By Colin Burrowes
When Premier Doug Ford announced in the Legislature on Tuesday, Oct. 1 his government, which he claims is “for the people,” would be eliminating all of Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, we wondered, which people is this government for?
There is more to Bill 148 than a raise of minimum wage to $15 or the first two of 10 emergency leave days being paid. The bill took steps to equalize pay for the growing number of temporary workers, contract workers and other workers with precarious employment trying to make ends meet in an economy where traditional full-time employment is becoming hard to find.
On the campaign trail the Progressive Conservatives did promise to freeze minimum wage at $14 an hour, but there was no mention of a total repeal of Bill 148.
Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson did not exactly echo the words Ford uttered in the legislature, saying the law is under review, but if the impetuous Ford pattern we’ve seen up to now is any indication, Bill 148 is likely on the chopping block.
Bill 148 gave some relief from stress for workers who pay their bills and raise their families outside of the traditional employee/employer relationship. For example, temporary employment agencies are required under the law to provide workers with one week’s written notice or pay in lieu if an assignment estimated to last three months or more is terminated early. Temps also get the same pay as regular employees under the equal pay for equal work rules written into the law.
Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson has travelled across Ontario speaking to business leaders and he says they have told him they don’t like the law.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses have both spoken out on their websites asking for a stop to Bill 148.
These groups speak out on behalf of employers regarding this issue, so who is speaking out on behalf of workers.
Andrew Cash, former MP for the Davenport electoral district in Toronto and co-founder of the Urban Worker Project, an initiative to give stronger voice to the growing number of independent workers across the country, has a different take on Bill 148.
On Jan. 26 in an interview with Rabble.ca, Cash said he believes there are a lot of good parts to Bill 148, but he felt the bill did not go far enough to protect people working outside Ontario and Canada’s labour laws and protections. Many contract workers and interns fall into what Cash referred to as a “grey zone for rights and protections.” Cash said nonstandard employees often feel they have no place to go to file their grievances or report things like sexual harassment. The are left with no human resources department to report things to.
Another failure of the gig economy Cash said Bill 148 did not address properly was employment insurance. Contract workers, freelancers and most temps stuck between gigs have no social safety net for the lean in-between times.
“We are used to seeing work within the context of a full-time job,” said Cash on the Rabble.ca podcast. “We are used to seeing work within the framework of the postwar industrial model … and we’ve organized our social safety net, government policies and labour organizations around that. It’s often hard to see workers who are not in that frame … and that they need rights and they deserve those rights and they deserve those protections too. It’s not their fault the economy has changed. They did not wish globalization and neoliberalism upon them (selves) but that is what is happening today.”
So, what we are wondering is when Doug Ford’s government says they are “for the people,” which people are they really for?