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.

Anger toward corporate greed should be targeted at the individuals who perpetrate it

Re: “Protests hit local Tim Hortons as franchises cut workers’ benefits”

Anger toward corporate greed should be targeted at the individuals who perpetrate it

A number of Tim Hortons locations across Ontario have cut their workers’ benefits in response to the provincial minimum wage increase. Though some might think such changes are necessary for the survival of these locations, the assumption that these decisions were just ‘good business’ may actually be misguided.

The events surrounding a franchise in Cobourg, Ontario in particular have brought to light the extent to which sheer greed can influence the decision to roll back worker benefits. In response to the minimum wage increase, the location‘s franchisees handed their employees a letter. Opening with a mawkish apology, the letter goes on to detail that the employees’ paid health benefits will be reduced and that breaks will no longer be paid. The location in question belongs to Ron Joyce Jr. and his wife, Jeri Horton-Joyce, the heirs to the Tim Hortons fortune. One would think that the inheritors of the coffee shop empire might possess some gratitude for their workers, who helped them amass a staggering personal net worth of $1.4 billion. Instead, the billionaire couple cut worker compensation in the face of the slightest potential loss of profits.

When news of this spread, protests began outside the Cobourg Tim Hortons, with outrage growing due to similar decisions being made in other parts of the province. These protests eventually made their way to Toronto, including at a location near campus, and so the #BoycottTimHortons movement began.

Although the cutthroat manner in which these corporations and franchises do business needs to be challenged, the anger people feel over the decision to minimize workers’ benefits needs to aimed in the right direction. It seems to be a lot easier for some to feel a general sense of distrust and antagonism towards corporations in general. However, it is inappropriate to shift blame away from individuals like the Joyces and franchise owners like them, and to attribute it to the entire corporation. This is in fact what the franchisees want: to lead the public to believe they had no hand in these decisions and that the constraints of doing business, all rooted in the structure of the corporation, forced their actions.

There are many Tim Hortons locations, like the ones on campus, that have not stripped workers of their benefits. And by acknowledging how many of these locations can continue to survive and succeed without making egregious cuts to employee benefits, it makes the situation in Cobourg seem that much more sickening, and the justification of these cuts as ‘good business’ that much more hollow.

 

Vidhant Pal is a graduate student at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering. 

UTM food prices will rise due to minimum wage increase

All branded partners implementing five to 11 per cent price hike

UTM food prices will rise due to minimum wage increase

Branded food service outlets at UTM are raising prices in anticipation of the upcoming minimum wage increase. Costs are expected to increase by five to 11 per cent, as opposed to the previous average year-on-year increase of three per cent.

Prices for non-branded food are also set to increase, although it is unclear by how much. UTM is set to work with its catering partner Chartwells to keep its non-branded price increases “as low as possible given the increase in labour costs and expected increase in food costs,” according to the minutes of the Food Service Advisory Committee meeting on November 15.

The Food Service Advisory Committee evaluates and reviews various policy and operational aspects pertaining to food services at UTM and serves in a consultative capacity responsible to Vicky Jezierski, Director of Hospitality and Retail Services at UTM.

Jezierski explained, “University of Toronto Mississauga has no control over price changes in branded food service outlets… We do not set our branded prices at premium or non-traditional price levels that some other campuses do.”

The food price increases will also affect student meal plan rates, since these can be used at both branded and non-branded vendors on and off-campus. Jezierski noted that food prices are “the driving force” behind proposed meal plan rates.

“We are still in this part of the process, so the price increase for non-branded food service outlets has not been finalized,” said Jezierski. “Our focus is… also on sustainable food service hours of operation and service levels from year to year while still maintaining food prices at UTM that are well below the average of food prices at other Canadian college and universities.”

Jezierski said that Hospitality and Retail Services cannot subsidize increased costs because it “operates as an ancillary and is not in a position to get subsidies from the UTM’s operating budget.”

UTM Dining Services has put up printed notices of these increases at the various branded services’ kiosks, including at the Tim Hortons in the William G. Davis Building. The notices indicate that branded services “will be introducing price increases consistently for the remainder of the year.”

All branded services are implementing price increases, such as Bento Sushi, Subway, and all branded vendors in the Temporary Food Court, including Booster Juice, Elements, and Pizza Pizza.

As of the 2017 University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) AGM, the Blind Duck pub, a UTMSU division, had not indicated increases in price. The pub is currently running a deficit as UTMSU executives opted not to increase food costs last year despite increases in the cost of sales.

The UTMSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment in time for publication.

A $15 minimum wage has health benefits

Two U of T medical students reflect on the upcoming wage increase in Ontario

A $15 minimum wage has health benefits

On May 30, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 148, which includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019. Economic research supports this increase: a higher minimum wage will increase household spending, which contributes to domestic consumption and economic growth.

Raising the minimum wage also addresses significant wealth inequities. The share of Ontarians earning low wages has grown, and it’s not just teenagers. A 2013 report found that 60 per cent of workers earning less than $15 are over 25, and these workers are much more likely to be women, racialized, and recent immigrants. The $15 an hour minimum wage will therefore help to close the wage gap for them.

Not only is this policy sound from both an economic and equity perspective, but it is also great for health. As medical students, we are learning about all the things that make us sick. A surprising amount of our health problems are affected by modifiable social factors: the Canadian Medical Association identifies 13 social determinants that contribute to 50 per cent of what makes Canadians sick, and poverty is one of them.

