Auto sector workers 'unfairly singled out' under new labour laws, says Unifor

New regulations will go into effect on Jan. 1 as part of a pilot with the Ministry of Economic Growth and Development that started last year, which include exemptions for auto workers in an attempt to keep the industry competitive.

'It's like we're being stabbed in the back,' said Aaron Quenneville

Auto workers in Ontario say exemptions in the new Fair Workplaces Act single them out and are unfair. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

For the first time in Ontario's history, everyone will have the right to 10 days of emergency leave — except auto workers.

The regulations go into effect on Jan. 1 as part of the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act, which includes exemptions for auto workers in an attempt to keep the industry competitive.

Most workers will get 10 days for personal emergency leave which includes sick time, plus three days for bereavement. Two of those days will be paid.

Instead of 10 days, auto workers will get seven days a year and three days for bereavement, none paid for most. 

"It affects me greatly, because I have four children, so my emergency leave days aren't really just for me. They're for my kids too," said Aaron Quenneville.

He's been working the assembly line with TRW Automotive, a parts supplier, for two years. He said their current contract offers no personal emergency leave, so the new labour law will help but he said the inequity is not fair.

"Maybe that's something we bring up in our next contract negotiations," said Quenneville.

'Not fair at all'

And he's upset that none of the sick leave for auto workers will be paid under the new legislation.

"We shouldn't be using our emergency leave days for accidents, injuries or sickness. We should have more sick days as well," he said.

Workers at the plant are also not happy with the change, said Quenneville. 

"It doesn't seem fair at all," he said. "The auto industry is the one that lobbied for this. It's like we're being stabbed in the back."

According to a statement from Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Growth, the reason for the exemption was "to balance the rights and needs of workers with ensuring the auto sector in Ontario remains competitive in what's become a fast-changing global economy."

This is a practice where the government continues to segregate different sectors of our economy and they pick winners and losers.- Dino Chiodo, Unifor

He added minor adjustments to a regulation ensures companies can continue to support long-term jobs in Ontario, and auto workers have more vacation time than other workers which they can use for personal leave.

"We also know that auto companies in particular provide very generous packages to their employees, which often include more vacation time than in many other sectors. That also factored into the decision to create this exemption," said Duguid.

Unifor has set up an online petition addressed to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn outlining how the union believes auto workers have been "unfairly singled out."

Director of Automotive for Unifor, Dino Chiodo, said the new Fair Workplaces Act is not fair to auto workers. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

It states the Ontario auto workers deserve the same protection as all other workers under the Employment Standards Act. The petition also states their auto workers will not receive any paid sick days, a point of contention between the government and union.

The disagreement is based on regulation 502(06), which offers two days of paid personal leave. The ministry maintains everyone, including auto workers, is entitled to it. But Dino Chiodo, director of automotive for Unifor, points out there is an exception — workers don't get the two paid days if they have more than eight vacation days.

He said the vacation time members have successfully negotiated in the past should not work against them.

​"Under most of our collective agreements we would be exempt from that so you have to ask the question as to why are you negatively implicating us because of our ability to bargain, and bargain successfully, in making gains for our membership," he said. "Why are we being treated differently? Why are we on an island on our own?"

In a statement emailed to CBC, Flynn said the auto sector is tremendously important to our economy.

"This sector has, in many cases, earned a reputation as an employer of choice and often far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Employment Standards Act in terms of providing a greater right or good when it comes to leaves, vacation and sick pay," he said.

Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn says the auto sector is important to Ontario's economy. (CBC)

"No matter their employer, each auto sector worker in Ontario, for the first time, will be entitled to paid days off in excess of statutory holidays and statutory vacation," Flynn added.

But Chiodo said auto workers will still be shortchanged.

"This is a practice where the government continues to segregate different sectors of our economy and they pick winners and losers."