last comments made by the government speaker, something about you weren't understanding what you were reading or you weren't reading what you were seeing or whatever it was that he said.
I was elected in June for the first time, and I notice over here that many of the government members have a binder. I've never been in government. I'm pleased to be in opposition and I hope to be in government some day, but it wouldn't surprise me that they have virtually every question that could come up or any point of view that could come up by presenters like you, and they just look in their book and ask the next thing. I don't know that, because I've never seen one of those books, but it's just a comment. Whether they are free to give comments of their own or whether they're reading and understanding what they see of their own volition or not really is a question in my mind.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms Skanes. We appreciate your taking the time to appear before us here today.
That concludes our presentations here in Sault Ste Marie. We certainly thank those groups that took the time to make a presentation before us and to those who sat in the audience and listened in.
The committee stands recessed until 10 o'clock tomorrow morning in Sudbury.
The committee adjourned at 1617.