Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage is celebrating a step on the way to full rights for workers in precarious jobs.
Today Bill 18, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, passed its third reading at Queen's Park in Ontario. The legislation will:
- Tie future minimum wage increases to the Consumer Price Index for Ontario.
- Ensure Occupational Health and Safety Act coverage for unpaid co-op students and other unpaid learners.
- Eliminate the $10,000 cap on the recovery of unpaid wages through Ministry of Labour orders to pay and increasing the period of recovery to two years.
- Expand employment protections to cover all foreign employees who come to Ontario under an immigration or foreign temporary employee program.
- Hold temp agencies and their employer clients accountable for employment standards violations, such as failure to pay regular wages, overtime pay, and public holiday entitlements.
"The Bill is definitely a step forward for a lot of key rights that workers in precarious jobs need," said Karen Cocq from the Workers' Action Centre.
The Bill is one element of an election promise by the Wynne government to address poverty in Ontario.
Many of the workers who come to the Workers' Action Centre are fighting for stolen wages and find themselves caught in between temp agencies and client companies. The last time a bill was instituted to regulate temporary agencies was in 2009, so "this bill has been a long time coming and we’ve been putting a lot of work into it," said Cocq.
The Workers' Action Centre was able to secure an amendment to the Bill to hold temp agencies and their employers jointly accountable for overtime pay, and public holiday entitlements.
"We had hoped to have joint liability for all of the entitlements," said Cocq, "but recognize that these wins are really really huge, and we are going to keep organizing so that we get more down the road."
In June 2014, Ontario's minimum wage was increased to reflect the rise in the Consumer Price Index. Bill 18 will ensure that the minimum wage will continue to rise with the cost of living.
While poverty advocates applaud this as a first step, they recognize that there is still a long way to go before all Ontarians earn a living wage.
In a press briefing released by the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario Alastair Woods points out that an $11 minimum wage is inadequate for students trying to pay for college or university.
"At $11 an hour, people are still falling well-below the poverty line -- even if they are working full time. That makes it difficult to live, let alone pay for school," he said.
As Woods also notes, Ontario is the only province with a lower student minimum wage. Farm workers and tipped service workers are also exempt from minimum wage requirements, as well as vacation pay and overtime requirements.
"All workers, regardless of their age, occupation or educational status, deserve the same minimum wage," said Woods. "And that wage should bring them at least 10% above the poverty line when they work full-time."
Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.