Metro Morning

Unifor looks for members among the precariously employed

Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector labour union, wants to update Ontario's labour laws.

Unifor to lobby Ontario government for more protection for part-time, contract and temporary workers

Unifor is concerned for workers in contract, part-time or temporary jobs. (iStockPhoto)

Fewer than half of all employees in the GTA and Hamilton are in permanent, full­time jobs.

The majority are in precarious positions,­­ many with low wages and little job security.

Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector labour union, wants to change that by proposing updates to Ontario's labour laws. It has submitted a proposal to the Ontario government asking for labour laws that reflect the new reality of work. That means more protection for part­-time, temporary and contract employees, and greater job security, a living wage and the ability to form unions.

"Ontarians, especially young people, don't have a lot of prospects for regular hours or stability," Unifor's Ontario Regional Director Katha Fortier said. 

She said a generation ago, people worked in the same job for their whole lives.

"We need to modernize employment standards to today's workplace," she said.

Fortier said Unifor wants to make sure workers have greater protections under employment standards, have the ability to take on an employer if they're terminated ­and have powers to take collective action.

One specific reform would be enhanced successor rates, said Fortier. That's when employees don't use collective agreements, lose their jobs, and get hired back at far worse conditions. That can happen at places like airports, cleaning services companies and where work is contracted out, she said.

Other proposals include:

  • Rules for shift scheduling that provide workers with more stability and more opportunity for full-time work.
  • Making employers jointly responsible for the actions of temp agencies, access to prorated employment benefits (such as health and insurance protections) for part-time workers.
  • A more proactive and independent approach to the enforcement of employment standards.

But Unifor is not saying every worker would be organized. Instead it wants to address some of the challenges of the precariousness of work. "People are fearful because they really need their jobs. They can be terminated under current legislation for no reason whatsoever," said Fortier. "For a low-wage worker, that just can't happen."

Fortier said the benefits of protecting part-­time, temporary and contract employees include growing Canada's middle class, improving income inequality. 

She said the best chances of bettering the working life of many people in so-called precarious conditions is to join a union.

She stressed that it helps employers too. "If you have secure workforce, then there's a benefit: there's less turnover, people feel pride in their work, and they're more secure in what they're doing­."

Unifor will be bringing a number of union members to Queen's Park on Nov. 9 to lobby MPPs to consider the changes.­

"We want to give people hope," Fortier said. 

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