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Op-ed: Labour must continue to resist

Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT reflects on the dangers of Bill 66

Op-ed: Labour must continue to resist

Only a few months ago, Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 47 repealed many of the labour protections won through advocacy by decent work coalitions across Ontario — including the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. Workers lost two paid sick days; pay equity between full-time, part-time, and temporary workers; and the scheduled increase of minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The bill passed despite persistent outcry, proving that Ford is not “for the people,” no matter how often he repeats it.

Following Bill 47, the Progressive Conservative (PC) government tabled Bill 66 in December, an omnibus bill titled “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act,” which proposes amendments to several, unrelated laws dealing with childcare, environment, and labour, among other things. The PCs claim it will “eliminate red tape and burdensome regulations so businesses can grow, create and protect good jobs.”

However, the so-called red tape that will be removed crucially protects workers’ rights. The bill is at its third reading stage and will almost certainly pass in the very near future.

When organizing works: the Greenbelt

When it was announced that Bill 66 would open the Greenbelt for development, the PCs were met with strong opposition. The Greenbelt, an established protected land strip, includes more than two million acres of environmentally-sensitive areas and farmlands. That section of the bill allowed municipalities to create “open for business” zoning bylaws, giving them the option to override legislation that prohibits development in the Greenbelt.

Individuals, communities, and environmental organizations were active in opposing this legislation. A testament to political organizing, the opposition was ultimately successful: Schedule 10 of Bill 66 relating to the Greenbelt was repealed.

However, while Bill 66 has received significant media and public attention around the Greenbelt, less attention has been given to its labour implications. This lack of awareness is partially due to the fact that Bill 66 is an omnibus bill that makes changes to multiple pieces of legislation at once.

Though omnibus bills save time by shortening legislative proceedings, they limit the ability for MPPs and constituents to express their objections to specific components of the bill. Instead, they are forced to either support or reject the bill as a whole. In majority governments, omnibus bills become a strategic way to quickly push through enormous policy changes — allowing segments of the legislation to fly under the radar without accountability.

Bill 66 continues the attack on labour

According to the current Employment Standards Act, for an employee to be able to work more than 48 hours a week, both the employer and employee are required to sign an agreement and gain approval from the Ministry of Labour. This specific provision has existed for nearly 75 years in Ontario thanks to labour advocates. However, Bill 66 removes the extra step of approval by the ministry, allowing employers to ask employees to work overtime with little to no oversight.

Ministry oversight is, ideally, meant to keep the power of employers in check. It can be difficult for many workers, especially workers in low-wage, precarious positions, to say no to their employers when asked to work overtime. Removing a mechanism of formal accountability makes workers vulnerable to abuses in the workplace.

Current laws also allow employers to average out hours worked over two or more weeks, but only with the agreement of workers and approval from the Ministry of Labour. For example, working 30 hours in one week and 50 hours in another could be averaged to 40 hours both weeks — and would thus not be considered ‘overtime.’

Bill 66 scraps the requirement for overtime averaging to be approved by the Ministry of Labour. Without oversight, employers are sure to take advantage of this loophole by avoiding paying workers time-and-a-half overtime pay.

When the Ford government says it wants to get rid of ‘red tape,’ what it really means is that it wants to give the green light to employers to place their bottom line above workers’ safety. Agreements between employers and workers are shaped by a clear power imbalance, in which workers are beholden to the whims of their boss, especially if they are relying on a paycheck to put food on the table.

Students are at risk

Students trying to make ends meet by working in precarious sectors, like retail or service, are especially vulnerable. As Ford’s policies, like cuts to Ontario Student Assistance Program grants, make postsecondary education more expensive, students will find it difficult to say no to a boss who asks them to average their overtime hours or work excess hours.

Bill 66 also scraps the requirement for the Employment Standards Act poster to be displayed in “a conspicuous place” in all workplaces. While this change is quite small, it is not trivial: it limits workers’ access to crucial information about their rights, making them less likely to seek justice if they have been wronged.

Lastly, the bill harms construction workers. Ontario’s Labour Relations Act has a “non-construction employer” provision, which means that any employer deemed to be a “non-construction employer” is not beholden to any collective agreement that unionized construction workers would regularly be covered by.

Bill 66 expands the definition of “non-construction employer” to include municipalities, school boards, hospitals, universities, and colleges. Workers performing construction work in these settings would not be afforded the protection that their union usually offers them. By allowing these public employers to dissolve collective agreements, Bill 66 effectively undermines the power of unions, hindering access to fair working conditions and wages.

All of the changes to labour laws that this bill proposes are discomfiting, but the changes to the Labour Relations Act especially belie a pattern of the Ford government. Ford’s Student Choice Initiative effectively defunds student unions by making their fees optional, undermining their ability to provide services to students and advocate for structural change.

The collective power of students to challenge establishments like U of T is threatened by the Student Choice Initiative, just as the collective power of construction workers’ unions to advocate for workplace protections is threatened by Bill 66.

