The Ministry of Labour has been holding public consultations across Ontario over the summer, as part of their review of the province’s labour laws (the Changing Workplaces Review, CWR). The public consultations wrap up this week, and workers have been making powerful statements about the need for better laws.
Last Friday in Scarborough, Estina, a long-time Workers’ Action Centre member, spoke passionately about her years juggling two jobs through temp agencies as a health care provider in shelters and group homes. She does the same work as staff that are hired directly, but for less money and with no security of hours. “I work with seniors, young people with developmental disabilities, and patients in palliative care. I provide an important service to my clients and to society. For this, I get paid minimum wage.”
Estina issued a challenge to the advisors reviewing the law: “Is it fair that I work alongside staff getting paid twice as much as me to do the same work? Is it fair that I have to commute for hours across the city to work as little as 1 hour? Is it fair that my shifts can get cancelled at a moment’s notice, after I’ve already turned down other work? If you think the answer to these questions is ‘No’, then you need to change the law.”
Yan, another Workers’ Action Centre member, described how she worked several jobs where she was paid less than minimum wage, where the employers paid workers in cash to cover up their wage theft. “Our bosses were violent, and threatened us,” she said. “But how could I complain? I never saw anyone making sure my employers respected the law, I would have lost my job.” Yan ended by saying, “I am here to ask you this: you must not only make the law better, you must also enforce it.”
Another worker who testified on Friday, Lily, worked as a cleaner on residential construction sites. She is part of a group of workers being represented by a community legal clinic in a case of massive wage theft, in which they are owed more than $16,000. “It was right before Christmas,” she said, “and many of us have kids.” The Ministry of Labour issued orders to pay to the sub-contractor that hired the workers, but the company has disappeared. The Ministry told the workers that they had issued similar orders against the same sub-contractor only a few months earlier. “How can it be,” Lily asked the advisors, “that the government knows these people are breaking the law, yet they are allowed to keep operating, to keep breaking the law, to keep stealing workers’ wages?” Lily ended her testimony by asking why companies that sub-contract the hiring of their workers are not held responsible for those workers’ rights. “If both companies can wash their hands of our rights, it is us workers left paying the price.”
The public consultations conclude this week, and more workers and allies set to make their voices heard. Add your voice: tell the government that workers in Ontario need better protections now. Email Minster of Labour Kevin Flynn, or tweet him @OntMinLabour @MPPKevinFlynn. Tell him it’s #time4decentwork in Ontario, and ask your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours to do the same.
Over the coming months, we will keep building the momentum in the fight for decent work, both at the Federal and provincial level. Actions are being planned across the province. To find out how you can get involved, sign the petition, and learn more, visit 15andfairness.org.