The federal government has introduced new legislation to protect vulnerable workers including three paid emergency leave days, scheduling rights, equal pay for temps and casual workers, and measures to prevent contract flipping — as Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives move to repeal similar protections in Ontario.
Making the announcement at George Brown College to a room of union leaders and young workers Thursday, federal employment minister Patty Hajdu blasted the provincial changes as the “politics of cruelty,” and called it “devastating to watch really fundamental protections be rolled back.”
“This country is so much better off when everyone has a fair chance at success,” she said.
“One thing we heard over and over and over is that those most vulnerable workers are not protected,” she added. “They’re being asked to work incredibly hard for very low wages with very little predictability and with no protections for when life happens.”
The newly announced updates to the Canada Labour Code would impact workers in federally-regulated sectors like airlines, telecommunications, trucking, and banks, which employ around 900,000 people across the country.
The vast majority of employees in Ontario rely on provincial employment laws for their rights on the job, but the federal measures are of particular significance for workers at Pearson International Airport — who have long demanded protection against contract flipping and called for a federally mandated minimum wage.
The Star has previously reported on the practice known as contract-flipping, which refers to when employers award contracts to different service providers every few years, forcing workers to reapply for their jobs — often losing any wage increases and benefits earned under their previous employer.
The new federal measures apply to airports and airlines, and mean that workers will keep their salary rates when contracts change hands.
Dan Janssen, a baggage handler at Pearson International Airport and the vice-president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2323, which represents airport workers, said he welcomed the changes.
“It became a race to the bottom (at Pearson) so we’re glad to see that is finally going to be addressed,” he told the Star.
He said he would be watching to ensure the new language had “real value” in practise, but said he believed that “raising the floor is always a good thing to do.”
“Whether it’s unions doing that or unions fighting for better protections, it’s important that we raise the floor in terms of minimum standards. We all benefit when that happens, unionized or not.”
The new legislation, introduced on Parliament Hill on Monday, will provide employees in federally regulated industries with five days of personal leave, three of which will be paid. It will allow workers to refuse last-minute shifts without fear of reprisal. It will also make it illegal to pay part-time, temporary, and casual workers less than their permanent counterparts.
In 2006, an extensive report to the federal government by labour law expert Harry Arthurs noted “workers in the federal jurisdiction tend to be higher paid and enjoy better overall working conditions.” But it also warned of the rise of part-time and temporary work in some sectors, and its impact on groups like women and new Canadians in particular. The report made numerous proposals to better protect such workers.
Hajdu cited the Arthurs report and Bill 148, the labour reforms enacted last year under Ontario’s previous Liberal government, as the template for the federal changes. Last week, the province introduced new legislation, Bill 47, to repeal many of those reforms — including two paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, scheduling protections, and a $15 minimum wage that had been due to kick in in January.
“It’s a real step in the wrong direction,” Janssen said of Bill 47. “It’s almost like yin and yang with what’s happening with the federal government and provincial government.”
Currently, federal sector employees are entitled to the minimum wage rates set by their respective provinces. Hajdu said Thursday the federal government will establish a task force to examine that issue, after the results of a 10-month consultation found strong support for a minimum wage of $15 or more in federally regulated industries.
The new federal legislation also bolsters the Wage Earner Protection Program, which provides financial support to workers who are owed wages after their employer files for bankruptcy.
The government also introduced gender-based pay equity legislation earlier this week requiring employers with 10 or more workers to examine their pay practices and ensure men and women are compensated equally for work of equal value.
“We believe that this will set the stage for good quality jobs which is profitable,” said Hajdu. “Smart employers already know this.”
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering work and wealth. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz