Resuming the debate adjourned on November 25, 2021, on the motion for third reading of the following bill:
Bill 27, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to employment and labour and other matters / Projet de loi 27, Loi modifiant diverses lois en ce qui concerne l’emploi, le travail et d’autres questions.
I also, of course, want to sincerely thank the organizations that appeared before the social policy committee and presented their input to this Legislature and expressed some concerns about the bill. In some cases, there was some support for the bill. It’s always an interesting process to be on the receiving end of the input that is provided, and then to see what kinds of changes are made as a result. As you will hear, Speaker, as I go through my remarks today, very few changes were made as a result of the input that was received.
There was a lot of interest in this bill from organizations, unions, worker advocates and others across the province. There were 77 requests to appear before the social policy committee to speak to MPPs about this bill. Unfortunately, there were only 27 opportunities for deputants to come before the committee, so there were a lot of people who wanted to share their thoughts about this bill who weren’t able to. I do want to recognize the 51 organizations who made a request to appear and the 26 individuals who made a request to appear, as well as the many other organizations and individuals who provided written input to the committee.
Speaker, I do want to make a note here about timelines. If we are serious about soliciting public input, listening to public input, analyzing public input and using public input to improve legislation, we have to provide timelines that make that process meaningful. In this case, we had public input on November 16 and 17. The deadline for written input was November 18, and the amendments were due November 19. Now, Speaker, I don’t know about you, but that creates very rigorous time pressures on the ability of anyone to analyze the input that is received. Basically, it precludes any kind of opportunity to craft an amendment, because when the deadline for written input is 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 18, and the amendments have to be filed the next day, you can’t turn that around. You can’t get legislative counsel to craft an amendment based on the input that is received. So I offer that feedback to the government, that they should think about this in the process of taking legislation before a standing committee to receive input. If you want people to spend their time preparing briefs about the bills that you are bringing forward, you should respect the time that they’ve spent. You should take a minute to read the submission that they have provided and look at whether it can be used to improve, strengthen and amend the legislation that is before the House.
But I tell you, Speaker, the official opposition did take some time to review the input that was provided to the committee, to read some of the briefs, and I’ll be sharing some of the comments that were made to the committee, some of the content of the briefs that were received.
We brought 24 amendments to the Standing Committee on Social Policy. We brought two notices of motion—recommendations to vote against schedule 4 and schedule 6 of this bill—because that is what we heard loud and clear from people who came before the committee. But guess what, Speaker? Of those 24 amendments, of those two notices of motion, not a single one was accepted by this government. And that is kind of the modus operandi that we have seen across the way. It does lip service to listening and actually ignores the valuable input that was received that really would have made this bill so much stronger.
Speaker, I was here this morning when the minister led off this debate, and I listened to him say that this bill was in large part the result of a consultation process that was undertaken by the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee. Apparently, that committee has issued a report to the minister and the minister apparently used the contents of that report to craft this bill. It would be nice to actually read that report. It would have been nice to have had worker representation on that workforce recovery advisory committee, so that as that committee was developing recommendations to present to the minister, there was a worker voice. That is important when you have legislation that’s called “Working for Workers.” You want to know what workers need, what their priorities are and what they would recommend the government bring forward with legislation, but there was no worker representation on that workforce recovery advisory committee, and there was no consultation, Speaker, with any unions, with any worker advocates, with any injured worker legal clinics. There was no consultation whatsoever with those organizations in the development of this specific bill that’s before us today, Bill 27. So not only were workers excluded from the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, they were also completely excluded from the process of developing a bill that is entitled “Working for Workers.” That is a big problem, Speaker. This was confirmed by the unions who came and spoke to the committee, that there has been no attempt by this government to reach out and consult with them.
Speaker, this morning the minister also talked about how proud he is of his government’s new relationship with labour, and I have to say, Speaker, there are a lot of fences that need to be mended in terms of this government’s relationship with labour. Immediately after this government was first elected, back in 2018, we saw them move to cancel the planned minimum wage increase to $15. And, yes, three years later, they’ve made that announcement—three years in which $5,300 has been taken out of minimum wage workers’ pockets because this government did not proceed with that minimum wage increase at the time that it was promised. We also saw this government immediately move to scrap the two paid sick days—the two hard-fought paid sick days—that workers and health care experts and advocates across this province had mobilized for, had engaged in extensive lobbying and advocacy efforts for, which finally paid off with the previous Liberal government, just before the election, agreeing to move forward with those two paid sick days.
Now, we know two paid sick days are not enough. It’s nowhere near what experts say is needed, but it was something. It was something, Speaker. But this government decided that those two paid sick days were too rich for workers, too much for workers. Workers would take advantage of those two paid sick days, so this government eliminated access to those days.
We also saw this government decide that there was no need for legislation to ensure equal pay for equal work, to ensure that when a temp worker is brought into a company that that temp worker is paid the same wage as the worker they are working beside who is hired by the company. There is absolutely no justification, when two workers are doing the exact same job, but one is hired by the temp agency and one is hired by the employer, for those workers to be paid different rates and for the temp worker to be paid significantly less, but this government thinks that is fine. This government said to employers, “Go ahead. Keep paying temp workers less than the workers that you hire yourselves.” What that does to employers is it incentivizes employers. Those employers are in high-risk sectors. It incentivizes those employers to continue to keep a constant stream of temp workers in the workplace.
The other thing we saw this government do right after it was elected was decide that workers had to prove they were employees and not independent contractors rather than the employers who had hired them. We know that many of the workers who are most frequently misclassified as independent contractors are denied the benefits and protections they deserve under the Employment Standards Act. Most of those workers are vulnerable workers. They are precarious workers. They are the workers who are least able to mount a legal challenge against their employer in court to prove that they are an employee so that they can get the benefits to which they are entitled.
Speaker, those are just some of the actions that we saw this government take right after it was elected. Despite the claims across the way about this new relationship with labour, I don’t think labour is buying it. I think labour sees right through what this government is all about and where their values lie. One only has to look at this bill, and I will get to that shortly.
I’m going to talk about each of the schedules in the bill—some at more length than others—and I’m going to focus particularly on schedules 1 and 2, schedule 6 and, to a lesser extent, schedule 3.
I’m going to begin with schedules 1 and 2. I was just talking about the equal-pay-for-equal-work provisions that this government decided to cancel, and that has a big impact on schedule 1 and schedule 2 because those two schedules deal with recruitment agencies who bring foreign workers into this province and also temporary help agencies. Those two schedules set up a licensing regime for both the recruiters who bring the foreign workers in and the temporary help agencies—not all of course; not all temp workers are foreign workers. However, many are immigrants, many are racialized and many are vulnerable. So we need to ensure that those temp workers who work for temp agencies have the strictest protections that are going to prevent them being exploited by unscrupulous temp help agencies.
In this province, a supply chain has been created that has seen many sectors rely, in great part, on foreign workers to deal with the labour demand. We see that in fisheries, in food services, in transportation and in tourism. Nannies—home child care services has been a big sector to bring foreign workers into this province. Bill 27 requires the recruiters who bring these foreign workers in to be licensed, and it says that employers must use licensed recruiters.
It also says that now, for the first time—and this is a positive step—recruiters are “jointly and severally liable” for any fees that are charged in Ontario or abroad, because some domestic recruiters work with offshore recruiters to bring these foreign workers into the province to meet those labour demands in those sectors.
Now, it has been illegal for a number of years in Ontario for recruiters to charge fees to foreign workers who are coming into Ontario, but that hasn’t stopped unscrupulous recruiters from charging those fees. So now, holding Ontario recruiters jointly and severally liable, there is a hope that this may prevent those foreign workers from being charged fees.
The problem is, Speaker—and this was pointed out by numerous organizations and individuals who presented to the committee—that the licensing scheme that’s proposed in schedules 1 and 2 deals only with the recruitment agencies and the temporary help agencies. It does not cover the employers who use those agencies. There is no liability for the employers who use those agencies. There is a requirement that employers cannot knowingly use unlicensed agencies, but as one of the presenters to the committee, Fay Faraday, said, the legislation says that employers “will only be subject to a penalty if they knowingly use people who aren’t licensed.” That “means that they can just not ask, right? It’s an incentive to not ask, to be willfully ignorant of the status and to continue without any penalty.
Right now, this legislation says that employers who use unlicensed recruiters are subject to either a compliance order or potentially a fine. And do you know what the amount of that fine is, Speaker? It’s $250—$250. So an employer who uses an unlicensed recruiter has little incentive to not use that unlicensed recruiter because they know that there’s no financial penalty for doing that.
Many of the deputants who appeared before the committee pointed to other provinces that created licensing regimes for recruitment agencies and temporary help agencies, and at the same time created a registry of employers to go along with that. Because, as I said, it is really employers who drive the foreign worker business model. It is that demand for foreign workers that creates the supply chain, so there must be some accountability for employers. This was one of the amendments that was brought forward by the NDP, to create this foreign-worker-employer registry, which is in place in many other provinces. It first was introduced in Manitoba, I believe back in 2008; it’s in place in BC; it’s in place in New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia.
Many other provinces have a foreign-worker-employer registry so that there is transparency in which employers are bringing in foreign workers, so there’s transparency in whether there are inspection reports filed against those employers. Actually, if the Ministry of Labour was really interested in ensuring that foreign workers are not exploited by their employers, it would help the Ministry of Labour to have this employer registry so that they knew exactly which employers to target to make sure that foreign workers were not being exploited.
Another one of the amendments that we had proposed, along with the creation of the employer registry, is much more significant fines. I talked about the $250 compliance order that an employer might be slapped with if they used an unlicensed agency. People came before the committee and said that the financial penalty should be at least $15,000—at least $15,000—because if you don’t impose fines that are high enough to provide a disincentive, you’re not going to get employers out of the habit of using unlicensed recruiters. If employers know that there are no consequences for using an unlicensed recruiter, they’re going to continue do that. If recruiters know there’s no consequence for not getting licensed, they’re also going to avoid their responsibilities that have been imposed by this act.
I just wanted to share some of the comments that were made to the committee by a worker, Jhoey Cruz. She came to Ontario as an in-home child caregiver. She said that she paid $2,000 in fees. That was in July 2016. There has been a prohibition on fees for over a decade, so she was illegally charged $2,000 in fees. By the time she came here, she found out that she shouldn’t have been charged, but she didn’t have any evidence that she had paid this fee. Then, when she got involved with a network of other in-home child caregivers, she realized that she was one of the lucky ones; she only paid $2,000. She said that others she met paid $7,000 to $10,000 each. Some of them paid $20,000. Most of them paid cash to their recruiter agencies and didn’t receive receipts.
This is another big problem with this legislation. It says that the recruiter will be held jointly and severally liable if there is a fee charged to the foreign worker, but it requires the foreign worker to establish proof that they paid the fee. Unscrupulous offshore agencies are not going to provide receipts to these foreign workers to say, “Yes, you paid me an illegal fee that I charged.” They’re too smart for that. They’re not going to do that. So one of the amendments that we proposed was to reverse the onus so that it’s not the foreign worker who has to establish the proof that they paid the fee. Again, like every single other amendment that the NDP proposed during the committee, that one was also rejected.
I am going to deal with another related concern that came up during the discussion around schedules 1 and 2 but that actually relates to schedule 6. You’ll see in a moment what I mean.
There is currently a section of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act—section 83, subsection (4)—that says employers who use temp agency workers will be held jointly and severally liable for any workplace injury or death that occurs to that worker. Right now what happens is, if a temporary worker is injured on the job, the WSIB data that’s collected goes against the temporary help agency; it does not go against employer who has brought in that temporary worker into their workplace. This makes no sense. It makes no sense, because it should be—the place where the worker is working, that is the place where appropriate health and safety measures should be implemented. And if those measures are not implemented, then the person who is overseeing that workplace should be held accountable.
This government could have an opportunity to fix that—to fix that right now—because that provision is already in place. It was already written before this government was elected, but this government has decided that they are not going to enact that section of the WSIA that would hold employers of temp workers accountable for the health and safety of those workers.
Why is this important during the discussion on this bill? Well, we have a business here in Toronto, Fiera Foods—I think all MPPs in this chamber are familiar with Fiera Foods. Fiera Foods has been slapped with 191 orders for health and safety violations over the past two decades. It has been repeatedly fined and convicted under the Ontario Health and Safety Act. It has seen five temp workers die on their watch—die while they were employed with Fiera Foods. And yet, Fiera Foods is considered a model employer in the eyes of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board because all of the things that happen on-site at Fiera Foods, all of those health and safety violations, are recorded against the temporary help agency that supplied the temp workers. They are not recorded against Fiera Foods.
When I get to schedule 6, I’m going to share with you the big concern about schedule 6, one of the biggest concerns: that schedule 6 is going to rebate employers who have clean health and safety records. It’s going to rebate employers, which means that employers like Fiera Foods that, on paper, have this clean health and safety record will be in line to get a significant rebate from this government, from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
Now I’m going to move on to schedule 6. Certainly during the committee, a great deal of the testimony was directed to schedule 6. I have to share the comments of Sylvia Boyce from United Steelworkers, who presented to the committee. These were her comments about the whole bill, the Working for Workers Act:
“The best that can be said of five of the six sections is that they seem to fall under that title, and even if they don’t help workers, they may not hurt them.
“As for the sixth section”—schedule 6—“specifically the proposal to grant the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board the power to hand out refunds to employers while workers go without the help they deserve, it would let the WSIB write cheques to businesses with workers’ money, opens the door to privatization of this government’s support and has no place in this bill.”
She goes on to say, “The minister claimed this bill would, ‘put workers in the driver’s seat,’ but this proposal throws workers under the bus.”
She also goes on to say, “The WSIB is not supposed to be a piggy bank for employers.”
We heard that repeatedly during the committee, and the message that was shared unanimously from injured worker legal advocates and from unions that presented to the committee—the unanimous call was for schedule 6 to be repealed, to be removed from this bill. As Sylvia Boyce says, it has no place in a bill that is called “Working for Workers.” It has no place in a province that is supposed to ensure that the most vulnerable workers among us are protected, especially workers who are injured on the job.
But many of the presenters who spoke to the committee pointed out that the WSIB has seen a year-over-year reduction in benefits for injured workers. In 2010, WSIB benefit payments to injured workers were about $4.8 billion. By 2017, they had been reduced by half: $2.3 billion was being paid out in benefit payments to injured workers. At the same time, there has been a reduction in premiums for employers. There has been a total reduction of premiums since 2008 of $2.4 billion.
What this bill would do, what schedule 6 would do, by proposing to rebate employers, is that it would remove another $1.2 billion from the WSIB, which this government describes as a surplus. It would remove another $1.2 billion from the WSIB, and that is money that could be used to expand coverage, to respond to this government’s own expert panels that have recommended universal WSIB coverage and that occupational diseases be recognized by WSIB.
Actually, one of the deputants pointed out that there are 3,000 occupational cancer cases in Ontario; 170 of those 3,000 cases have been recognized by the WSIB. Those other widows, those grieving families, those sick workers have been completely denied and excluded by WSIB. That would be a helpful thing, Speaker: to look at expanding coverage, to look at dealing with the mental health issues that we have seen during this pandemic.
We heard a number of deputants who came and talked about the fact that 94% of mental health claims are denied by the WSIB. As we are coming through a pandemic that has seen skyrocketing rates of mental health illness among front-line workers, among those front-line heroes that this government pretends to care about, among nurses and PSWs who literally served on the front lines of a war zone and who have come out with extreme trauma and long-lasting impacts from having to live through that, when they go to WSIB to get their mental health illnesses or concerns treated and covered, their claims are denied. One quarter of all workers in this province have no WSIB coverage whatsoever, and yet this government is planning to redistribute $1.2 billion to supposedly clean employers—at least that’s what we had heard from the minister, that that is the plan.
This is not a surplus, Speaker. This $1.2 billion is not a surplus. It is money that should be paid to injured workers. It is money that should be used to cover those legitimate WSIB claims that are brought forward by our front-line workers, by any worker in this province who has experienced illness or injury related to their work.
I want to quote the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council. They said:
“Since 2016, employers have generally gotten around 52% in reduction of premiums; in construction, the average premium rate has gone down 63%. Despite those reductions of premiums, the accidents haven’t gone down, the critical injuries haven’t gone down, the deaths haven’t gone down. As a matter of fact, in 2020, with increased focus on COVID and increased inspections, there were 20 deaths in construction and 355 critical injuries. So guess what? Giving reductions in premiums and giving money back hasn’t helped.”
We also heard from the IAVGO Community Legal Clinic. They raised a concern about claim suppression: “Allocating the WSIB’s surplus back to employers could incentivize greater claim suppression. At a time when employers are trying to minimize costs in any way that they can, allowing the surplus to be returned to employers with a good track record in terms of workplace injuries motivates employers to keep the number of claims as low as possible.” And what’s one of the ways that they can do that, Speaker? They can bring in temp workers, as I said at the beginning, when I was talking about schedules 1 and 2.
The legal clinic goes on to say, “The WSIB’s most recent operational review report indicates that the WSIB failed to conduct sufficient claim suppression audits.... The report demonstrates that the WSIB does not have the adequate tools to assess claim suppression, which is an important metric of addressing workplace safety.
“How can it be said with any accuracy that the money will be returned to safe employers and not employers that are expertly hiding their claims?” That is a very good question, Speaker, and it is one of the reasons, as I said, that the NDP pushed to get schedule 6 removed from this bill.
I also want to share some of the input that was provided by ONA. ONA was not one of the speakers to the committee, but provided a written submission. They point out the significant mental stress claims from front-line health care workers, the burnout among health care workers as a result of the pandemic, and the increased likelihood that nurses are leaving the profession. They actually quoted a report from RNAO that said that 43% of RNAO members were considering leaving nursing after the pandemic.
When you reflect back on the data I shared earlier that the WSIB only approves about 6% of the mental stress claims that are brought before it, you can see why nurses would want to be leaving the profession, in addition to Bill 124. Again, this is a government that claims to be working for workers and claims to care about our front-line heroes and yet is imposing a 1% cap on wage increases for nurses and other public sector workers. At a time when inflation is 4.7%, guess what? A 1% increase in wages is a cut in pay. That is a cut in pay, Speaker, and it’s not the way that a government that cares about workers, that cares about front-line heroes should be treating our health care professionals.
I wanted to talk a little bit about another concern that ONA, the Ontario Nurses’ Association, raised. They talked about the influx of claims from their members, from people who are suffering with long-haul post-workplace-COVID symptoms. We saw a report from the science table that said that 10% to as many as 20% of people who have recovered from the virus are long-haulers, which has significant implications for WSIB and for the need for WSIB to be able to support those workers, because we don’t know about long-haul COVID. We don’t know how long people will be unable to work and if they will be able to get back to work. So that is another concern about schedule 6.
Speaker, I wanted to now talk a little bit about schedule 2. I will just quickly reflect on this schedule because today, as we know, we’re wearing purple scarves. Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Schedule 2 is a schedule that prohibits non-compete clauses. That’s a step forward. We know that non-compete clauses have generally not been held up by the courts, but imposing this prohibition is a step forward. But this government had an opportunity; I gave them the opportunity, Speaker. I brought an amendment to the committee that, in addition to banning non-compete clauses, would also ban non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual misconduct.
We have seen more and more people, more and more women coming forward with experiences of harassment in the workplace. When they bring these stories forward, they are frequently asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. Now, 16 US states have introduced bills to limit the use of non-disclosure agreements in sexual misconduct cases. Eight of those states have put those bills into law. This would have been an opportunity for this government to show some leadership on issues of violence against women, to put into practice its claims that they’re concerned about labour mobility, because NDAs, non-disclosure agreements, provide the same kinds of barriers to labour mobility as non-competes. But this government chose not to take that opportunity.
I now want to talk a little bit about schedule 3. I have to say, Speaker, that schedule 3 was probably the schedule of the bill that got the most positive input from people who appeared before the committee. Schedule 3 eliminates the ability of regulatory bodies to impose Canadian work experience requirements on foreign-trained professionals who are coming into those regulated professions—except for health care. The regulated health care professionals were excluded from this bill, which was actually feedback that a number of the people who presented to the committee talked about. At a time when we are experiencing a significant shortage of health care professionals, this legislation should have looked at including regulated health professionals, as well as regulated professionals in other professions.
What’s important to keep in mind is, Speaker, this is a significant step forward. Eliminating the Canadian work experience requirements will help foreign-trained professionals who come to Ontario enter the careers to which they were trained. But what this reflects, really, is a 2013 ruling of the Ontario Human Rights Commission that requirements for prior work experience in Canada amounts to discrimination. So it’s positive that the government is moving ahead to operationalize, to implement, that ruling; it’s unfortunate that it has taken this long.
It is also unfortunate—and I understand. I heard the government say that the plan is eventually to include regulated health professionals. It won’t be in time to deal with the shortages we’re experiencing during this pandemic, but hopefully it will happen soon. We heard from TRIEC, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council. I think they said that there are 16,000 foreign-trained or internationally educated health care professionals who are unable to work in their profession in the province. So that is an important and valuable source of health care expertise that we are not able to tap into because of the barriers that exist.
At this point, Speaker, I wanted to reflect a little bit on the health care workforce in my community in London, and I know in all of the ridings that we represent, many of the health care workers who come as foreign-trained professionals to London are Muslim. We have a large number of Muslim physicians and physiotherapists and other health care workers. We have a large number of Muslims who work in some of the regulated professions that are covered by this bill. What is important—as well as eliminating those Canadian experience requirements—is ensuring that we have a province that is welcoming and inclusive for those foreign-trained professionals who come to Ontario.
Everybody in this Legislature will know that London, in June, suffered a horrific act of Islamophobic terror when four members of the Afzaal-Salman family were murdered by a terrorist in just a shocking attack. Unfortunately, what we saw just a couple of weeks after that shocking crime, we got a report from London police that shows a 46% rise in reported hate crimes in 2020 compared to the year prior.
That is one of the reasons why the official opposition—and I understand there’s support from other parties—is so committed to bringing forward the Our London Family Act. That is an act that, as we look at bringing in more foreign-trained professionals, as we look at bringing in more internationally educated health professionals, we have to deal with the rise of Islamophobia, the rise of anti-Black racism, the rise of hate-motivated attacks on the people who come to this province.
The Our London Family Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that would include changes to the education system. It would include dismantling white supremacist groups. It would include a provincial hate crimes accountability unit. It would include bolstering the scope and the strategy of the Anti-Racism Directorate. It would include a targeted hiring initiative in the provincial public service to ensure that there are more minorities. And it would increase the limitation period for those seeking to file human rights claims in Ontario.
I hope that the government is going to be supporting the Our London Family Act when it is brought into this Legislature, because you can’t be bringing more foreign-trained professionals into this province, you can’t be bringing more migrant workers, more foreign workers into Ontario if we are not putting in place the measures that are going to enable them to live without fear, to feel that they have come to a place of safety in this province.
I just wanted to touch a little bit now on schedule 5. Time goes so quickly during a one-hour speech. Schedule 5 is about access to washrooms. We heard from a number of groups that, yes, access to washrooms is very important. UFCW came and talked about the fact that this is a small, positive step forward for workers. It’s helpful to the food couriers who are picking up food in restaurants and taking it to people’s homes to be able to access the washroom in the restaurant that they are delivering from.
But the legislation has a major gap: It excludes transit workers. Speaker, if you could have been there and heard the presentation that we received from the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union—it was very uncomfortable and difficult for many of us to hear, but it is a reality. It is a reality that any transit worker who is menstruating, transit workers who are pregnant and older transit workers who may have medical conditions cannot access the washroom. They do not have the predictability of scheduling, the predictability of their routes that enables them to take washroom breaks when they need them, and yet they are excluded from this bill. Again, that was an amendment the NDP brought forward—to include transit workers as well as any worker who is providing a service to a business. Although this schedule covers some gig workers—it covers food courier workers, it covers Amazon delivery drivers who are delivering goods from one place to another—it does not include gig workers who are delivering people, for example. So it doesn’t include Uber drivers or Lyft drivers or other ride app drivers. It doesn’t include taxi drivers. This is a major concern. For the dignity of every worker, there should be the ability to access washrooms.
At this point, I want to quote from a couple of the presentations to the committee. UFCW, United Food and Commercial Workers—I mentioned that they said that this was a small, positive step forward. They went on to say, “There are many more pressing needs that are a priority for workers in Ontario that this bill does not touch on at all. What would really work for workers are paid sick days; affordable child care; agricultural workers getting full employment rights, including the right to join a union; ensuring that gig workers and other precarious workers are treated with respect and also fully protected by laws and our social safety net.”
TRIEC, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, said, “New immigrants are overrepresented in precarious gig-work jobs and struggle for decent work conditions. The gig economy is here to stay. Moving forward, TRIEC hopes the government will further labour reform to be inclusive of workers in this sector.”
Well, Speaker, I have some good news for the government. I have done the work—unfortunately, they voted against it. But they have an opportunity at any point to pick up a private member’s bill and bring it forward as government legislation. Last week, I brought forward the ending worker misclassification bill, which would be an enormous help for gig workers in this province, for contract workers in this province, who are often misclassified as independent contractors when the reality of the work they are doing shows that they are actually employees.
I want to share with members of this House the gig workers’ bill of rights. This was created by gig workers and endorsed by Gig Workers United, Uber Drivers United from the UFCW, and the Ontario Federation of Labour. These are the top 10 priorities that they have identified. These are the top 10 things that they need to be able to improve working conditions and achieve decent work:
“(1) A worker is a worker; full employment rights with no carve-outs from minimum wage, sick leave, vacation pay and other minimum employment standards.
“(2) Payment for all hours of work....
“(3) Compensation for necessary work-related expenses....
“(4) Full and equal access to regulated benefits programs like” EI, CPP and WSIB.
“(5) Data transparency: access to ... data collected and how the algorithm affects workers....
“(6) Make all work count: Gig work must count towards permanent residency applications.
“(7) Put onus on employers to prove that workers are not employees, instead of workers proving that they are not independent contractors. Enshrine a clear test for employment status”—and that is what my bill, Bill 28, would do, so I really encourage the government to look at that.
“(8) Recognize gig workers’ right to form a union....
“(9) Workers must have the right to negotiate for livable wages and benefits with their employer....
“(10) An end to arbitrary deactivations and fair compensation for glitches....”
If you were listening carefully to that list of the top 10 priorities that gig workers have identified, they did not mention access to washrooms, although I do not want to diminish that as an important and necessary right that all workers should have access to. Certainly in my conversations with Gig Workers United, they talked about everything they have gone through in the pandemic as we have relied more and more on food couriers and other delivery drivers, everything they have gone through for the past 20 months and the frustration they experienced when businesses would not allow them to use the washrooms when they were picking up or dropping off deliveries. And so, 20 months later—it’s good that the government is finally doing something.
But I have to tell you, Speaker, one of the other concerns that was raised by people who spoke to this committee was the fact that the bill doesn’t have any teeth. The bill provides so much room for exemption, so much room for businesses to say that the worker who is doing the delivery can’t access the washroom. There is just so much room that it may not have any impact at all. We don’t know what kind of impact it’s going to have, because it just does not have any teeth and there are no consequences for businesses that don’t provide that access.
I just wanted to go back to that other list of items that UFCW had pointed out as the things that really would be a priority for workers in Ontario, that would demonstrate that this government was working for workers. One of those things is paid sick days. Yesterday, Speaker, we saw this government vote against paid sick days, after 20 months in a pandemic when we saw workplaces become major sites of workplace transmission, when we know from all of the health care experts, from all of the medical officers of health and municipal councillors and other worker advocates that paid sick days are an important—it’s a public health measure, for one thing, especially during COVID, but also for flu, for gastroenteritis and other kinds of communicable diseases that can be spread in a workplace when workers are in close proximity to each other, when they travel on public transit, in often crowded conditions, when they live in multi-generational housing, in densely populated neighbourhoods. And who are these workers that I’m talking about, Speaker? They are racialized workers. They are immigrant workers. They are low-income workers. They are among the most vulnerable in our province. And they are the least likely to have paid sick days from their employer, and that is why we have been advocating so fiercely to get permanent paid sick days implemented in this province.
It was shameful to see this government dig in its heels and say Ontario can’t afford paid sick days. Well, I tell you, Speaker, Ontario can’t afford not to implement paid sick days because employers—Helmi Ansari from Grosche International will tell you there’s a growing number of employers who recognize that it is actually good for business. It’s good for business. It supports stronger employee retention. It’s good for customers to feel that they can go into a business and not have to worry that the person who’s serving them has an infectious disease that they might be subject to. It’s good for parents, whether or not they have child care—and they should definitely have $10-a-day child care. It is good for all Ontarians.
Questions and responses?
I have two quotes, as a preamble to my question, to begin. One is from Smokey Thomas, the president of OPSEU: “I’m proud to say, and pleased to see, that all our work with Minister McNaughton and his staff is paying off. So much can be achieved through conversation and collaboration, instead of just name-calling. This government is listening to us, and as a result, real working people will benefit.”
Next, from Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor: “These fly-by-night agencies have damaged communities by exploiting the most vulnerable workers, including racialized workers, women, newcomers and migrant workers. We commend the government for listening to advocates and community members and introducing these changes.” He’s talking about, as did Smokey Thomas, the temporary help registry that’s a part of legislation.
Can the member opposite please explain why she and her colleagues are saying no to increasing workplace health and safety for these vulnerable workers in this—
So from my perspective, what the government has proposed is a half measure. It doesn’t do the job that Ontarians have a right to expect it to do.
When you stood to speak on this legislation during second reading, you spoke about this government’s role in reducing workers’ premiums while they took care of the employers. I still have residents fighting to get justice from a complex and underserved system for workers.
Can you expand on where this government could have helped fix a broken system instead of just making it easier for employers to pay less to keep workers safe?
I highlighted during my remarks the fact that 94% of mental health claims to WSIB are denied. So looking at why that is—why, at a time when we are seeing an unprecedented rise in people reporting mental health concerns, is the WSIB denying 94% of those claims? Why are 25% of workers in this province excluded from any WSIB coverage whatsoever? That is where we should be looking. We should have been looking at universal coverage. We should have been looking at fixing WSIB, so that workers who have mental health injuries can get the support that they deserve.
“Communitech is pleased to see Ontario level the playing field for workers, including tech workers, compared to other jurisdictions like California. Canadian founders are in a global competition for talent, so we are grateful to see Ontario setting conditions to help innovators attract and retain the best workers in North America to keep our economy growing.”
What he’s referring to is a clause in this bill that will actually remove non-compete clauses and allow workers from, say, Silicon Valley to relocate in Waterloo and help bolster what’s happening with the fantastic tech economy that we have in the region.
So I would like to get the member’s comments on that. I did actually listen quite intently to her hour, and I thank her for filling that time, but I didn’t hear a whole lot about that part of the bill, and I would just love to hear a little bit more.
What we do have a problem with is the fact that this was such a missed opportunity. The government could have also put a prohibition on non-disclosure agreements in sexual misconduct cases, which are also recognized as a barrier to international talent recruitment and retention.
What deeming does is to say that an injured worker is deemed to be qualified to do a job that doesn’t exist. It is a phantom job, and that is used as a justification to reduce that injured worker’s benefits. The result is that half of injured workers are living in poverty. Many of those are workers who have been deemed to be able to do those phantom jobs that they can’t get and they can’t do.
There is a lot that we could do. The official opposition are big supporters of bridge training programs for internationally educated professionals, and we have a lot of ideas on how those bridge training programs could be improved and strengthened.
Before I begin my remarks I would like to thank the Minister of Labour, his parliamentary assistant and the entire team at the Ministry of Labour for all that they have done and are doing to give Ontario workers a hand up. Thank you.
I also want to take this time to thank many essential workers from my riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park. They have shown incredible resiliency over the past 18 months and were not afraid to step up during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We owe it to those workers, in my riding and across all of Ontario, to rebalance the scales and put them in the driver’s seat.
