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It's Time To Stand Up For The Most Vulnerable Workers

05/17/2017 02:39 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 02:40 EDT

Long-awaited updates to the labour and employment standards laws in Ontario are before the province's cabinet this week, setting the stage for what could be a public unveiling very soon.

This is good news, especially for young people and vulnerable workers.

Labour laws across this country have not kept up with the times. Written when most jobs were full time, and people could stay in one job to build a career and a life for their families, today's laws cannot adequately address the needs of workers in increasingly precarious temporary work and contract positions.

The so-called gig economy, in which most young people find themselves, needs a new set of laws and that's what the proposals before the Ontario cabinet seeks to address.

young workers

The proposed changes include a plan to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour, introduce paid sick days, and increase the mandatory two week vacation to three. Equally important to address the precarious modern workplace, cabinet will discuss recommendations that could make it simpler for workers to join a union, require employers to demonstrate why a part-time or contract job can't be full time and permanent, and much more.

These changes are for Ontario only, but what is being proposed should matter to all Canadians. For one thing, it reflects changes being considered or implemented in other provincial jurisdictions -- including Alberta, where plans are already in place to raise the minimum wage to $15. In British Columbia during its recent election, the NDP likewise proposed a $15 minimum wages, among other changes.

In short, Ontario is not alone in looking at ways to update labour and employment laws. Across North America, in fact, there is a push for a $15 minimum wage, with several U.S. jurisdictions already bringing in the change.

Far from making Ontario uncompetitive, as some in the business class are likely to suggest, changing Ontario's laws keeps the province on track with changes coming in elsewhere. Only corporations and their high-paid executive win from a race to the bottom on wages and working conditions. We owe it to the next generation of workers to push back on every front and work to bring in progressive labour law reform changes whenever and wherever we can.

Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn would reportedly like to make real and meaningful changes to legislation in Ontario. How much he will be able to do depends largely on the support he gets from cabinet this week before the report is made public. It will also depend on how much political influence is exerted by either voters or influential corporate voices like the Chamber of Commerce. This is an important opportunity to speak up and not allow big business to dictate conditions on workers.

Legislation allows us to level the playing field by requiring all employers to live by the same standards.

We, as working people in Ontario and as voters need to show the rest of cabinet that there is broad public support for the changes being proposed. You can bet the corporate lobby is making its views known to cabinet. We need to do the same. Call or email your local MPP, or a cabinet minister, to let them know you support changing workplace laws in Ontario.

You can get the phone number you need at unifor.org/ChangingWorkplaces. You'll also see more details about the proposed changes, and Unifor's active role in pushing for change at that site.

With the growing preference for offering only precarious work, employers have shown that they are either incapable or unwilling to create the good jobs Canadians need to build lives and provide solid foundations for raising their children.

Legislation allows us to level the playing field by requiring all employers to live by the same standards. None can claim an unfair disadvantage if all are required to pay a decent wage, provide reasonable working conditions, decent vacations and sick days.

The report before cabinet this week is expected to be made public next week, after the long weekend. Politicians need to hear loud and clear that the changes being proposed for labour reform, resulting from the Changing Workplace Review, need to happen. A generation of young workers is counting on it.

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