I’ve talked about this before, and I am probably a broken record on the topic by now. But this is such an important topic that I can’t help continually bring it up.
Work, that’s important. We spend more than 8 hours of our day doing this thing called Work, and the money we earn from it is what keeps us alive, feeds our families, houses us and clothes us. It also determines our lifestyle, our ability to be happy, and is a enormous factor in our health and therefore the quality and length of our lives.
I say its more than important, and very worth talking about.
You see, in 2009 I made a huge decision for myself. After working crappy jobs for almost a decade that I hated and paid miserably, I looked at a career change to turn my life around. I knew I wanted to help people, that I was a great communicator and wanted to work for a non-profit. I learned about the Career and Work Counselling Program at George Brown and thought to myself “Hey, what better way to help people than to teach them how to find work. I’ll be supporting them in one of the most important areas of their lives! That’s pretty meaningful. I can do that.”
Even back then I sensed that the world of work was broken in many places. If I was miserable, and faced many barriers to a better life, I was sure others were going through the same thing too. And deep down, I wanted to be a part of fixing that.
Six years later and I have sound knowledge and stats to back up my gut feeling from back then: the employment world is truly broken and I can hold up the X-Rays and point out the multitude of fracture points and explain what causes them. And no shocker, Karl Marx was right all along and this does not bode well for the 1%.
I can write about what’s wrong with the labour market for days, but today I want to focus on one of the fracture points, and this one relates to a problem in our own backyard (lets leave Global Factors for another day): The Employment Standards Act (ESA) right here in Ontario.
So back in 2014, when the Liberal Government was re-elected into Parliament under Premier Wayne, one of the promises in the Throne Speech was to focus on employment, and in response the Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn (this guy), decided to launch on February 17, 2015, a full public consultation on the ESA under what they called The Changing Workplaces Review.
The purpose of this review was to evaluate the changes to the workplace due to globalization, advances in technology, the surge in new job roles, etc, etc.
The Toronto Star has actually been covering this topic and I have been faithfully following along. In fact, Sara Mojtehedzadeh, Work and Wealth reporter at Toronto Star has been running a series on the ESA and how it affects workers in our city (read her work here, here and today’s article here).
What I find most interesting, in fact even laughable, is that we really don’t need to update the Employment Standards Act to reflect today’s times or 2016.
We need to update it to reflect, umm, I dunno, the 1970’s, or the 1920’s.
Here’s a favourite quote from the Employment Standards official government webpage that further illustrates my point:
“If you are employed in Ontario, you are PROBABLY protected by the ESA”.
Probably. As in “maybe”. Oh, also, good luck navigating all the different guides on the website to figure out if you are covered based on the type of employment you have, or what the ESA even covers in terms of protections and all the different exceptions and loopholes that employers use all the time to take advantage of and exploit Ontario Workers.
We are in a wealthy country, we have a huge workforce and companies in Canada profiting billions upon billions every year, yet somehow our employment policies don’t even protect us from being fired without cause, being paid for overtime, allows all workers the rights to unpaid, let alone paid sick leave, all workers access to minimum wage, or even a minimum wage above the poverty level, and the few protections the ESA does boast, it doesn’t even properly enforce.
The worst part is that Ontario’s weak policies actually ruin lives. And I wouldn’t doubt for a second costs our government billions on the social and health spending that are consequences of this.
We complain about all the taxes we pay in Ontario, and how we worry about all the Government spending we do to implement social programs and anti-poverty initiatives, but what if there are actual ways of reducing poverty and improving our economy that doesn’t involve spending a lot of money? What about improving our policies?
You see, we’ve made amendments to the ESA before, but during the vast majority of public consultations and recommendations and reports by advocacy groups, we don’t need more amendments, we need a complete overhaul.
Back in March 24th 2013 I wrote “Me as a Number” , a blog post about precarious employment and in it referenced a very popular study conducted by McMaster University, PEPSO and United Way entitled “It’s More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being”.
To my excitement PEPSO released a new study this year, a follow up to “More than Poverty”, that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. The new study, “The Precarity Penalty”, focuses on not only the damages precarious employment has on our healthy and on society in general, but also features an in-depth, detailed list of much needed recommendations not only on the Employment Standards act, but for all levels of government, for government agencies and programs and for employers as well.
Another great study that further drives home the need to make significant policy changes is “Still Working on the Edge” by Worker’s Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services in Toronto. This study has a more dedicated focus on the deficiencies of the ESA and has some real, solid recommendations. It was presented during the public consultations this year for The Changing Workplaces Review.
What I wouldn’t have given to have been able to attend those public consultations and listen to all the stories shared. I would have had many to share on my own as I have been hearing examples from friends, family, and most of all clients who have fallen through the cracks left behind by the current ESA.
Here’s a question for my readers: How well do you know your rights as a worker in Ontario?
Who do you think is covered, or not covered by the ESA? What protections do you even have under the ESA?
When your rights as a worker are violated, whats the process to make a complaint?
How does the Ministry of Labour enforce their own laws, and punish employers who break it, what are you entitled to in restitution if you win your case and how does the Ministry of Labour ensure you get compensated?
Because here’s what I think: most of you don’t know. 4-5 years ago I didn’t know; I was under the impression that because I lived in Canada I automatically had rights and was protected by the government if anyone tried to treat me unfairly. That 100 years ago, when workers fought their employers for the right to unionize, and all the laws that changed since then, that we had resolved a lot of these issues.
But I was so wrong, and blind, and I bet many Canadians still are. And I’m sorry but we can do so much better.
We can implement a living minimum wage above the poverty line.
We can eliminate exceptions so that all workers no matter the industry have access to the same benefits, whether they are farm labourers, restaurant workers or temporary foreign workers.
We can make sick days mandatory for all workers.
We can protect workers from being fired without cause.
We can make all workers eligible for overtime pay without spreading out the hours over a month.
We can implement harsher penalties for employers who steal wages from their workers, and create a better enforcement unit at the Ministry of Labour so its easier for workers to make complaints and see their cases resolved sooner.
We can eliminate the loopholes that allow employers to pay different wages or offer different benefits to different employees for the same work.
We can enforce advanced scheduling for jobs that aren’t emergency or essential services, or minimum hours a week for all part time workers.
We can do all of that, and probably a whole lot more. I mean, all of these seem like just basic essentials for a healthy workforce, why is it that hard to implement this?
We work really really hard, I’m pretty sure we deserve it.