We must continue the resistance

In moments like these, when another piece of Ford legislation claws back worker protections, it is essential to remember that making noise has worked before and can work again. Though Bill 66 will pass very soon, we can still hold Ford’s PCs and exploitative workplaces accountable by continuing to organize and agitate.

Indeed, many of the labour protections that we’ve retained, such as domestic or sexual violence leave and the $14 minimum wage, are the direct result of tireless organizing by activist groups like the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. Students have been a part of this movement for decent work, and we’re a part of a broader struggle that is resisting Ford’s continued attacks on our collective rights.

In this political moment, we must not only remind ourselves of the fights that have been won, but also be vigilant in advocating for one another in our workplaces and communities. Under Bill 66, when employers no longer have to answer to the Ministry of Labour, they will have to answer to us: the people.

Vidhya Elango is a fifth-year Linguistics, Anthropology, and Computer Science student at Victoria College. Talia Holy is a second-year Political Science, Women and Gender Studies, and Sexual Diversity Studies at Victoria College. Simran Dhunna is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. They are members of the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness.

Ontario legislature passes controversial labour reform bill, repealing workers’ rights

Voting was delayed due to protests from Fight for $15 and Fairness

Ontario legislature passes controversial labour reform bill, repealing workers’ rights

The Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) government passed Bill 47 — also known as the Making Ontario Open for Business Act — on November 21, repealing workers’ rights changes brought in by the previous Liberal government.

As a result of this new bill, minimum wage is now capped at $14 until 2020 and will no longer increase to $15 an hour on January 1. Workers will also no longer have two paid sick days and employers are allowed to require sick notes from their employees’ doctors.

The new bill also states that scheduling provisions, which were to come into effect by the new year, have been repealed. This includes the right to request scheduling changes if an employee has been employed for at least three months, a minimum of three hours’ pay for on-call workers, and the right to refuse requests to work if the employee was not notified at least 96 hours in advance.

The bill was expected to go through royal assent following its third reading Tuesday afternoon. However, legislators motioned to adjourn the vote due to protests from Fight for $15 and Fairness, which is a labour lobby group that has a chapter at U of T among its membership.

Protesters were escorted out of the Queen’s Park gallery, shouting chants directed at Premier Doug Ford and the PC Party, primarily airing grievances about freezing minimum wage and taking away workers’ rights that would have been made available under Bill 148.

Naomi Litwack, a fourth-year architecture student at U of T, was in the galleries protesting the changes the moment security escorted members of the public out.

“I started chanting and then the guards started to try to quiet us down… Eventually, they started being a little bit more forceful in that they were… really grabbing people’s attention. Eventually, one guard got a whole row out. The guard for my section… said, ‘You can leave or you can be arrested.’ So we decided it was time to leave.”

Members of the opposition showed disappointment following the bill’s move to royal assent.

“We just saw workers’ rights be torn out from under them. We just saw the lowest-income workers lose $2,000 in increased pay because of the decisions that the government made today in passing legislation,” said New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath following the vote.

“Our government should make it easier for businesses to employ people,” said Labour Minister Laurie Scott, in support of the bill. “We need to keep regulation and payroll taxes reasonable and manageable. We need common sense to inform good policy. Our PC government understands that regulatory burdens make it harder to do business and harder to employ workers.”

The PC government has faced major criticism regarding the bill since its introduction last month. Ford reportedly received death threats and Scott’s constituency office was vandalized.

“Passing Bill 47 shows that this government is not considering the real-world effects of decent work laws, which have helped the Ontario economy,” stated Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley in a press release. “It also ignores the voices of the people who will be most affected by these laws — women workers, racialized workers, Indigenous workers and workers with a disability.”

“That [protest] just shows you the number of people that are extremely disappointed and shows you the large gathering at Queen’s Park yesterday to voice their displeasure with the government,” said Buckley in an interview with The Varsity.

Simran Dhunna, President of Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT, wrote that the group was disappointed with the bill’s passage.

“We were able to delay the vote on Bill 47 by a day because the Ford government can’t bear to sit there and slash our labour rights as we, the people, watch,” wrote Dhunna.

“By passing Bill 47 this week, they made it clear — once again — how much disdain they have for workers in the province. We will remember this moment, and we will continue to fight for better labour protections.”

The Varsity has reached out to CUPE3902 for comment.

Op-ed: What students stand to lose with Bill 47

Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT on why we must resist the Ford government’s rollbacks of our labour rights

Op-ed: What students stand to lose with Bill 47

In November 2017, the Liberal government passed Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, a watershed moment in Ontario’s history. As a result, over 1.7 million minimum wage workers saw a direct pay increase from $11.60 to $14 per hour, with the $15 minimum wage to come this January. Millions more benefited indirectly from wage bumps.

Today, the Progressive Conservative government is turning back the clock on our rights with Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. On November 20, our MPPs will start the third reading of the bill.

The vote will proceed after only five hours of public consultation. Citing the two weeks of extensive consultations preceding Bill 148, Deena Ladd from the Workers’ Action Centre and the Ontario Federation of Labour called these consultations a “sham.”

