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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

GNCC strongly objects to potential labour and employment standards reforms

Changes would discourage investment, eliminate jobs and diminish economic opportunities in Ontario, especially among small business owners

What is the issue?

Media reports in CBC and the Toronto Star state that government will take swift action around the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review, which is to be released “after Victoria Day” with reforms the government intends to adopt announced shortly thereafter. Media reports further suggest “it’s not clear whether legislation would be introduced before June 1, when Queen’s Park adjourns for the summer.”

Cabinet will hear, likely Wednesday, the provisions in the report that Ministry of Labour will recommend to proceed with.

The Employment Standards Act recommendations include:

  • Giving all employees in Ontario a minimum number of sick days
  • Increasing annual paid vacation from two to a minimum of three weeks
  • Increasing minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 an hour
  • Eliminating exemptions in the Act that would give many more workers the right to personal emergency leave, overtime pay, and unpaid personal days
  • Independent contractors would be paid the same rate as full-time workers doing the same job in the same workplace
  • Providing workers the right to refuse shifts on short notice without fear of repercussions, while allowing employers the flexibility to make last-minute scheduling changes

Recommended changes to the Labour Relations act include:

  • Union organizers be given access to computerized lists of all employees
  • Expanding successor rights (requiring that a union contract remains in place when a company is sold) to unions in all sectors.
  • Stronger rules to push employers toward negotiating a first contract after a union is formed.
  • Enable union organizers to sign up a majority of members using card-based certification

The Changing Workplaces Review did not consider an increase to the minimum wage, stating that it was outside its scope of review, yet one is being considered now.

The government had committed to keeping minimum wage increases tied to inflation in 2014 (via the Consumer Price Index), which the Chamber network applauded – it depoliticized the increases, and increased minimum wage in a manner that was fair and predictable to employees and employers alike.

The potential reforms are coming at a time when costs for consumers and the cost of doing business is high and putting Ontario at a competitive disadvantage. Ontario has experienced slower growth in GDP and job creation than in the past, and drastic reforms to labour and employment run the risk of causing serious damage to the future prosperity of the province.

Statistics Canada indicates that 76 percent of part-timer workers voluntarily choose part-time work to better accommodate schooling or personal life.

Budget 2017 points out that 98% of all new jobs created since the recession have been full time, and 78% have been above-average wage for their respective industries.

More Niagarans work in retail than in any other single industry, and retail will be hugely impacted by these changes. They will not only result in downsizing and layoffs in Niagara’s retail workforce, but the costs will be passed on to consumers, resulting in higher prices.

Niagara’s economy depends in large part upon the tourist industry. Employers in this highly competitive sector operate on thin margins. The proposed changes will have similar effects in this industry. This becomes a vicious cycle, with a less-competitive tourism sector then shedding further jobs.

Niagara’s agriculture and world-renowned viticulture industries will also be profoundly affected. These changes will not be abstract ones affecting only GDP analytics and stock prices, but will have a real and often wrenching impact on thousands of people living and working here in our community.

Many businesses will have to address these higher costs by increasing prices. This will mean that the same people who benefit from an increased minimum wage would promptly lose it again as they pay more for groceries, rent, energy, and so forth.

What is the GNCC doing?

The GNCC, in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has sent a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne warning against potential changes to Ontario’s Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the Employment Standards Act (ESA), including the introduction of a $15 minimum wage. The letter is cautioning that these reforms may have unintended consequences impacting job creation and competitiveness, as well discouraging investment in the province.

The GNCC is meeting with all four of Niagara’s elected Members of Provincial Parliament to express their views and advocate for local businesses in this issue. The GNCC recently hosted The Hon. Kevin Flynn, Minister of Labour, at a Niagara Business Leadership Series breakfast where these problems were expressed by Niagara’s business leaders.

The GNCC and the Ontario chamber network believe that, while workplace reform is doubtless necessary, such reform should only take place based on evidence, research, and carefully-planned policy in consultation with all involved stakeholders, and not as part of electioneering or party politics.

We will continue to advocate on behalf of Niagara’s business community on this issue.

What can you do?

Share this information with your network of contacts as well as on social media and encourage similar action on their part. It is imperative that we advance our message ahead of the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Contact your local Members of Provincial Parliament to express your concerns. In Niagara, they are:

St. Catharines:

Mr. Jim Bradley (Ontario Liberal Party)


Ms. Cindy Forster (Ontario New Democratic Party)

Niagara Falls:

Mr. Wayne Gates (Ontario New Democratic Party)

Niagara West-Glanbrook:

Mr. Sam Oosterhoff
(Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario)

For more information, please contact:
Mishka Balsom, President & CEO of GNCC or 905-684-2361

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