As Ontario takes a closer look at legislation governing the workplace, advisers to the Ministry of Labour heard from concerned Thunder Bay residents yesterday.

The province is specifically reviewing the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act — two pieces of legislation that haven't been updated in well over a decade.

Jefford

Kari Jefford, president of Unifor local 229, says they're worried about the decline in full-time jobs and the shift toward using temporary workers. File photo. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

During a day-long public consultation session, Unifor Thunder Bay union local president Kari Jefford said regulations need to do more to help people who don't work full-time.

"When an employer doesn't have to pay benefits or pensions or give holidays or vacations or sick leave, that's much more attractive for them to keep precarious workers and hire more precarious workers," she said.

"And it's very difficult, as a union, to hang on to permanent positions."

Current rules 'working well' for business

But the president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce said any proposed changes can't place an extra encumbrance on businesses.

"You need to make sure that whatever is being discussed works for everybody, so we want to make sure that that's being considered," Charla Robinson said, adding the current rules are "working well."

Charla Robinson

Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Charla Robinson says any proposed changes to Ontario's labour laws can't place an extra encumbrance on businesses. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

"We want to make sure that the rules don't become so complex and challenging that it adds an extra burden to the employer."

Ministry officials report workforce trends, such as increasing numbers of temporary and part-time jobs, as well as technological advances, make the review necessary.    

"The economics and the demographics, the sociology of work has all changed and so there's a need from time to time to have a serious look at whether the laws need to be changed at the same time," adviser Michael Mitchell said.

Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell is one of two special advisers working with the province as it reviews the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

The two 'special advisors' are Mitchell, formerly with Sack Goldblat Mitchell LLP, and John C. Murray, a former Ontario Superior Court Justice.

The Labour Relations Act was last updated in 1995, and the Employment Standards Act in 2000.

Same work, same pay?

The special advisers heard from a number of people and groups on Wednesday, including Jefford and Robinson, as well as the Lakehead University Students' Union, the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group and Poverty-Free Thunder Bay.

The Lakehead Student Union was represented by its president, Roman Jakubowski, who wants to see an end to "student wages," which are lower minimum wages paid to students.

"If they're doing the same work, they should receive the same pay as everyone else," he said. 

He said he's also concerned with the state of the retail industry and the prevalence of minimum-wage, part time jobs.

"The retail economy is not sustainable," Jakubowski said.

Roman Jakubowski

Lakehead Student Union president Roman Jakubowski told a panel reviewing Ontario's labour laws that he wants to see an end to “student wages." (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

In previous consultations, the advisers have been hearing a lot about worker vulnerability, the shift to more temporary work, and how unions can organize, Mitchell said.

The public consultations have been taking place since June. There's one more session next week in Toronto.

Mitchell said a final report on the review is expected in about a year.