Though Doug Ford prides himself on being “for the people,” Bill 47 would endanger millions of workers by repealing almost all of the provisions under Bill 148, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, fairer scheduling laws, and easier ways for certain sectors to unionize.

Why students should be concerned

Among those who stand to lose the most are students. As Ontario has the highest average tuition fees in the country, many of us have no choice but to compromise our studies by juggling multiple jobs to pay tuition, afford rent, and support our families.

Those of us working in academia, such as teaching assistants, also face precarity. Over 75 per cent of college faculty members are temporary contract workers. Ontario’s colleges and universities estimate that they pocket $336 million annually by paying these precariously employed faculty less than their permanent colleagues, who do the same work.

And it’s not just postsecondary students who depend on a better minimum wage and fairer working conditions. Two weeks ago, high school students protested Bill 47 to expose that Ontario is the only province in Canada where student workers under 18 earn a subminimum wage of $13.15 per hour compared to the adult rate of $14 per hour. Bill 47 would cancel the scheduled increase in the subminimum student wage, directly impacting students’ ability to save for postsecondary education at institutions like U of T.

Once in university, many of us take on precarious, low-paying jobs — often in the service and retail sectors — that expose us to a slew of poor working conditions. Students are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of Bill 47 due to our demanding school obligations and the structural barriers some of us face. This is especially true for racialized, women-identified, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, working-class, disabled, and international students.

If it passes, Bill 47 would deny us the right to 10 job-protected leave days, two of which are paid — a rollback that 77 per cent of Ontarians oppose. The bill would also repeal fairer scheduling provisions, such as being able to refuse last-minute shift changes without risking our jobs. Taking time off and having flexibility in scheduling is especially important for students who commute, live with mental or physical illness, and have caregiving responsibilities.

Moreover, many U of T students find work through temporary agencies. By repealing the Equal Pay for Equal Work provision, Bill 47 condemns students who are temporary workers — often racialized and international students — to be paid less than permanent workers for the same job. It also gives a green light to employers who violate employment standards by reducing the penalties for labour violations by 75 per cent.

Unfair labour laws such as those crafted by Ford have a body count. Just two weeks ago, a fourth temp worker died at a Fiera Foods-affiliated company that is notorious for having 191 health and safety violations. The same company claimed the lives of 17-year-old Ivan Golyashov and 23-year-old Amina Diaby, whose hijab got caught in a machine.

U of T’s complicity

Corporate elites continue to lobby against the very laws that are meant to prevent the deaths of young workers like Golyashov and Diaby. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has been spearheading these lobbying efforts, claiming that Bill 148 was “too much, too fast.”

As a member of the OCC, U of T cannot be absolved of its complicity in Ford’s pursuit to slash Bill 148. While Ryerson University, another member of the OCC, has attempted to distance itself from the organization, our university has remained silent.

Now would be a good time for U of T to come clean. To the administration: establish your stance on Bill 47, clarify your relationship with the OCC, and explain why you, as a public university, continue paying membership to a corporate lobbying group that actively undermines workers’ rights — and, by extension, our financial security and well-being as students.

How students can win

Unlike the university, we have not been idle. The U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness has started conversations with hundreds of students across campus. From petitioning at Sid Smith to handing out leaflets at Clubs Fair, we have heard from U of T students of all stripes: commuters who spend hundreds of dollars a month on transit, students raising young children, and classmates supporting their grandparents.

Among the thousands of students who have signed our petition, many are shocked to hear that the Ford government is attacking their future and those of their families.

Along the way, we have been debunking some myths. For instance, Bill 148 is not an “absolute job-killer” as Ford would have people believe. Since Bill 148, the average number of hours worked has increased, and 139,000 net jobs have been created in the province year-over-year.

While canvassing, we also uncovered the deception behind Ford’s new income tax cut for low-income workers, which leaves them with around $1,000 less in their pockets per year than if the $15 minimum wage came into effect. Under Ford’s plan, the minimum wage would be frozen at $14 until October 2020, after which it would be indexed to inflation. In other words, Ontarians would not see the $15 arrive until 2025.

The province-wide Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign has been organizing tirelessly for years to win Bill 148. Now that it’s under imminent threat, we will continue to organize against a government that is ruthlessly trying to turn back the clock on our labour rights. With the power of thousands of students behind us, we will win again.

On Tuesday, November 20, the Ontario Legislative Assembly will debate on Bill 47. Please join the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in Queen’s Park to pack the gallery and stand united against this regressive legislation. Arrive no later than 4:30 pm to get through security. You may also submit a customizable letter calling for the withdrawal of Bill 47 here, which will be sent to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs: https://www.15andfairness.org/withdrawbill47.

Clement Cheng is a fourth-year Peace, Conflict and Justice, English, and Geography student at Victoria College. Simran Dhunna is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Mia Sanders is a second-year Women and Gender Studies and Diaspora & Transnational Studies student at Victoria College. They are members of the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness.