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Caroline Konrad smiles at the camera. She's seated at her desk.
Caroline Konrad is the director of Ryerson’s career centre. PHOTO: NIKHIL SHARMA
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How the provincial labour reform might affect your job

By Nikhil Sharma

Part-time work would change significantly if Ontario’s employment laws undergo proposed reforms when they’re reviewed this spring.

For two years, the Changing Workplaces Review has been studying potential reforms to recommend to the provincial government in an attempt to better align labour laws with modern economic realities.

While the review has not been submitted to the minister of labour, an interim report released in July included over 200 proposals under consideration.

Proposals under consideration

Mandatory sick pay, raising the minimum required paid vacation to three weeks per year from two weeks, cutting the threshold for overtime to 40 hours from 44, eliminating the lower minimum wage for students under 18, requiring employers to pay part-timers the same as full-time employees, forcing employers to post schedules in advance and compensating for last minute schedule changes, and changing how workers can join unions, are among the options being considered in the Changing Workplaces Review.

No conclusions about recommendations or options have been made, and an open mind will need to be kept on all issues, the interim report stated.

“The working world is changing,” Ontario’s Labour Minister, Kevin Flynn said in a statement to The Eyeopener. “And whether it’s the gig economy or increased automation, we need to address the concerns that have come up within the modern workplace.”

Changes to be aimed at helping young workers

Ontario added 28,800 jobs in January, experiencing gains in manufacturing, finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, and accommodation and food services sectors. The majority of these net new jobs were in the private sector.

Ontario’s unemployment rate was 6.4 per cent in January and had been lower than the national average for 22 months in a row.

The unemployment rate in Canada dropped to 6.6 per cent in February from 6.8 per cent in January, according to Statistics Canada. The youth (15-24 years-old) unemployment rate decreased to 12.4 per cent in February from 13.3 per cent in January.

“We knew that if we didn’t do anything to adapt to the modern working environment, there was a real danger that the next generation may not have some of the economic opportunities previous generations had,” Flynn said.

The review will be about Ontarians want work in the province to be like both in the near future and the generations to come, which Flynn says is fairness and decency, the protection of workers, and an economic climate where all people in Ontario are able to reach their full potential.

“We knew that if we didn’t do anything to adapt to the modern working environment, there was a real danger that the next generation may not have some of the economic opportunities previous generations had”

“Certainly, you read [the considered changes] and go: ‘Oh my gosh, that wasn’t already mandatory?’ It’s almost like we’re now playing catchup,” said Caroline Konrad, executive director of Ryerson’s career centre.

Konrad said a lot of the challenges or difficulties students can face in the workforce come from miscommunication between them and their employers. And changes that can bring clarity to the employee and employer will benefit everyone at the end of the day.

“Let’s not assume, therefore, the work is done, and it’s a tickbox,” Konrad said. “We all need to remain vigilant and ensure that it’s implemented appropriately in the way it was intended to, and that we are taking care to note and take action where maybe there are still gaps potentially that have not been addressed or even weren’t foreseen, so that we’re not waiting another 20 years for the next round of updating.”

Precarious work

According to the report The Precarity Penalty, conducted in partnership between United Way Toronto and McMaster University, the percentage of respondents in Standard Employment Relationships declined from 50.2 per cent in 2011 to 48.1 per cent in 2014.

Standard Employment Relationships are ones based on job security, with full-time, permanent employment protected by labour legislation, which comes with advantages, including being entitled to earn minimum wage and benefits to cover health costs.

Meanwhile, precarious employment presents workers with a very different working environment compared to those in a Standard Employment Relationship. Precariously employed people work in contract jobs and temporary positions, and likely have to deal with unstable hours. Ontario’s current labour framework offers little protection(s) to workers in these positions, who are unlikely to unionized or have health benefits.

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The amount of people in temporary and contract forms of employment increased from 18.4 per cent in 2011 to 20.3 per cent in 2014, according to the report. A total of 4,193 workers ages 25 to 65 were surveyed in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA).

In January, full-time workers in Canada earned an average hourly wage of $27.99, while part-time employees earned an average hourly wage of $18.17. Temporary workers were paid an average of $21.51 per hour, and permanent employees earned an average of $26.58 per hour.

In 2016, 153,700 net new part-time jobs were added in Canada and just 60,400 full-time positions were created. The amount of full-time jobs has drastically shifted over the past two years. Statistics Canada reported gains of 156,000 full-time jobs in 2014 and 147,000 in 2015.

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Ontario labour laws outdated

Maurice Mazerolle, director of the Centre for Labour-Management Relations at the Ted Rogers School of Management said people more likely to benefit from the recommendations are workers in precarious or part-time jobs, which tend to be younger workers.

He said it’s a problem that Ontario’s Labour Relations Act (1995) and the Employment Standards Act (2000) haven’t been reviewed or touched in years.

When they were in power (1995-2002), Mike Harris’s Conservative made labour and employment standards more “employer-friendly,” Mazerolle said.

The nature of work has dramatically changed from when the legislation was premised on “standard employment,” he said.

“Certainly, you read [the considered changes] and go: ‘Oh my gosh, that wasn’t already mandatory?’ It’s almost like we’re now playing catchup”

“Especially now, with all kinds of different platforms that have emerged—what we call the sharing economy: Task Rabbit, Uber AirB&B, all of those kind of things—where people can find work online, creates all kinds of difficulties with the current law,” he said.

“A lot of it doesn’t apply.”

If someone is classified as an employee, then most of the labour legislation covers them, Mazerolle said.

“But when you’re an independent contractor, virtually none of those laws apply to you,” he said. “Employment standards [don’t] apply, the Labour Relations Act doesn’t apply,”

“Many people are misclassified as being independent contractors versus employees. But when you start to look at the nature of their employment relationship, it’s pretty clear, that they’re really not independent, they really are dependent on one employer for most their wages and their work,” he said.

Konrad said no legislation ever resolves everything at once because the labour market is moving so quickly.

“What I am encouraged by is that, even by virtue of aspects such as scheduling having to be announced or mandatory sick days, will help start to close the loopholes of where some less scrupulous employers can say: ‘Well you’re actually just short-term work, that doesn’t apply to you.’”

Infographics by Nikhil Sharma with data from The Precarity Penalty report

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