TORONTO – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is calling for a bigger emphasis on enforcement in the wake of new government proposals, released Tuesday, to overhaul the Employment Standards Act (ESA).
“Our union has called for and continues to support many of the changes put forward by the province to reform the ESA,” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said. “We support a $15-an-hour minimum wage. We support ending the scam that allows some employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors. We support extending ESA coverage for Crown employees. And we especially support equal pay for equal work as an automatic condition of employment, which we have campaigned on for close to a decade now.
“That said, none of these proposals are worth anything if they aren’t enforced,” he said. “The government’s plan to hire 175 more enforcement staff is laudable, but it will not happen soon enough and it does not go far enough – not in an $800-billion economy with 7.5 million workers.”
Ontario currently employs just under 200 employment standards officers (auditors) in the Ministry of Labour.
“Employment standards auditors are stretched to the limit as it is,” Thomas said. “Adding 175 new ones is a good idea, but the changes proposed today are massive. They will require proactive enforcement in every workplace in the province or they will be paper changes only. We need more enforcers.”
Thomas said the proposed changes to the ESA, if enacted, would spur employers to innovate – in good ways and bad.
“I don’t doubt that good employers will respond to these changes in ways that boost productivity, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “But other employers will innovate by finding increasingly clever ways to dodge their legal obligations.
“We need an enforcement system that has the resources, and is on the same scale, as the magnitude of the changes the government has proposed. And we need it right away.”
Thomas said the union would continue to study today’s proposals and discuss them with the government both before and after any legislation to enact them is tabled.