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Ontario labour law questioned
By Chris Lackner
The Tory government has Ontario unions and lobbying groups crying foul over proposed changes to Ontario's labour laws.
Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said the Harris government's proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act will bring unprecedented harm to the rights and powers of both labour unions and employees.
He said the new legislation will enable employers to designate 60 hour employee work-weeks while the current legislation only permits a maximum of 48 working hours per week.
Samuelson cited further concerns with the Tory proposals, including a provision which allows for overtime to be averaged out over a three week span, in effect allowing employers to avoid paying over-time at all.
He explained under the current system, a worker qualifies for overtime after 44 hours a week, but the new legislation means a person can, for example, be worked 60, 35 and 30 hours over a three week span and not qualify for overtime in the week in which they worked 60 hours.
The Conservative government is also attempting to strip the power of the unions by entering legislation which makes it harder for unions to organize themselves, Samuelson added.
"People didn't vote for 60 hour working weeks or drinking water that will kill you," Samuelson said, adding workers will organize against the changes if they are passed by the government.
Brian Lemire, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, said the reforms to the Employment Standards Act will provide flexibility for both employees and their employers.
"The old act is outdated," he said. "It needs to be modernized for the current labour market."
Public consultation on the proposed changes was done over the summer, Lamire said, adding open forums were held in five cities across Ontario and featured both unions and labour organizations.
Affected groups were also encouraged to provide written submissions to the government outlining their concerns and ideas for legislative reform, Lamire said, adding the government is not endorsing a 60 hour work-week, as employees have the right to refuse after working 48 hours.
But Samuelson said the power structure in the work place means an employee is rarely in position to challenge or refuse an employer.
In response, Lamire said, part of the governments reforms will give investigative labour officers stronger enforcement measures to ensure employee rights. "This legislation is all about choice," he said. "Flexibility only works when there's an agreement."
Gilles Warren, president of the London District Labour Council, said he has little faith in government inspectors acting as good administrators of the new labour laws, adding the last seven years have seen drastic cutbacks on the number of inspectors. "The goal is to increase corporate profit while making everyone else work twice as long," he said.