The way we work has been changing, and the recent pandemic has accelerated this change. In a rapidly changing world Ontarians expect a forward-thinking government that has their backs. They expect that, when the world of work changes, our laws keep up to protect them. This is a bill by, for and about the people who work hard and put in a good day’s shift and take pride in a job well done.
Madam Speaker, Ontario is a province of opportunity, where your work pays off and dreams are made a reality. It’s time to level the playing field and lift everyone up. Our government has the plan to build the future of this great province and lead the way.
The future of work is already here. That’s why our government is introducing legislation based on the important recommendations from the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee after consulting with workers, employers and unions. The proposed measures found in the Working for Workers Act will position Ontario as the jurisdiction that has the most competitive framework for workers and businesses to both benefit from our new world of work.
These legislative measures are in addition to the broad range of actions our government is taking to help people work anywhere, such as improving and expanding transportation to and from work by investing over $84 billion in transportation projects across the province, led by my colleague the Minister of Transportation. We are investing in fast, rapid and reliable transit to link our cities and regions and provide long-awaited relief to workers who commute to work on transit. This includes a historic, $28.5-billion plan to get shovels in the ground on the largest subway expansion in Canada’s history; $5 million to bring back northeastern passenger rail service after it was shuttered by the previous government; and delivering a historic, multi-billion dollar GO rail expansion plan to provide increased service levels and reach two-way rail service to our communities in the GTA.
Additionally, our government is expanding, rehabilitating and building more highway infrastructure so that workers who rely on their car to get to work will continue to have a reliable and fast commute, even as our province reaches our full growth potential.
In order to help people work from anywhere, our government is continuing to work to bring high-speed broadband Internet to rural and underserved areas. This initiative, led by the Minister of Infrastructure, had funding increased to it by nearly $4 billion in the most recent budget. We are delivering on our plan to bring Internet access to all communities by 2025.
The Working for Workers Act also builds on our government’s efforts at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the health and safety of our workers. Whether it was hiring over 100 new inspectors to visit job sites or introducing paid sick days through the worker income protection benefit or the over $200-million investment to worker training projects to help fill the shortage of skilled workers in Ontario, our government is working to support workers, businesses and job seekers who are looking for new careers.
In addition, the Working for Workers Act builds on our government’s action to help workers keep up with the cost of living through an increase in the minimum wage. Our government is proud to be working for workers by putting more money into their pockets by increasing the general minimum wage to $15 per hour, effective January 1, 2022. Under the proposed changes, the special minimum wage rate for liquor servers would be eliminated and they would be entitled to the general minimum wage. Students under 18, home workers, hunting, fishing and wilderness guides will also see an increase in their special minimum wage rates. Our government is ensuring workers who need our help receive their fair share of the economic pie. We will continue to use every tool in our tool box to help workers in our province find meaningful careers that let them earn themselves bigger paycheques and build better lives for themselves and their loved ones.
Madam Speaker, as all members of this House know, Ontario is one of the best places in the world to work, live and raise a family. Just take a look: We are home to a highly educated workforce, the second-largest automotive manufacturer in North America, the second-largest IT cluster in North America and the second-largest food processing centre. We are home to a province full of endless potential, which is the very reason that makes Ontario a destination for many newcomers who are in search of great economic prospects and the prosperity to help themselves and their families.
Madam Speaker, as a first-generation immigrant myself, I’m thankful for the opportunities that the province has given to my family and I, and the many generations of immigrants who came before us. But I know, like many others that have come before me, that more is needed to be done to help integrate newcomers into the jobs that match their skills, because newcomers create businesses in our communities. They fill much-needed roles in our society and they spark our entrepreneurial spirit. They account for 33% of Ontario’s labour force.
In 2016, only one quarter of internationally trained immigrants in regulated professions were working in jobs that matched their level of qualification, and more recently about 300,000 jobs were going unfilled across the province, costing billions in lost economic output. To create a clear path for newcomers to fully apply their skills in a meaningful way, the Ontario government intends to propose changes found in the Working for Workers Act that would help remove barriers for newcomers to get licensed and find jobs that match their qualifications and skills.
Removing these barriers would help more newcomers find jobs and significantly boost Ontario’s economy so that they can support themselves and they can support their loved ones as well. Reducing immigrant unemployment and helping them find good jobs could increase Ontario’s GDP by $12 billion to $20 billion in each of the next five years, Madam Speaker. Again, I want to emphasize that by reducing the immigrant unemployment rate, Ontario GDP will grow by $12 billion to $20 billion each year in the next five years.
These changes, if passed, will build on the work that the province is already doing to help highly skilled internationally trained immigrants find work in their field of expertise. The Ontario government is investing $68 million to help internationally trained immigrants access programs designed to bridge their experience with the needs of employers in their community. This would impact 23 trades and 14 professionals, such as lawyers, engineers, architects, plumbers, electricians, accountants, hairstylists, teachers and early childhood educators.
These changes were a need that was communicated throughout the extensive consultations that went into this particular bill. Over a dozen stakeholders representing immigrants have expressed that the work experience requirement and the bureaucratic process are hurdles that are making it harder for new Canadians to get connected to the jobs that match their skills.
Madam Speaker, these are long overdue measures that will make a life-changing, meaningful difference for newcomers and new Canadians as we unleash Ontario’s economic potential and build back a stronger province. That’s why we’re acting and taking the steps necessary so that newcomers can continue their careers and contribute their expertise to a knowledge-based economy. With a province full of diverse talent, it is vital that we connect everyone to a job that they are qualified for so that we continue to empower our newcomers and their families and support their strong communities. Once again, I thank the minister for these changes to support newcomers.
I have personally met many new Canadians who are doing jobs that are not matching their expertise and their experience. When they heard about the changes coming from this government, they expressed their interest and also their thanks to the government for finally being the first jurisdiction in Canada—in fact, in North America—to bring such changes so that they can apply their expertise and their experience into their matched skills and professional jobs right here in Ontario.
Madam Speaker, another aspect of this bill is how it gives back to our truck drivers, to couriers, to delivery workers. During the pandemic, all the truckers, couriers and food delivery workers acted as our heroes on the road. Since the start of the pandemic, these workers stepped up and made sure that the shelves were stocked, medicines were delivered, made sure that our supply chains remained strong. They were there for us. It’s time for us to be there for them.
Bill 27 proposes to make it law for business owners to let delivery workers use their company’s washroom facilities if they’re making a pickup or delivery. It’s great to see the right thing being done for these drivers, as during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minister of Transportation and I heard directly from truck drivers and their carriers who were telling us that washroom access was being denied to them. I was truly shocked that our heroes on the road during the global pandemic were being treated this way, especially as our government led by example. I want to thank the Minister of Transportation for her swift action in keeping ONroute centres open for our delivery drivers and opening additional temporary truck parking and rest facilities near the highways.
Allowing these workers washroom access in the businesses they serve is a matter of decency and is the right thing to do, full stop. Our government will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our delivery and truck drivers and take all steps necessary to give them the dignity and the respect that they deserve.
One of the ways our government is working for workers is by focusing on the health and safety of every worker, including those employed by temporary help agencies. It is unacceptable that some temporary agencies are paying people below the minimum wage and denying them other employment rights while also gaining a competitive advantage over law-abiding agencies by undercutting rates. To protect these workers, our government is intending to propose legislation that would, if passed, require temporary help agencies and recruiters to have a licence and pay a security deposit to operate in Ontario. This proposal would also require companies to use agencies and recruiters that are licensed. Before licensing is implemented, Ontario is forming a dedicated team of officers to identify temporary help agencies and recruiters who are exploiting workers. This team would crack down on illegal practices and recover unpaid wages for the exploited workers.
The proposed changes would help protect vulnerable workers and help them ensure businesses can feel safe addressing their staffing needs through licensed temporary help agencies and recruiters. Workers need assurances that their government is looking out for them, and by stepping up to close these loopholes, we are going to hold the bad actors accountable and have the backs of the most vulnerable workers.
Mr. Speaker, the Working for Workers Act also puts workers first by prioritizing their mental health and time with their loved ones. Ontario cannot be a province where people burn out from endless work and their family time comes last. Because when workers finish for the day, we need to give them a chance to unplug, take a break and enjoy their precious time with their loved ones.
Ontario would be the first jurisdiction in Canada to establish policies that help workers disconnect from their employment responsibilities. These proposed legislative changes would require businesses with 25 employees or more to post a written disconnect-from-work policy. Employers would also be required to provide a copy of the written policy to each of its employees within 30 days of preparing or changing the policy.
This is another small change, informed by the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee’s consultations that can help make a big difference by supporting healthy workplaces, a strong work-life balance and benefit vulnerable workers who usually spend more time on unpaid work. As work has changed to a work-from-anywhere model, it is vital that we protect the flexibility that employees have gained over the past few months and put workers’ mental health first.
Mr. Speaker, the Working for Workers Act contains a number of unprecedented moves that will give Ontario the most competitive framework for workers and their businesses. The world of work is continuing to shift, and it is vital that our laws keep up with these changes. Because we know that workers want certainty, they want a well-paying job and they want an environment where they can grow, thrive and contribute. If passed, this legislation will help ensure that our economy remains resilient and strong in the years to come, but most importantly, that the basic rights of workers are protected as these changes occur.
Mr. Speaker, whether it’s protecting the drivers, whether we are protecting the delivery workers, the temporary agency workers or helping employees unplug, all the measures are unprecedented—the first in Canada happening in this province. So I want to take this time to thank the team behind the ministry, the minister and the PA, and everyone who contributed to these changes—a huge thanks, because it will definitely have incredible, life-changing impacts on so many Ontarians, and we can already hear good feedback across the region.
As our province continues to grow and build, we are taking the side of workers. That’s why I’m very proud that I am standing up here today to debate on this bill, so that as legislators on this side and all sides, we can support this bill and make sure that we bring these changes into practice so that many Ontarians are able to receive the benefits of this bill.
I’m looking forward to getting questions from both sides of this House, and I’m also looking forward to supporting this bill. I encourage all members of this House to support this bill.
Why does the government not think that supporting WSIB benefits for mental health for workers is important within this bill?
As a government, we are stepping up to close the loopholes and ensure that businesses, especially the bad actors, do not desert their workers.
The proposed changes in this bill to the WSIB would not impact the compensation or benefits for services provided by WSIB to workers who become injured or ill on the job.
Mr. Speaker, through you to the member opposite: There is no change to WSIB benefits. In fact, this bill is enhanced to protect the mental health of our workers, and also protects access to many benefits for our workers, including truckers or delivery workers.
Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker, during committee and the public hearings, it was really made clear that the removal of the Canadian work experience factor is going to greatly help foreign-trained professionals start their careers in Canada, and we heard this time and time again from witnesses. So I’m wondering if the member could speak a little bit more to that and how this change is going to help us attract and get the right people in the right jobs in Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, our government is proud that Ontario is a destination for many newcomers who have come to Canada in search of greater economic prospects. Newcomers create businesses in our community, they bring entrepreneurial skills and they account for 33% of Ontario’s labour force.
As a matter of fact, only one quarter of internationally trained immigrants in regulated professions are working in jobs that match their level of expertise. Right now, as we all know, we have a shortage—300,000 jobs unfilled in the province of Ontario.
I just want to give an example. Reducing immigrant unemployment and helping them find good jobs could increase Ontario’s GDP by—
Questions and response?
Secondly to that, they have spoken ad nauseam about the disconnect benefit in schedule 2. I’m wondering how the ability to disconnect benefits employees who may be low-wage employees, ones who may be on the front lines, who may not ever even have had a work phone, let alone an email, to communicate with their employers. How do they disconnect?
When it comes to the disconnect clause in this bill that will protect workers, what I mean by it is that there are a lot of workers who had to go into unpaid hours of their job, even after after-hours. Ontario cannot be a province where people burn out from endless work and, again, put everything else, like family time, last. That’s why this government is introducing this clause so that the proposed legislative change would require businesses to have this note in front of their employees, or directly sent to employees, where they don’t need to spend these unpaid hours after their job hours.
Madam Speaker, during this time and era, not just truck drivers or courier delivery personnel but even food delivery workers, during the pandemic, have been working hard on the road. They’re also known as the heroes of the road. One of the challenges they have faced, especially the truckers—we’ve heard directly from them—was that whenever they are on the road to fill the shelves at the marketplace or to bring medicines to hospitals, when they take a break there is no place for them to access washrooms. That’s the same case not just for truck drivers but for all delivery workers. That’s why having this clause to have the businesses where they deliver or pick up goods have accessible washrooms for these delivery persons will help them.
We are leading the way, not only just in Canada but across North America. We’re a province of opportunity where hard work pays off and big dreams come to life. That’s why workers across Ontario are from all different backgrounds and ethnicities. They come to Ontario to find better economic prospects. We have a plan to build a future for all Ontarians. Thank you for the opportunity to answer, Madam Speaker.
First and foremost, I want to make it clear that the title, Working for Workers Act, is misinforming, because it does not work for workers. This week, the government had an opportunity to say yes to the PMB put forth by our London West labour critic, Preventing Worker Misclassification Act, 2021, tabled last week, that would have classified gig economy and contract workers as the workers they are, giving them the rights listed in the Employment Standards Act, such as minimum wage, guaranteed vacation days etc.
Gig or contract workers represent thousands of workers across this province who we relied on more than ever throughout the pandemic, including delivery drivers and riders, workers in nursing homes, cleaners, personal service workers, rideshare drivers and many folks in food production and packing facilities and so much more. These workers have been purposefully misclassified so that powerful, profitable companies can avoid any onus or cost of the worker protections they should be taking on as employers. Instead, they get to exploit even more profits off the backs of these workers, who could be paid minimum hourly wages, paid sick days, guaranteed vacation time and benefits.
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind the government again that when we talk about gig economy and precarious workers, we’re often talking about women. We’re often talking about members of the BIPOC community. We’re often talking about new immigrants, newcomer workers, international students. I could go on and on—and also workers with disabilities.
We also want to remind the government that every single amendment that the official opposition—our side, the NDP—put forth on this bill, Working for Workers Act, was denied. Of course, each and every one of our amendments was done in consultation with actual stakeholders, with actual labour advocates, with actual workers. That’s a novel idea.
These companies, the exploitative rich companies, can afford it. They’re among some of the richest in the world—not just Ontario, the world. And this government’s blocking of the member from London West’s bill has made them richer. Their workers? It’s placed them in even more precarious positions by failing to implement the ABC test listed in our member from London West’s bill, a test that puts the onus on the employer from the start, not on the employee only once allegations arise, as a pre-emptive measure to prevent misclassification rather than a reactionary measure, as it currently stands.
So what does this bill, Working for Workers Act, provide to gig workers instead? Access to a washroom. I can say, as a person who lives with certain health issues, access to a washroom is really important. I get that. But it doesn’t apply to all gig workers, only those who deliver for restaurants or work in places where there is a washroom. What about rideshare drivers or transit operators, who are noticeably omitted from this schedule? What about them?
I’ve got to say, as well, I keep thinking of the LRT construction along Eglinton. I think about the drivers along Eglinton, some of whom are actually family members of mine. If they’re stuck in gridlock during rush hour, you can literally be holding your bladder for 45 minutes from Oakwood and Eglinton to Eglinton West subway station—45 minutes for something that could take a minute and a half, if it weren’t for construction, delays and congestion. This is significant—if our transit operators don’t have access to a washroom when they need it, not to mention the fact that this schedule is non-binding, offered as guidelines or future regulations, rather than a provision backed by meaningful enforcement. Also, this requirement becomes optional in a number of wide open, qualifying circumstances.
Speaker, I’m not negating that access to a washroom isn’t a great idea—it is very much a right one; what I’m saying is that it’s not enough. If that is this government’s version of working for gig workers, the bar is set rather low, and much lower than we should accept.
What did gig workers need and deserve access to? The Employment Standards Act. That’s what the member from London West’s bill looked to do. That’s what this government said no to. And it’s not the only one.
Just yesterday, the government also had an opportunity to say yes to workers and to say yes to our co-sponsored bill demanding that the government legislate 10 permanent paid sick days and 14 pandemic days in the province within the ESA. I proudly stood here alongside the MPP for London West, the MPP for Brampton Centre and the MPP for Scarborough Southwest as we put forth this co-sponsored bill demanding permanent paid sick days, demanding 14 pandemic days; demanding a yes from this government that would have actually been a yes for the very same workers they claim to say they care about and say are heroes etc.
I’d be remiss if I forgot to say that every single MPP in this room has access to permanent paid sick days. We have access to staying home when we are sick. We have access to staying home when a family member is sick and needs our support. We have access to staying home when our pet is sick and needs to go to the vet. So it’s shameful to think that this government has a piece of legislation called the Working for Workers Act that doesn’t allow for workers to stay home when they are sick.
And, again, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind us that today is a day of significance, when we are of course remembering all of those who are deceased due to femicide, all of those who have been survivors or are surviving in homes where they have experienced violence, particularly against women, 2SLGBTQIA, Black, Indigenous etc. Those paid sick days, those personal emergency leave days would have been crucial and are crucial for folks who need to leave the home but can’t afford to do so because leaving the home, losing pay, losing income puts them in an even more precarious situation, and therefore they stay a while longer—and we know that sometimes that hour longer, that day longer, that night longer can literally mean their death.
Speaker, approximately 60% of Ontarians go without paid sick days. That means 60% of people, at some point in their working lives, will have to choose between being sick and getting to rest and recover with the peace of mind of knowing they can keep a roof over their head, or going to work sick and spreading the flu, the virus—including COVID-19—to fellow workers.
On Monday, I joined a demonstration organized by the incredible teams at Decent Work and Health Network, Justice for Workers, and Workers’ Action Centre. The Conservative government was invited, and I must say that they were the only party that didn’t show up. Picture it: We’ve got a peaceful rally happening, very endearing, filled with front-line workers, whether they were education workers, whether they were health care workers—people literally spilling their guts and expressing their experience of how important it is to have paid sick days. The government was invited, but they didn’t show up.
I’d like to share a quote from one of the speakers there that really encapsulates what legislated paid sick days could have provided: “If you rely on every bit of your paycheque to cover your bills, how do you cover any gap if you lose any paydays? Well, the only way to do it is less food.” Speaker, this is the reality faced by workers every single day in this province—food for their family or themselves, or recovery. This was a choice this government could have alleviated yesterday for workers all across the province, but they chose to be the government of no. I truly do not understand how they can title this bill Working for Workers when just yesterday they blocked that bill.
Yet again I must say, over 25 times they’ve said no to paid sick days. It’s a slap in the face, especially for the approximately 21 health care workers, the five migrant farm workers, the approximately 8,000 people—many, many of them being workers across sectors—who have lost their lives to COVID in this province, who might have lived had they not had to go into work sick, who might have lived if they didn’t have to travel on those packed public transit options that we saw throughout the pandemic at times.
Speaker, these were both bills that in the last week alone were put forth for workers in this province. Those were bills that would have worked for workers, legislation they were directly asking for from this government; legislation they needed, their children needed, their families needed and our communities in general needed to keep them safe; legislation that would have actually worked for workers, something this legislation I stand here debating just doesn’t do enough of.
This is most apparent in schedule 6, for what it means for injured workers in this province, injured workers like Jana in my riding of St. Paul’s. I’ve mentioned Jana before, but I mention her all the time because her case is still outstanding.
Jana was injured by no fault of her own at her workplace in 2014. She was hit on the head, giving her a concussion. She followed doctors’ orders and rested for a couple of weeks, hoping that she would be healed and back to work and, most importantly, back to herself. Sadly, that has not been the case. Seven and a half years later Jana is still suffering tremendously. As if dealing with a lasting traumatic brain injury isn’t enough, one that has completely uprooted her life from the outdoorsy, adventure-loving life she lived—I saw her with her dogs recently, and they’re so full of energy; I know that this is the person Jana was and the person that she wants to come back to, and she hasn’t been able to—she’s been put through the wringer by WSIB since day one. Jana was denied benefits three times. This is despite documentation provided by multiple specialists and five neurologists, all confirming her injury.
Jana is not alone, either. In the same year she was denied three times, over 70% of other injured workers were too. It wasn’t until 2019, through the WSIB tribunal appeals process, that her benefits were finally reinstated until the six-year lock mark the following year. This would require her to undergo another assessment through WSIB to determine if her benefits would lock in permanently or if she’d be fit to return to work.
Considering the lengths and trauma she was put through up until then, there was nothing more she wanted than to get this over with. This is despite there being ample evidence from specialists, therapists and doctors affirming she could not and would not be ready to return to work. Even CPP disability, which requires a disability of 90% or higher to be approved, approved Jana, but somehow it just wasn’t enough for WSIB. Either way, she accepted the terms and tried to get an appointment. That was until the pandemic hit, making it harder than ever—more back and forth between WSIB, Jana, her own doctors, her therapist and my office.
In July 2020 WSIB confirmed they could make their decision through receiving documentation from her current treating professionals, of which there were many.
This decision was reversed in January 2021, at the very height of the pandemic, when cases were well above the 2,000-per-day mark. Still, in a turn of events from their previous decision, WSIB required she attend an in-person assessment to determine her claim. This was all while WSIB workers themselves were working from home, as the entire province was under a stay-at-home order. If it wasn’t safe for them to leave their homes, why was Jana required to?
