5 priorities for Kathleen Wynne’s good jobs agenda

As incoming premier Kathleen Wynne takes office, here are 5 priorities for action on good jobs:

  1. Increase the minimum wagegood jobs agenda3
  2. Target employers that violate employment standards
  3. Ensure adequate resources for proactive enforcement of employment standards
  4. Update the ESA to create good jobs
  5. Equal protections for temporary foreign workers.

 

In today’s Toronto Star Martin Regg Cohn quotes premier Kathleen Wynne on the need to create good jobs in Ontario. Wynne asked earlier this week: “how are we going to work together to create jobs?  What are those going to be, what can young people expect in terms of their future?  And are we just agreeing that we’re going to race to the bottom, or do we really believe that Ontario can be a different kind of jurisdiction?

As low-paid precarious work increasingly becomes the norm, Wynne is right to be concerned about the kinds of jobs young people can expect. And for those already in the workplace, a 3 year minimum wage freeze means wages are already far below the poverty line. Many workers face challenges getting paid at all, with the rise of wage theft and mis-classification of work.  The creation of good jobs therefore also requires a commitment to making sure the jobs people are already in are decent jobs.

At the Workers’ Action Centre, we think Ontario can be a different kind of jurisdiction, where all workers can count on decent work.  Here are 5 ideas of how we can get there and why all 5 should be on Wynne’s priority list:

 

1)      Increase the minimum wage

Wynne has indicated she supports a review of the minimum wage to determine if it is adequate and to tie future increases to specific measures.  Workers across Ontario can tell her right now it is impossible to survive on the current $10.25 minimum wage. We don’t need a committee to tell us that it’s time to break the 3 year freeze.  Indexing minimum wage so that it brings workers 10% above the poverty line  and increases with the cost of living is a smart move that would bring more dollars into communities and support local economies.  Wynne could look to Nova Scotia which has recently adopted a similar policy, or to the 2 other provinces that now have their minimum wage indexed to cost of living increases.

 

2)      Target employers that violate employment standards

Wage theft is increasing across Ontario because many employers know there is virtually no cost to breaking the law.  Wynne has seen this issue in her own riding up close and should know it’s an issue in communities across Ontario.  Simple measures could increase fines and penalties for employers guilty of wage theft. Ontario could show leadership and follow the lead of US states that require employers found guilty of wage theft to pay workers interest on unpaid wages and even require employers to pay workers double the wages owing to them when there are repeat and serious violations.

 

3)      Ensure adequate resources for proactive enforcement of employment standards

The government’s poverty-reduction strategy promise of $10 million in annual permanent funding to hire new employment standards officers has not yet been fulfilled. As of January 2013, only $4.5 million has been added to the annual budget. $3 million in temporary funding has not resulted in expanded proactive enforcement. Wynne has the chance to show she is serious about good jobs by ensuring the remaining $5.5 million is in the 2013 budget as annual permanent funding for proactive enforcement.

 

4)      Update the ESA to create good jobs

To stop the race to the bottom and ensure Ontario is a good jobs jurisdiction, we need to fix the gaps in outdated labour laws that let unscrupulous employers get around basic standards.  This means getting rid of exemptions that deny some workers rights such as overtime and minimum wage.  It also means ensuring that all workers are protected under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and increasing protection for temp agency workers.  This is a critical issue for the current Minister of Labour with the growth of temp agencies in the Peel region, but Liberal caucus members in small cities across Ontario are also grappling with complaints from constituents about temp agencies.

 

5)      Equal protections for temporary foreign workers.

The numbers of migrant workers working in Ontario is increasing dramatically. Workers often pay exorbitant fees to work, indebting them to recruiters and making it even more difficult to speak out about dangerous or abusive working conditions. While Ontario outlawed recruitment fees for live-in caregivers, many other migrant workers have no protection. Wynne could immediately ban recruitment fees for all migrant workers through a simple regulatory change, while exploring other models to ensure that migrant workers have access to protection on the job such as the best practices WRAPA model that is the law in Manitoba.