Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s assault on workers’ rights continued on Tuesday, Oct. 2 as he announced his intention to scrap new labour protections implemented by the previous government.
Bill 148, “The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act”, provided workers with new protections against precarious scheduling, and contained provisions which included an increase in the minimum wage to $15/hour, equal pay for part-time and casual workers, guaranteed vacation days, protections for workers who required days off due to sexual assault and domestic violence, protection for temp agency workers, and provisions which removed some barriers to forming a union.
Ford’s big business friends
With his strong ties to business interests, alarm that Ford would target workers’ rights began even before he was elected. In August, that alarm was raised again after the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) called on the provincial government to repeal Bill 148. The group’s Vice President of Policy, Ashley Challinor, defended the move, saying the law “has created a number of compounding changes that created greater administrative and financial pressure on employers.”
Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the OCC, claimed, “Businesses across the province are experiencing real consequences from this legislation’s lack of stakeholder consultation and unrealistic implementation timelines… Premier Ford pledged to make Ontario ‘Open for Business’ by implementing policies that make it easier to invest, start, and grow a business in the province as well as build an economy that connects workers to jobs. This begins with the reversal of Bill 148.”
The business community’s reaction to Bill 148 was exemplified by the petty threats of Tim Horton’s business owners, who previously slashed employee breaks and benefits after Ontario’s minimum wage was increased to $14. These franchise owners lamented that the raise had left them with “no alternative” but to attack their workers’ conditions, while personally continuing to quietly pocket around $270,000 per year, excluding bonuses.
The claim that the $14 minimum wage increase has hurt job growth is not borne out by the facts. Ontario is currently experiencing a 5.4 per cent unemployment rate, the lowest in 18 years, and, as mentioned in the Toronto Star, “in Ontario’s hospitality industry, one of the sectors most affected by the minimum wage increase, predicted job losses turned into employment gains with more than 7,000 new positions created since January.” Ford’s labour minister denied these facts when he cancelled the $15 minimum wage increase earlier this week, restating that the previous increase had “hurt job creation in the province”.
Impact on workers
An estimated 1.7 million Ontarians live on the minimum wage or close to the minimum wage, and even working full-time hours, their earnings fall below the poverty line. A study conducted by the United Way and McMaster University found that around half of all jobs in the GTA are precarious, and around 30 to 32 per cent of all workers have low-wage, insecure employment.
Ford’s government is claiming that the proposed tax cut to minimum wage earners is a better deal than the $15 minimum wage, but by several calculations workers are losing anywhere between $800 and $1500 a year under Ford’s plan. Economist Sheila Block noted that two-thirds of all workers earning under $30,000 currently do not pay any income tax, while the remaining pay an average of $485. The tax cut also doesn’t apply to those who work fewer hours but are paid more thanthe minimum wage. For instance, “a part-timer who makes $20,000 per year but gets paid $20 an hour won’t be eligible”.
Scrapping the $15 minimum wage will put many workers far below a liveable earning. In Toronto, for example, a living wage was last measured in 2015 as $18.52 per hour. According to an article on Narcity, “the cost of living in the city is at least $6000 more a year than the average annual earnings of a full-time employee making minimum wage. With the Ontario minimum wage at $14 an hour, someone working 40 hours a week – which is considered full time, including holidays – will only be earning on average $26,320 annually. That number is also before taxes or other government deductions. Meanwhile, in Toronto, the average cost of living is around $32,885 per year.”
Other provisions that the repeal of Bill 148 eliminates include:
- equal pay for equal work on the basis of employment status and assignment employee status
- one week’s notice or pay in lieu of notice for employees of temporary help agencies if longer-term assignments end early
- fairer scheduling rules
- a minimum of three weeks’ vacation after five years with the same employer
- up to 10 individual days of leave and up to 15 weeks of leave, without the fear of losing their job when an employee or their child has experienced or is threatened with domestic or sexual violence
- expanded personal emergency leave to all workplaces regardless of number of employees
- unpaid leave to take care of a critically ill family member
The truth that Ford and his big business friends will not tell working people is that there is more than enough wealth in society to provide stable, secure, and well-paying jobs for all. They will also not admit that all of this wealth is created by the same working class whose meagre benefits they are gutting. Instead, they use distractions such as the recent deficit announcement and migration to plow ahead with attacks that aim to make workers more precarious and exploited.
Where is the labour movement?
On Sept. 21, the Ford government released a report filled with language alluding to cuts and deregulation, while also promising to balance the budget by the third or fourth year of his term. The Ford government is clearly laying the groundwork for even more attacks, cuts, and privatization that will affect the lives of millions of workers. Sadly, the reply from the leadership of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) has been pathetic. Instead of organizing mass demonstrations as the first step towards political strikes, the OFL is organizing a pressure campaign directed at Tory MPPs to encourage them to oppose Ford. OPSEU President “Smokey” Thomas even went so far as to call for a “common sense revolution” in the Conservative Party, a slogan lifted directly from former Tory Premier Mike Harris! If these so-called leaders spent as much energy mobilizing the labour movement as they do pleading to Tories not to be Tories, the Ford government would have been brought down already.
Weakness invites aggression, and the labour movement cannot respond to Ford’s assaults with begging or outright silence. The scrapping of of Bill 148 is a direct attack on the labour movement. The clawback of the minimum wage and other labour protections must be seen as merely part of the beginning of an all-out assault on Ontario’s working class. We must demand that the union leaders, who have the membership and resources to potentially mobilize millions, organize a real fightback. If these leaders refuse, then they should be kicked out and replaced by those who are willing to fight. Working class people cannot afford one more minute of this cowardly lack of leadership. The tragedy is that the labour movement, if it reclaims its militant traditions and implements mass mobilization, is more than capable of stopping Ford’s anti-worker agenda. We need action now!