Finally, by June 2021 she completed her assessment at Altum Health, in a clinic paid for by WSIB that only treats injured workers. Surprise: Their own assessment came back with the exact same information her doctors, therapists and specialists all said. No new testing would give them more information than what Jana had already provided. Despite the year and a half of turbulence that was placed on Jana, absolutely nothing new was found. Their report also stated what we already knew: that Jana was incapable to return to work and wouldn’t need to complete their return-to-work intensive special programs.
You would think that, after all was said and done, more than seven years later, this would be enough, that the piles and piles of confirming documents would allow them to make their decision, locking in Jana’s benefits, however limited they were, to let her live in peace and finally heal. Well, not exactly.
By August 2021 they returned their decision, saying Jana was only 10% disabled and fit to return to work. Well, thanks to her lawyer and access to her case file through the freedom of information act, it was found out that on September 14, 2021, WSIB held meetings with executives, the director and Jana’s case manager trying to get Altum Health to reverse their decision and state that she could go back to work. To this day, despite every red flag that was waved in the past seven and a half years, Jana is still waiting for that decision. She lives on edge in fear of the day she will get the call that what few benefits she receives, and few they are, may be cut off.
Jana is exhausted. Her case makes one thing clear: WSIB does not work for workers, and it needs to be overhauled. It was exemplary of the fact that WSIB is not there to protect workers, it’s there to find loopholes to get people who are unfit to go back to work. The rate Jana received is 80% of what she was making in 2014, by the way, the year her injury took place. At that time, Jana was making minimum wage at the sporting goods store she worked at, a wage that was $10.25 an hour—80% of that. Yikes. This is the rate WSIB uses and will continue to in locking in her benefits.
A reminder to all of us that we are now in the year of 2021 where the current minimum wage is $14.35, an amount that’s not even barely manageable today, let alone depending on benefits based on $10.25 years back. I think of workers who were injured in the 1990s who made a minimum wage of $6.25. What about them? Speaker, this is how the WSIB works. The WSIB “surplus” that exists, one that this bill would return to employers, is not a signal that the WSIB is taking too much from employers. It’s a signal that the WSIB is not supporting injured workers. This Conservative government is giving back billions of dollars to employers instead of injured workers, and that is a shame. It’s a shame when workers have been fighting for over 20 years, several decades, for benefits.
From Willie Noiles, acting president of Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups:
“Between 2010 and 2017, WSIB benefits paid out to injured workers were cut by more than half. And” this Conservative “government’s solution is to give employers more money back on top of the 52% cut in premiums in 2018, 2019 and 2020. How about using the surplus to ensure workers are taken care” of “when injured at work? Now, that’s what we would call working for workers.”
Speaker, it should be no surprise to the government across the bench that 50% of injured workers are also living below the poverty line. If there is a surplus in the system meant to lift these workers up, keep a roof over their heads, food on their table and workers—Ontarians—above the poverty line, which is supposed to be the sole purpose of the WSIB, it needs to go to the workers. This is not a surplus; it needs to go to the workers. It needs to go to the workers.
There’s also nothing in this bill to protect temp workers. There’s nothing in this bill that actually defines what temporary means, because simply it’s just not fair to be labelled a temp worker while you’re working alongside the “real worker” doing the same job; the same blood, sweat and tears; the same long hours, but you’re not getting equal pay for equal work. This bill does not address that.
There’s nothing in the bill that actually holds employers accountable if someone is injured. We look at Fiera Foods where the WSIB claims go against the temp hiring firm while leaving employers off the hook. That’s just not good enough.
Where’s the funding for the anti-racist directorate to support international students or newcomers experiencing discrimination in the workplace, being exploited—you know, those folks who are barely, in some cases not even, making minimum wage.
Where’s the adoption of our outstanding colleague the member from Niagara Falls’s PMB to end the practice of deeming where the WSIB deems you or, a.k.a., decides that you can work in a job that doesn’t even exist in most cases and then reduces their compensation benefits even less.
Speaker, to conclude, let me speak a bit about how this bill could work for workers. Firstly, workers need to be paid adequately for their time with a minimum wage that surpasses the bare minimum of $17 an hour. The $15 that the Conservative government is promising, which is clearly a desperate tie onto the election coming up next year, frankly is no longer valid. It’s just simply no longer valid. It does not reflect the rise of inflation rates across our province, especially here: rent costs, food costs, bread, butter, milk—the basics, as my mother would call them. It just doesn’t reflect it. The rate of inflation is close to 5% in this province; $15 an hour is just not enough at this point.
Humans get sick. They need recovery time. They need rest. Humans get injured, sometimes permanently. It’s not their fault, and they shouldn’t be legislated into poverty because of it. If we’re talking about a she-covery, if we’re talking about ensuring that no worker falls in between the cracks, I sincerely hope that this government will listen to the amendments of the Ontario NDP official opposition and, even more importantly, to the workers and the unions and the labour advocates who have demanded better in order to actually work for workers.
Could the member from Toronto–St. Paul’s please tell the House why there seems to be a reluctance—I’ve been listening carefully, not alone to that member’s presentation but others—to helping new Canadians work in careers they’ve trained all their lives for?
But I urge the government to think wisely about this. Consider slashing Bill 124, for instance. That is how you support workers, many of whom are internationally trained, many of whom are BIPOC, many of whom are women.
The minimum wage is just not doable. I can speak for folks in St. Paul’s and say when we consider our rent, when we consider mortgage costs, when you consider food costs, that people need to be able to pay for their food and medicine, especially since many don’t have paid sick days, it needs to be higher.
We’re going to need those professionals. We’re going to need them trained in all capacities to ensure that we have the ability to do those life extensions and keep nuclear a viable energy product. So I’d like to ask the member if there’s an ability for her to agree that these trained professionals are absolutely critical, and that we’re trying to get rid of, “You have to have Canadian experience to give that qualification that you gained in another country,” and if she’ll support us in this endeavour.
I want to ask my colleague how much it’s going to devastate her community, the fact that workers next year are not going to have paid sick days despite the fact we’re still in a pandemic, and what she would be doing if she had the ability to provide appropriate supports for workers.
I think that the government, the Conservative government, has a responsibility to do every single thing they can to keep workers safe, especially those essential workers who are, again, on those packed buses, who are working tough hours, who are going in with burnout, exhaustion, sick kids at home and school. They need supports.
Our demand to slash, burn and kill Bill 124, a bill that this government props up, that frankly is strangling our front-line health care workers, who are predominantly BIPOC and women—that’s how you help workers: You kill Bill 124. You give people a minimum wage that they could actually live with. You pay people for the work that they do. You don’t use “temporary” as a title to exploit workers. This is what the government is allowing with this bill, the Working for Workers Act.
However, this bill falls short on reforming the licensing of internationally educated professionals, and I’ll explain why. My riding is home to a significant population of workers with credentials obtained abroad who are being prevented from working in their fields. With 316,000 vacant jobs in Ontario, we need to give potential workers a chance to join the workforce, especially in critical sectors.
Licensing requirements can be overly restrictive, and we should open the possibility of relaxing somewhat the licensing requirements—without putting the general public at risk, of course. To date, the government has not introduced any measures to allow further certification of internationally educated health care workers.
This is despite the fact that nurses with foreign credentials were actually allowed to practise in Ontario because of the pandemic on a temporary basis, and they did perform their jobs up to expectations and did it well. Therefore, accepting foreign credentials in health care can assist with much-needed workforce. After all, I think everybody will agree that the human body is constituted the same across the world. Immigrants who I have consulted with say that they found it insulting that they can help during the crisis, but then they’re not considered good enough afterwards.
Health care is currently the field in Ontario with the most severe labour shortage, with 38,000 vacant jobs. The fact that this labour bill does not address the health care professional shortage is a missed opportunity, in my opinion.
One effective way to assist with the recognition of foreign credentials is through bridging programs. We’ve heard a little bit about that, and there has been success in that regard, so we need more of those. I’ll cite the example of Ryerson University, which has a program which connects foreign-trained social workers with internships that allow them to receive their Canadian equivalency. This 13-month part-time program allows immigrants to receive pay while working to receive equivalency. This avoids the common occurrence of immigrants not being able to receive Canadian certification because they need to work and provide for their families, and 89% of graduates from this program are actually hired.
We also need to allow more assessment of people’s knowledge and skills to take place. Currently in Ontario, we either recognize somebody’s qualifications or we make them totally restart their education. There needs to be a path in between these courses of action. Updating people on Canadian regulation might be necessary, but not making them start from square one. We need to ensure that information is better communicated to immigrants, as well, especially on programs that are not government-run. Global Experience Ontario is an outdated and difficult-to-find website.
Stakeholders have told me that there is a lack of co-operation between levels of government that makes the process of receiving certification in Ontario needlessly difficult. I urge the government to work more constructively and closely with the federal government to ensure that immigrants can work in the fields where we need their talents. What happens often is that the federal government provides the point of entry into a province but without guiding the immigrants through the system, with the result that skilled immigrants end up working in low-wage jobs just to ensure a living.
I have submitted a private member’s bill that proposes a committee of experts to identify the obstacles and provide practical solutions to address the situation that internationally educated professionals find themselves in.
During a recent round table with stakeholders to hear concerns on professional licensing for immigrants, I heard many of the propositions that I have shared today. They told me about people in my community who can’t work because their credentials aren’t being recognized: an engineer with 20 years’ experience who can’t work in Ontario; a trained doctor from Lebanon who wasn’t allowed to work here and left to be a surgeon in San Francisco; a woman with a civil law degree who was forced to redo all her studies; a man who completed a master’s in engineering at Ottawa University and was informed that he would have to redo his undergrad before working as an engineer. These stories speak of an unjust system that disadvantages immigrants and doesn’t help our economy. The government’s measures in the Working for Workers Act don’t do enough to help these people.
Je veux aussi prendre l’occasion de parler plus spécifiquement de la grande pénurie d’enseignants francophones qui affecte toute notre province. Cette pénurie a un impact profond sur la capacité de la province à offrir aux francophones l’éducation de qualité que chacun mérite. Le système d’éducation en langue française en Ontario est essentiel à la prospérité future de notre province, et contribue profondément à la vitalité et à la survie de la communauté francophone.
Malheureusement, dans ce secteur également, il existe trop d’enseignants formés à l’étranger qui veulent s’établir en Ontario pour y travailler mais qui ne peuvent pas trouver à se placer parce que les obstacles à la reconnaissance de leur formation sont trop nombreux et la procédure est d’une lenteur vraiment décourageante. Mes commentaires sont basés sur des cas réels d’enseignantes qui ont choisi d’aller travailler du côté du Québec ou de retourner dans leur pays.
Il y a un travail important à faire auprès des ordres professionnels afin d’obtenir une meilleure collaboration. S’il existe un problème de protectionnisme de la part des organismes de réglementation, nous devons nous y attarder. Nous devons également permettre davantage d’évaluations des connaissances et des compétences des personnes. Actuellement en Ontario, soit nous reconnaissons les qualifications de quelqu’un, soit nous lui faisons recommencer totalement ses études. Il doit y avoir une alternative entre ces deux plans d’action.
