Published on Mon Jan 25 2016 in the Toronto Star
Re: Blitz - and educate, Editorial Jan. 21
Blitz - and educate, Editorial Jan. 21
While your editorial on the widespread abuse of labour standards revealed through Ministry of Labour inspections aptly describes the poor working conditions faced by many workers, the emphasis you place on the need for education for employers is misplaced.
G4S Security, for example, is the largest private security company in the world, with 700,000 employees in 125 countries. To suggest that they require “education” to uphold basic labour standards is ludicrous in the context that the company probably has a set of lawyers and human resource managers larger than Ontario’s entire employment standards branch.
The company’s evasion of labour laws is well documented in sociologist James McCallum’s account of the workings of G4S in multiple countries. Indeed, suggesting the educational approach for employers masks the fact that because of strong employer lobbies, we do not have a universal set of minimum rights for workers.
Instead, the law is peppered with a large number of exceptions where the government has traded in workers’ well-being for business interests. Some examples: employers of road construction workers have different rules around hours of work and breaks. Employers of homecare workers have special rules relating to wages or hours. As evident on the Ministry of Labour’s aptly titled “Special Rule Tool,” the exceptions are almost as extensive as the laws. This has led to a complex set of rules that employers can easily claim confuses them.
In this context, instead of employer education, we need strategies that will ensure all workers in Ontario can be assured of a set of minimum standards. This can either be achieved through widespread proactive inspections, so that employers know that their chances of evading the law are low, or through high penalties for failing to meet minimum standards. At the moment, we have neither, leading to a situation where employers take the risk of getting caught, and pay small penalties if they do.
For large employers such as G4S, evasion strategies are a routine business practice. Few and infrequent inspections, in conjunction with a cumbersome complaints process for workers who take action themselves, leads to a continually falling floor of working conditions for Ontario workers.
Kiran Mirchandani, professor, Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, OISE
Thanks for publicizing the results of a recent Ministry of Labour blitz on Employment Standards Act violations. The fact that 78 per cent of employers were found to have violated the act shows the urgent need for labour law reform in Ontario.
The ministry will soon release an interim report into such reform. Many, including Unifor, have made submissions about the needed changes. Reforms must address the stark reality reflected in your story.
It is clear that the current system of complaint-based enforcement doesn’t work. Requiring workers to first go to their employer with a complaint is totally divorced from workplace realities.
Ontario needs proactive inspections and independent worker advocacy centres funded in part by fines for employers who violate the laws. With 52 per cent of GTA/Hamilton jobs now precarious, workers need protection.
We must make the most of the opportunity we have now to fix this problem.
Katha Fortier, Ontario Regional Director, Unifor