Ministry of Labour to investigate employers’ reaction to Bill 148

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Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has announced that the Ministry of Labour will hire up to 175 new inspectors to enforce the new regulations found in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act 2017. In a statement to the press at Queen’s Park, Flynn said the Ministry would be investigating employers for alleged violations of the new labour laws.

“[The employer’s actions] clearly contravenes the legislation,” Flynn told reporters. “It’s not just mean-spirited, it’s illegal.”

This move comes in response to recent controversy that was created when Tim Horton’s franchises across the province reacted to the labour reforms by cutting employee paid breaks and benefits. The owners of the Cobourg location were criticized heavily on social media and drew a response from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Tim Horton’s has made statements criticizing the actions of franchise owners, stating the alleged labour violations “do not reflect the values of our brand.”

The new legislation includes provisions that raise the minimum wage for most workers in Ontario, as well as alterations to scheduling, equal pay for workers, time off for employees, protections for workers facing domestic and sexual violence and paid vacations. Also included in Bill 148 is the ability for the Ministry of Labour to publish the names of businesses that violate the new laws.

The actions of employers in response to Bill 148 have also drawn a sharp reaction from labour unions and groups. The Ottawa and District Labour Council has launched a new phone hotline for workers to contact in order to publicly reveal and boycott businesses who punish employees for the changes found in the new legislation. Additionally, last Wednesday labour organizations held a ‘day of action’ in response to Tim Horton’s cuts to breaks and benefits.

Labour groups have claimed they are trying to put pressure on Restaurant Brands International, the coffee chains parent company. Pam Frache, an organizer with the province-wide Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign and the Workers’ Action Centre, spoke to The Brock Press about the efforts of the organizers, and how working-class people across Canada came together in support of workers at Tim Horton’s.

“The fact that we saw a spontaneous call for a boycott of Tim Horton’s across the country speaks to a gut-level of solidarity among working class-people,” said Frache. “We need to unpack how working-class Canadians read about how heirs to the Tim Horton’s fortune, from their poolside second homes, sent out a memo to punish workers making sub-minimum wages, and the people who found out about this felt an immediate revulsion and wanted to do something to support their fellow workers.”

Frache went on to explain how organizers across the province worked to direct the anger and energy in a direction that could achieve real results.

“We need to keep pressure on the parent company [RBI], a company that makes $3 billion in revenue from Tim Horton’s annually on the back of workers across North America,” Frache stated. “These are not struggling mom-and-pop shops, and frankly we are amazed to see the number of working class-people who would still be willing to pay more for a cup of coffee to make sure workers are getting paid a decent wage.”

Frache also spoke about how many small businesses in fact support most of the changes in the new legislation.

“Evidence shows corporations with more than 500 employees are more likely to pay minimum wage than smaller businesses”, Frache explained. “Small businesses already pay above a minimum wage, on average. They know they need to take care of their workers to have a successful business. In fact, 60 per cent of small businesses support these labour reforms, and many support raising the minimum wage even higher than 15-an-hour. It’s unfair, because large multinationals like Wal-Mart can rely on abusing their workers and high employee turnover. What this legislation is really doing is leveling the playing field between small businesses and large corporations.”

In fact, despite push back from large employers and corporations, many small business owners have embraced the legal changes in Bill 148. Niagara businessman Damin Starr, who owns and operates PreLine Processing, found hiring temporary workers and paying them the minimum wage led to costly mistakes on his factory floor. After moving to hire full-time staff and paying them 17-an-hour, Starr has ended up with a better bottom line.

Another element in the debate is how the minimum wage increase has played out in the province of Alberta. Despite an increase to a provincial minimum wage of $15 an hour by the Alberta NDP government, Statistics Canada has released a report indicating Alberta has the best employment growth in the food services sector in the country.

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