Un moyen efficace de remédier au manque de reconnaissance des diplômes étrangers consiste à mettre en place des programmes de transition. Plus de programmes de transition, particulièrement dans les domaines où le besoin est criant, permettrait de réduire les délais de certification et accélérerait l’accès des travailleurs à des emplois pour lesquels ils ont un intérêt et pour lesquels ils sont qualifiés.
Je terminerai en soulignant qu’une meilleure collaboration entre les différents paliers du gouvernement pour la coordination de l’intégration des nouveaux arrivants est hautement souhaitable. Si nous arrivons à attirer des travailleurs, il faut nous assurer que nous leur donnons toute l’information et tous les moyens de s’intégrer au marché du travail rapidement et efficacement, car trop souvent nous constatons qu’une fois arrivées au Canada, les familles sont laissées à elles-mêmes pour s’orienter dans une culture et une économie dont elles ne saisissent pas tous les rouages.
I hope that we can all agree that more needs to be done to allow immigrants to achieve their full potential in our economy.
Alors est-ce que la députée peut nous dire comment sa communauté à Ottawa va bénéficier d’avoir plus d’enseignants francophones arrivant en Ontario?
Alors, c’est bien, l’entente avec la France, si on fait venir quatre enseignants. C’est un pas un peu gêné, mais il faut continuer dans ce sens-là, parce que la vitalité de la francophonie dépend des efforts qu’on va investir pour s’assurer qu’on emploie des enseignants francophones pour assurer une éducation, pour former plus tard des gens qui vont pouvoir travailler dans le domaine de la santé, par exemple.
I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned to adequately address the needs of people who are vulnerable. We’ve seen people who are on ODSP and OW not being able to look after themselves in a way that is sustainable. The CERB provided $2,000 per month for people to live, but then people on ODSP were required to live on a much lesser amount of money. We need to look at what’s happening on the ground and make appropriate adjustments to our policies.
I return to the member for Ottawa–Vanier.
What I’m saying and what I’m going to repeat is that we have to look at the situation today. We have to learn from what we’re seeing and what we’re realizing on the ground, and we have to do better. If we want to attract people like nurses and PSWs, we need to improve their working conditions, not give them temporary wage increases, because that’s not going to do anything to convince people to come in the workforce and stay there knowing that their wage is going to decrease after a while.
So I would encourage the government to look at the extent that they can do to help.
So I’m just wondering if the member from Ottawa–Vanier can answer, why is it that the Liberals always seem to have the right language, the pandering to equity and the marginalized groups, but when it comes to actually making the legislation, like protecting the temporary workers, like putting forth the registry since 2017, like making mandatory licensing of employment recruitment agencies, you didn’t?
Anyway, again, we can look at the past to learn from our mistakes or to learn how we could have done better. But we have, again, to look at the situation now and ensure that we bring the protection measures that are important. And I think that in this bill, actually, there are good measures. Disconnecting from work, for example, is a good one. I really wish that it could apply to everyone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. I don’t think I can separate myself from my phone at night; I wish I could. And it’s not possible for everyone. But I think it’s a good measure for employees that may be abused by their employer—taking advantage of those technical measures, those tools.
Again, you’ve been doing what you can with what you have at your availability right now. You’re not doing enough for those foreign workers, because in my riding of Ottawa–Vanier, many people, all the time, come to me and they tell me, “Look, I’m a doctor. Why can’t I work?” I take a taxi and I’ve got an engineer driving me around. We need to do better. We need to remove those obstacles, and I think we need to work with the professional orders, because the licensing requirements are not fair, are not allowing these immigrants to take part in our economy.
We’re incredibly grateful, and I think it’s incumbent on all public policy-makers as the years go by in this place to continue to make efforts to improve the lot of workers in the province of Ontario.
I’m really proud to rise today to speak to third reading of Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, and a special thank you to everyone on the team and the effort that went into this bill. I know our Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development has been working incredibly hard to build a better future for our great province and ensure that no workers get left behind. I’d especially like to thank his parliamentary assistant as well for the incredible work he’s been doing and the entire team at the ministry for the work they’ve been doing.
We know the world is shifting quickly. We know that technology is a disruptive force. It can also be a complementary force in the workforce and support us in our day-to-day activities. The world is indeed shifting quickly. We’ve seen that in this pandemic, and we need to keep up with that in the laws that we’re introducing. Workers are no longer getting their fair share of the economic pie, and our mission is to restore that, to give workers a hand up for better jobs, bigger paycheques and the protections they deserve.
I’d love to elaborate a little more on paycheques because often we hear in the discourse of public policy a lot of things that would increase the net debt to this province, and I’m proud to be part of a government that makes strategic investments where we have to—and boy, have we done that through the pandemic in health care—but a government and leading public policy-makers that talk about paycheques and giving people a leg-up, giving the people the dignity of a job.
When I think to the conversations I have in my constituency office, it’s actually not overwhelmed with, “What you can do for me?” Ironically, through this pandemic, a lot of it—I’ve been really touched by people saying, “What can we do for our fellow neighbours?” and a lot lately about just getting government out of the way so that Ontarians can achieve their full potential.
I really think, as the grandson of an immigrant who came over to Ontario from Friuli in the northern part of Italy, fascist Italy under Mussolini at the time, the eighth child, who didn’t have the opportunity to continue working on the farm—I mean, most of the jobs were taken by then, by the time you have your eighth. So he came over to Canada with many of his brothers and sisters for a better future, for a better opportunity. He worked at Stelco in the steel factory, a proud worker who very much built this province. My father had his first summer jobs there and went on to be university-educated, becoming an architect.
Now his great grandson is quite literally sitting in this place and now has the opportunity to sit in cabinet as well. So it’s a truly incredible opportunity Canada affords people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, and I’m especially proud of the opportunity that Ontario affords workers.
That’s why I was really, really excited to see—and I think it’s really important—the Canada work experience removal which we see here. We often hear the adage of “My cab driver is a doctor,” or people in the health care professions who worked abroad elsewhere but are underemployed here. I think back—I rarely get to draw from what I did previously for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and a big shout-out to the team there and the incredible work they’re doing on accreditation and on some of the work we did in low- and middle-income countries and jurisdictions around the world, giving their health care professionals the opportunity to write the exams here in Ontario and certifying high standards of equivalency. I think if we can start doing that on standards and doing a better job to acknowledge the skills and the education one has received elsewhere, it will better ensure that immigrants in this province, new Canadians, new Ontarians, can achieve their full potential, can practise the profession that they’ve always wanted and dreamed in their life to practise. To do so in their new country—wouldn’t that be remarkable? Removing barriers and making that more easy is a massive step.
As I said, as the grandson of someone who came for a new beginning here in the province of Ontario, incredible thanks to the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development for doing this and to the team that worked together, the regulators, the countless number of regulators consulted: Professional Engineers Ontario, the College of Nurses of Ontario, the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario—who I worked closely with in my previous job. I think the ministry has done an incredible job on that.
When I talk a bit about the future of work and where it’s going, we know that that’s here, and we’re committed to moving with the ebbs and flows of that as a government. That’s why this legislation, based on important recommendations from the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, is so important: consulting with workers, consulting with unions, consulting with employers, consulting with regulators.
The changes proposed include helping workers leave their work behind at the end of the day. I know that’s not a luxury any of us have in the roles that we’re in. I know many long days working and returning calls. I know that certainly the Premier leads by example in doing that well into the wee hours of the morning. But I think we all understand that in places of work, and given the digital nature of where we’re going, it is important to start having some carve-outs, start having a bit of your personal time. It actually makes one more productive in the workplace, decompressing. It’s good for mental health etc.
I think acknowledging this step and starting to understand enabling, doing important things to enable the digitization of workflows and of the workplace is important, and this government has been doing that. But also, concurrently, looking at having a bit of disconnect time is important.
While I’m on that, I would say that this government—often we hear debate in this place, and the talk is about, “Well, this bill should have this, that and the other,” and then when you do have a big bill, it’s, “This is an omnibus bill.” So you can’t win in government. You try to be surgical with some bills or larger in scope and nature with others. But I would encourage everybody debating in this place and anyone watching or contemplating this piece of legislation to look at it in the context of other things the government is doing.
I think to the largest commitment to support broadband in this nation’s history. It’s not a federal government that has done that; it’s Premier Ford and this government, with a $4-billion commitment. What does that mean? That means that the folks in Grafton, in Shelter Valley are closer to high-speed Internet and that reliability and that connection. In fact, Algonquin Fiber is coming in right now and they’re starting that work.
It means that the digital team—Tony, Dan, Glenn, the entire team at Northumberland county—who are working on digitizing, who are doing some incredible work on broadband—I’ve had some really inspiring conversations with them about how they’re looking at connectivity in the county of Northumberland. We’re a step closer. We’re supporting projects. We’re working with them—a lot of exciting stuff to come.
Clarington, the work that they’ve done right up to the north shores of Rice Lake: an expanded Internet, working in partnership with Hiawatha First Nation—again, something this government has done.
It’s important to support workers, but as I contextualize the support for those workers, it’s the dignity of a job; it’s about supporting economic development. So we’re helping people disconnect from the north shores of Rice Lake, for example, in Hiawatha; we’re also working in partnership to help economic development with partnerships between Otonabee-South Monaghan, Hiawatha First Nation. We’re supporting that as a government, and also investing in broadband and connectivity, connecting every household—again, critically important. Those are commitments this government has made.
I think also about banning non-compete agreements, which limit opportunities for workers and career growth. One of the things I heard when I was parliamentary assistant in colleges and universities, one of the things I heard globally when I worked for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and one of the things I continue to hear in my role as Minister of the Environment is talent. It’s about talent. Be it on adaptation and resiliency, fighting climate change, be it on recruiting and retaining talent, Ontario boasts incredible talent. It’s what’s between the ears here that we see—you might say not all the time with me, but at least with other Ontarians, we see the talent that exists in this province, the immense talents harnessed by colleges, universities, private career colleges; harnessed in training centres; harnessed on the job site with OYAP programs; harnessed in apprenticeship training. We boast incredible talent in this province, and it shouldn’t be restricted with non-compete clauses, so I think that’s the right move.
These proposed actions will, if passed, position Ontario as the jurisdiction that has the most competitive framework for workers and businesses to both benefit in a new world of work. We’re building this province, building a workforce, working to create the conditions for a workforce that is competitive, building a province that understands that you can’t talk, as the member opposite said, purely about 10 years ago, you’ve got to look to the future. That’s why we’re making those digital investments for the future. That’s why we’re investing in public transit like we’ve never seen before, with the Ontario Line, with so many others.
