Local labour activists had their say last week, sharing their stories of temporary employment, no benefits, and unfair wages to the province’s Changing Workplaces Review.The Ontario government launched the public consultations in a range of cities across the province to examine how the Labour Relations Act (1995) and the Employment Standards Act (2000) could be altered to support workers and businesses fairly.
Marc Xuereb, president of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council, presented labour concerns, joined by three local workers at a meeting in Guelph.
“We wanted to be a part of this $15 fairness campaign because we want to raise the issue of how many people in our workforce are working in precarious jobs,” Xuereb said of the campaign to raise the minimum wage. “They’re part-time when they want to be full-time or they’re in temporary contract jobs, and so we voted to assign the president, me, to go and make a presentation to the Changing Workplaces Review.”
One of the workers who spoke was Jordan Ellis, who’s worked for several different temp agencies for four years, on average 15 different jobs a year. He explained how he often works alongside people doing the same job as him, who are making more money.
“He has a chronic health condition and so he had an appointment that he couldn’t miss and he informed both the temp agency and the employer ahead of time that he had to do this,” Xuereb said. “They said ‘fine.’ He went to it and then the next day they said ‘no, we’ve replaced you. We had to find someone else.’ These are the kinds of things that we want to see addressed in changes to the Employment Standards Act.”
A report titled Still Working on the Edge was launched this spring by the Workers’ Action Centre to tell those kinds of stories of workers in precarious employment situations. One of the recommendations of the report is to make it illegal for an employer to pay the temp agency worker less than a worker doing the same job, and actually recommend there be a precarity premium paid to temp workers.
“They don’t get the job security, they don’t get the benefits associated with full-time workers. So they should get paid a premium on top of their wage. That was one point we made through Jordan’s story,” Xuereb said.
Personal support worker Karen Maleka goes from home to home helping people with domestic chores for one-hour intervals. She gets paid about $15 an hour, but doesn’t get paid for her travel time between appointments. She takes the bus from appointment to appointment, so the 30 to 45 minutes between calls is completely unpaid. They give her a mileage rate for the distance, but she doesn’t have the choice to go home and relax between appointments.
“She’ll work a long day, but only get paid for each minute that she’s in someone’s home. On top of that she’s classified as part-time, even though she regularly works up to 80 hours a week,” Xuereb said.
He says workers are put in a precarious situation as a result. They can’t buy a house because the banks see them as part-time workers. Even if they’re making full-time hours, if they’re classified as part-time they don’t have the job security of it being there next week, so they won’t give them a mortgage.
David Eales spoke about members of his union who have two or three PSW jobs at different healthcare facilities – all of which are unionized by different locals.
“These long-term nursing homes are privately owned, so they do have members that work two or three jobs with the same company, that would have different employment contracts,” Xuereb said. “They’re working full-time hours plus, even for the same employer at different locations, but they don’t get the benefits of full-time work, like a healthcare plan, a pension plan, job security of some sort.”
Now the labour council is working with a number of community partners to try to continue to raise awareness about this $15 and fairness campaign. The goal to have minimum wage be $15 an hour because that would be 10 per cent above the poverty line, and they believe anybody that works full-time, at least should not have to live in poverty.
“At the current minimum wage, even though it’s indexed to inflation, which is a good thing, a full-time worker working a minimum wage job would be 17 per cent below the poverty line, and that’s just unacceptable,” Xuereb said.
We’ve all heard it before that if the minimum wage becomes $15 an hour, small businesses won’t be able to maintain their staff and it will only hurt the workforce. Xuereb says that’s not been the case in other jurisdictions where they’ve raised the minimum wage.
“The evidence and experience has born out the fact that that is just not true,” Xuereb said. “If you look at studies across North America where states or provinces have raised the minimum wage there haven’t been any negligible effects on employment levels. In other words, raising the minimum wage does not change the overall levels of employment in a state or a province.”
He says there may be some short-term pain for some small businesses, but in the medium to long-term, putting more money in the pockets of the lowest income people in society is good for the economy because those people are going to spend the majority of their income in their own community.
“It’s about not discriminating against part-timers and basically giving an incentive to employers to create more full-time jobs,” Xuereb said. “They are exploiting the situation. They are purposefully keeping people in part-time and temporary contract situations, so they don’t have to pay the full cost. They’re saving money that way and it’s just not right.”