By Gillian Livingston
Changes to workplace legislation introduced in Ontario on Monday drew complaints from both ends of the spectrum -- with labour leaders saying it doesn't end the 60-hour work week and businesses complaining about the focus on enforcement.
As Labour Minister Chris Bentley introduced legislation Monday to cap the work week at 48 hours, Wayne Samuelson of the Ontario Federation of Labour said that doesn't mean the 60-hour work week is dead, or workers won't be coerced into working longer hours.
CHRIS BENTLEY Introduced legislation
"The 60-hour work week is there if the ministry says OK and employees sign something," he said. "What employee in a non-union workplace is not going to sign some document if the employer puts it in front of them?"
New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton said the legislation doesn't protect workers at all.
"All the employer has to do is to say 'you work 60 hours or you'll be out of here,' then (the workers) sign."
Bentley also announced that the province will focus more resources on enforcing workplace laws.
The target is 2,000 inspections next year, up from only several hundred in previous years, he said. Resources will be shifted within the department and no new inspectors will be hired.
Len Crispino, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said that move suggests there is more of a problem with workplace issues than there is in reality.
"We're less than happy with what appears to be an excessive reliance on enforcement," he said.
While "there might be a few bad apples out there that, of course, the minister should go after . . . we just don't believe from the data that we've got that the issue is as widespread perhaps as the minister might imply."
Samuelson said the changes are meaningless unless the government hires more inspectors to enforce the rules.
More enforcement "is critical," said Mary Gellatly, with the Employment Standards Work Group, which helps workers having problems with employers.
HOWARD HAMPTON Doesn't protect workers
"We've seen over the past eight years that this act hasn't been enforced and it's been open terrain for bosses to break the law."
Some companies work staff, many of them immigrants, for long hours then file for bankruptcy to evade paying back wages, she said.
That's what happened to Shash Lad who worked for seven years at a Toronto machining shop, and lost nearly $14,000 in wages.
One of his complaints is still being examined by Ontario's Labour Ministry and a year later he's had no success getting his money, he said.
Bentley said more resources will be used to help new immigrants and those whose first language is not English or French to learn about their rights as workers.
The proposed amendment to the province's Employment Standards Act follows a pledge made by the Liberals during last fall's provincial election.
Under the changes, employers who want employees to work more than 48 hours in a week would have to get written permission from their staff and file an application online, by fax, mail or in person to get approval from the government. There are no application fees.
If the government doesn't respond within 30 days, the employer can go ahead with the longer hours.
Employers will be allowed to ask for an extension only up to a maximum of 60 hours a week, except in special circumstances.
The former Conservative government put in place the 60-hour week in 2000, allowing companies and workers to enter into written agreements that permitted a work week of up to 60 hours, and only requiring government permission for a work week longer than that.
Conservative member Jim Flaherty defended the previous legislation, saying it got rid of red tape and gave workers and employers the flexibility they needed to compete.
With the legislation put forward "you'd think in fact that people have been obliged, have been forced to work 60 hours a week over the past several years in the province of Ontario. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
The Liberals are only "tinkering with the Tory legislation," Samuelson said, noting his disappointment that the government isn't legislating a 40-hour work week.
The standard work week is 40 hours in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland.
It's slightly longer in Alberta and New Brunswick at 44 hours, topping out at 48 hours in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
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