Minimum-wage earners in Sudbury disappointed by repeal of labour laws

There are some who are thrilled with the provincial government’s repeal of Bill 148, but others — mainly minimum wage workers — who are disappointed the hourly rate won’t be increasing in two months. Earlier this week, the Conservative government repealed almost every change the previous Liberal government passed in 2017.

Sudbury group plans to demonstrate in front of the Chamber of Commerce to voice anger over repeal

Minimum-wage earners in Sudbury, are disappointed they won't be seeing their hourly rate increased to $15, which was to take effect in January. Bill 148 has been repealed. (CBC)

There are quite opposite reactions to the Ford government's new Making Ontario Open for Business Act.

Sudbury workers are disappointed while the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce is relieved.

Earlier this week, the Progressive Conservative government  introduced a new act that will repeal the bulk of the Kathleen Wynne government's Bill 148.

The older legislation would have given Ontario workers a minimum of two paid sick days and would have forced employers to pay part-time and casual staff at the same rate as full-time workers.

It would have seen the minimum wage increase to $15 an hour as of Jan. 1, 2019, but the wage has now been frozen at $14 dollars until the year 2020.

The bill announced Tuesday, called the Making Ontario Open for Business Act cancels ten personal emergency leave days and replaces that with up to three days for personal illness, two for bereavement and three for family responsibilities, all unpaid.

The bill has passed first reading in the legislature but is not yet law.

This is welcome news to the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, which has been advocating for over a year that the labour changes were being introduced too quickly. It predicted some businesses would suffer from the added financial pressures.

Board chair Michael Mcnamara says the repeal of the labour legislation gives employers 'room to breathe'.

Michael Macnamara is chair of the board for the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. (Radio Canada)

"It's all about finding the right balance between government regulation and the will or the freedom of employers to implement their own policies, and to treat their own people in an appropriate way," he said.

McNamara added that employers can choose to provide their workers with a higher minimum wage or paid sick leave.

"But it's the ones that weren't in a position to be able to do that that are really getting a bit of a sigh of relief from this."

He says he can understand there would be disappointment among workers who were expecting a raise in January, and adds that some employers may choose to go ahead with the increase.

Minimum wage to be frozen at $14/hr until Oct. 2020

Workers are upset and disappointed, said Mélodie Bérubé, an outreach worker with the Sudbury Workers Education & Advocacy Centre.

Mélodie Bérubé is an outreach worker with the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

"When they did get that increase to $14, [Jan.1, 2018] it gave them almost a year of seeing what that was like to have that boost, to be able to get a little bit further with their money, and not make as many tough decisions as some workers had to, in the past," she said.

Bérubé​ says the repeal includes more than just the minimum wage. It includes equal pay for equal work, paid sick days and other basic protections that workers no longer have.

"It's really not a good sign when that's the first thing [Premier Doug Ford] is doing with workers' legislation."

She adds the decision by the Progressive Conservative government comes across to the workers like their government doesn't care about their labour rights.

"They really have to question how willing their government is to protect them as workers and to really advocate on behalf of what works out for them as workers and not necessarily always for employers," she said.

Bérubé​ admits the issues don't have to divide workers and employers.

"We need to come to a compromise where employers can still run their businesses but workers at the same time can still make a living and not have to get three or four jobs just to make ends meet," she said.  

The Sudbury Workers Centre is planning a demonstration at 12 p.m. Friday in front of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce office on Elm Street.

McNamara says he respects their right to free speech, but says the Chamber does not change government policy.

With files from Angela Gemmill