Research has demonstrated time and time again that living in poverty is bad for your health, and we can see why: income has an impact on the education people can receive, the food they can put on the table, and the housing they can afford.

Every day in the emergency department, health care providers and medical students meet patients who are affected by job insecurity, either due to precarious work or low wages. For example, we met Shirley*, a 42-year-old single mother who is living with diabetes and has two young kids. She came in with a complication from her chronic health condition that was clearly the result of her not taking her medications as prescribed. With further inquiry, it became clear that she wasn’t taking them because she could not afford them; Shirley works full-time, and at minimum wage, she is forced to prioritize food and rent over her health.

In medical school, we learn how to manage conditions like Shirley’s and about the array of drugs that help to curb associated complications. But for many patients, affording the medications they’re prescribed is very difficult, and this difficulty contributes to broader health care costs to both the individual and the province. In 2010, the estimated burden of diabetes in Ontario was $4.9 billion; this was projected to increase by 42 per cent by 2020. What we don’t always talk about, but that have very strong relevance, are the policies outside of the health system — such as Bill 148 — that will help patients afford necessary prescriptions to manage acute and chronic illnesses.

Currently in Ontario, someone who works full-time in a minimum wage job falls below the low-income threshold and has difficulty making ends meet. In fact, even a $15 minimum wage, while a major improvement, still falls below the calculated living wage in most parts of the province, including Toronto, where the living wage is $18.52. Poverty is linked to chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease, and workers in the lowest fifth of earners experience higher rates of poor mental health and multiple chronic conditions.

Not only does poverty affect families in the here and now, but in the future as well: studies have shown that poverty occurs in intergenerational cycles. Shirley’s kids, for example, are experiencing the stressors of living with insufficient income for adequate food and housing. Poverty is linked to delayed growth and cognitive development in children, and associated stressors can manifest in the form of mental illness later in life. A policy that adds more money to Shirley’s budget will have a positive impact on her children in the present and future.

Far too often, people are unable to prioritize their health because of low income. Increasing the minimum wage is one way of addressing this reality and has been shown to have a direct impact on health outcomes. Researchers at U of T have predicted that increasing the income of Canadians in the lowest income quintile by $1,000 would result in nearly 10,000 fewer chronic conditions overall, as well as 6,600 fewer disability days taken over a two-week period.

A 2008 report by the Ontario Association of Food Banks estimated that if the incomes of the lowest fifth of earners were raised to the level of the second-lowest fifth, this would result in $2.9 billion in health care savings. A reduction in illness and increased well-being due to increasing incomes for low-wage workers carries benefits for individuals, families, and the province as a whole.

A higher minimum wage is a great start to addressing health issues before they even develop — it is a preventative approach. We applaud the Government of Ontario for taking this step toward a healthier society.

Patricia Hoyeck and Mariam Naguib are students in the Faculty of Medicine. They are steering committee members of the Decent Work and Health Network.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

 

Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter launched at UofT

Movement calls for minimum wage increase, to combat increasing costs of living, precarious employment

Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter launched at UofT

Fight for $15 and Fairness, the Canadian affiliate of Fight for $15, has expanded its advocacy work for higher wages by bringing the campaign to U of T.

U of T’s chapter was founded by Souzan Mirza, a master’s student in biomedical engineering; Andre Fast, a fourth-year Innis College student and co-founder of U of T’s Free Tuition Coalition; and Jared Ong, an alumnus and organizer with Fight for $15 and Fairness.

The co-founders and other group members are appealing to students’ experiences of part-time, low-wage or unpaid employment and urging them to support a coordinated effort towards fair compensation in Ontario.

Fast told The Varsity that while their most pressing goal is to increase the minimum wage, in the future they hope to fight for “paid sick days, fair schedules, decent hours, and rules that protect all workers.”

Critics of movements that fight for higher wages often argue that wage increases would harm the economy, and result in job losses. U of T economics professor, Morley Gunderson, has opposed minimum wage increases in Ontario since 2010. He spoke to the Toronto Star who wrote, “10 per cent increase in minimum wage” will result in a “three to six per cent decrease in employment in young people.”

Fast disagrees with this conclusion, referring to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report from 2015 titled, “The Case for Increasing the Minimum Wage,” that refutes this point.

“A common misconception is that raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy… Rather, it would boost the economy as there would be increased demand since more people would have more money to spend,” Fast said.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 has a precedent in Canada. In September 2016, the NDP government in Alberta announced that it would increase the minimum wage in increments, first bringing it to $12.20 in October 2016, then $13.60 in October 2017’ and finally to $15 in October 2018.

A wage increase to $15 an hour would constitute a significant raise for those making the current Ontario minimum wage of $11.40, but some reports suggest that a greater increase would be necessary for workers to provide for their families in expensive cities like Toronto. The 2015 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report “Making ends Meet” calculated Toronto’s living wage, defined as the amount needed to be made by two earners in a four-person household in order to provide basic necessities, at $18.52. 

Fast alluded to the group’s plan to gain enough traction in their campaign to bring attention to this issue in provincial politics.

“This semester, we are mobilizing at U of T for the final recommendations of the Changing Workplaces Review in the spring,” he said. “Together with Fight for $15 and fairness provincial campaign, we will push all political parties to craft legislation that would support decent working conditions. Looking further ahead, we plan to continue our advocacy and push to make the rise of precarious work a provincial election issue.”