The member from Ottawa–Vanier said before about transit, and would certainly know a thing or two about transit in Ottawa and how important it is, reliable transit. It’s so critical. I think to the reliable transit Metrolinx provides the constituents I represent in Durham region and Clarington, and really broadly beyond in Northumberland–Peterborough South. One in every four trains, thanks to investments that Premier Ford has made and this government—it’s critical.
Because we’re not just competing. It really frustrated me hearing from members of this place about competing and naming other provinces a fraction of the size of Ontario—such a Canadian thing. We compete against New York. We compete against Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore. That’s who Ontario competes against. We compete globally, and we can compete with the best of them on planet Earth, because we have the talent. It’s about harnessing that in this province and for us to be competitive in doing that.
And harnessing workers, this ministry—to harness that, you can’t just have a knowledge economy that exclusively looks to universities, but embraces colleges, embraces those who don’t go to university or college, who enter the trades and do incredible work to build this province. It takes skilled workers to build the hospitals of tomorrow. It takes highly skilled workers to build the transit that we need to compete as an incredible province. I think to Toronto, the largest city. I’m proudly from rural Ontario; I don’t want to live in Toronto. But I acknowledge that when Toronto succeeds and when people can get around the GTHA, it benefits my community. Farmers coming in to the food terminal, folks connecting on the corridor benefits my riding of Northumberland–Peterborough South. And we’re making these investments. We’re competitive.
I talked about the virtual world and seeing businesses grow. A huge shout-out to an inspiring young man in the riding of Northumberland–Peterborough South, and that’s Zach Copeland at Prep Food Co. This is an incredibly inspiring guy. When I want a good Cuban sandwich or a poke bowl or something delicious, I’ve got to follow him on Instagram, because he is so busy right now attracting talent and retaining employees. This is what we’re hearing in Northumberland–Peterborough South: Folks can’t find the workers they need. Last night, talking to builders and contractors at The Mill at their wing night, again, that’s a common theme I heard about attracting talent.
Back to Zach—an incredible, talented guy who’s going online, who has embraced and pivoted. Not every business can say this, but in Northumberland, taking this to make an order on the fly—it was Zach who opened my eyes to that, honestly. I’m a young member, but the pace of change is changing, that it’s no longer grandparents looking at their grandkids in awe. I look at a young guy in his twenties in awe of how he’s digitizing and how he’s embracing that. So, Zach, a shout-out to you and the incredible work that you’re doing.
I think about moving on, about where technology is going and how we stay competitive. The proposed legislative change on disconnecting would require businesses with 25 employees or more to post a written disconnect-from-work policy. Employers would also be required to provide a copy of the written policy to each of its employees within 30 days of preparing or changing the policy.
Again, people in this province want to work. People in this province want to grow their business. If you’re a small business owner, you want to succeed, and I think workers and employers alike have a shared interest in our province prospering, but striking a balance there, and this legislation does that: putting workers first, giving employers the flexibility to tailor their policies with the nature of their business and work.
I think to the 401 corridor that I have the honour of representing, and I think to the truckers, the men and women who get up every day in the province of Ontario. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to talk about eating Ontario, Canada-grown, Canada-made. BC blueberries in Ontario: We wouldn’t have that opportunity if not for truckers.
Moreover, getting our product to market internationally, getting apples—I think to Quaker Oats. If anyone has ever been camping, do you know where many of those dried apples come from? Algoma Orchards, right in Clarington, in the riding that I have the honour of representing. For that to get to market, we rely on the trucking sector.
We’re doing all sorts of cool things in the trucking sector, modernizing it. I think to our ministry and the work we’re doing to decarbonize the future in the transportation sector. But in the here and now, today, supporting truckers and workers, they have had no greater friend than Premier Ford and this government.
I think it’s appalling, not treating and acknowledging their essential nature. As is often the case, it sometimes takes a global pandemic to see Ontarians recognizing and acknowledging something that I’m sure many in this place already know: the imperative role truckers play to our economy in the province of Ontario. Giving them access to little things like washroom access for truckers, for delivery drivers etc.—these are the unsung heroes who I’m incredibly grateful for in the riding I represent and as an Ontarian.
I think again to the workers and to the conversations we’re having about supporting workers, and comments I made in the health care profession. We know that we’ve got to learn from the pandemic that we’re in. We’ve got to train a better-trained workforce. I think to all of the measures that this government has done holistically. This incredibly empowering piece of legislation—expanding nursing seats is something that could have been done decades past, but wasn’t.
The challenge fund for PSWs: Again, it’s not just about throwing money mindlessly. Imagine a challenge fund where you have a bit of friendly competition to harness the next generation of PSWs—again, something that could have been done in decades gone past and wasn’t.
I think to rural Ontario, acknowledging colleges and the incredible role they play in harnessing the next generation. Giving colleges simple things like the ability to grant degrees—a bachelor of science in nursing—could have been done, but wasn’t. This government is getting it done.
Micro-credentials, earning as you learn: It could have been done, but this government is getting it done.
Empowering workers in a digital economy to disconnect, not waiting 10 years from now, when it’s already here, but doing it now concurrently while we expand broadband is something previous governments of all stripes could have done, but something Premier Ford and this government are getting done.
It’s critical that we empower our next generation, support workers, give them the dignity of a job, work in parallel in supporting employers, connecting and digitizing all corners of this province—not just the GTHA, but for workers in Shelter Valley; in Norwood; on the north shores of Rice Lake; in Hiawatha. We are connecting you, not to compete in Canada, but to compete globally, and I’m proud to be a part of a government doing that.
In 2016, only one quarter of internationally trained immigrants in regulated professions were working in jobs that matched their level of qualification. This government understands that.
Regardless of where you come from on this planet, we value you. We will value the training that you’ve had, and we’re going to work with you to ensure that you’ve got a job in the province of Ontario. We’ll honour you and work with you. You’re welcome in this incredible province—you’re welcome in Peterborough–Kawartha, you’re welcome in Northumberland–Peterborough South—and it’s incredible to see. Not only that, but you’re going to work in a hospital that has increased funding, thanks to this government; you might work in a long-term-care brand new build, thanks to this government. So it’s an exciting future ahead.
Premier Ford cancelled EV subsidies and wastefully ripped out bought-and-paid-for charging stations. There are 10 electric vehicles under $16,000, yet Premier Ford thinks that it’s something for millionaires.
I want to ask the minister: Will this minister stand up for workers, protect good jobs at CAMI GM in Ingersoll, and help families and tradespeople with EV rebates?
What we have seen since we’ve come to government is $6 billion invested, $7 billion now, into the EV sector, giving men and women the dignity of a job. We’re seeing manufacturing jobs not fleeing this province—like under the propped-up Liberal government, by the NDP—but actually entering this province, men and women getting up with the dignity of a job.
You want to talk about how we can support workers? Let’s create clean, green jobs—not just today, but for the jobs of tomorrow. That’s exactly what Premier Ford is doing, and the stats of the largest year-over-year growth in electric vehicles happening under this Premier proves just that.
Of course, the member knows that I represent a riding in Ottawa. Ottawa has a very vibrant tech hub in the west end of the city—a little bit in my riding, and quite a lot in the riding of the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. A lot of folks in the tech community talk about non-compete agreements. I know there have been some changes made in this legislation that are going to help some of those tech workers, to help make sure our wages are competitive. So I’m wondering if the minister could speak a little bit about the importance of those changes to helping these workers.
What I would say about the non-compete clause: Removing the non-compete clause enables that talent retention to stay right here, and enabling mobility—both lateral and upward mobility—in a profession is critical.
Let’s talk about retaining talent in this province of Ontario. We’ve seen a ferocious example from the Premier—made in Ontario—and investing and harnessing our ability so that we’re not looking to other jurisdictions. In this ministry, how often have we seen tech solutions from Ontario being implemented elsewhere in the world before it’s implemented in Ontario? No longer. Thanks in part to removing non-compete clauses, we’re going to do that.
I also listened to one of the questions from the member from Peterborough regarding this bill allowing people with foreign credentials—very important.
We were very encouraged in northern Ontario when this bill was first announced. There’s nowhere where medical professionals are in shorter supply than in northern Ontario. I’ve got Cochrane, which has one family doctor for 5,000 people, and they’re not unique. We’ve got groups that are looking—and when this first came out, we were incredibly encouraged, but now it seems that medical credentials aren’t included. Despite the glowing reviews, they’re not included in this bill. I can’t believe that the government did it on purpose. So what roadblocks did the government find or were they challenged by not having—because we need people with medical credentials. We need doctors in northern Ontario. We need them now.
Without question, important steps were taken by this government through the pandemic. We’re going to keep building on that momentum—the momentum of expanding funding for hospitals, the first time we’re putting a hospital in Brampton, funding for—
Today in Ontario we have over 300,000 unfilled jobs. Why is it, more than ever, today, Minister, important to recognize foreign credentials in the province of Ontario?
This is massive for the province of Ontario, to ensure that new Canadians entering this province have the dignity of a job in a field that they want to work in and are trained in.
I beg to inform the House that, pursuant to standing order 101(c), changes have been made to the order of precedence on the ballot list for private members’ public business such that Mr. Bourgouin assumes ballot item number 23 and Ms. Lindo assumes ballot item number 26.
I return to the member.
Most importantly, I also want to thank our community members, the organizers, the organizations, the many advocates for workers’ rights who have been tireless, who have been reaching out to our office, sharing their input, providing feedback to us. I just want to name a few of these individuals we have been able to hear from: Dr. Ayesha Mohammad, Dr. Makini McGuire-Brown, Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan, Dr. Agafya Krivova, Dr. Ahmed Al Khatib, Dr. Luca Salvador, Ben Corpuz, Dr. Abdul Awal, Dr. Mohammed Ali, Dr. Asaduzzaman, engineer Nowsher Ali, engineer Saifur Rahman, agriculture scientist Azizur Rahman, Dr. Shurovi Sayeed, Dr. Monjur Khuda.
Actually, there have been a lot of internationally trained professionals who have years and years of skills and expertise and are highly educated, who have gone through this process of credential recognition in Canada or who are still struggling with it, and who have given their input as we analyze this bill and try to make it better.
I also want to thank Deena Ladd from the Workers Action Centre, who has been working for workers’ rights for many, many years.
And I want to thank everyone who signed up for committee hearings. I believe there were about 77 submissions or requests for hearings, but only 27 were allowed to present in committee hearings. It was unfortunate, because we had a lot of individuals, a lot of organizations that wanted to present. We had excellent presentations from the ones who were able to present. Some of these organizations included the Ontario Federation of Labour, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, IAVGO legal clinic, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, UFCW Canada, OSPE, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers—another organization that I remember from quite a few years ago, that have been fighting for the recognition of foreign credentials for years now—and so many others that have been strong advocates for workers’ rights across this province and this country for years and decades.
Speaker, over the past week, I have sat in committee with my colleagues from across the aisle discussing Bill 27 and the impact it will have on workers across the province.
Earlier, my colleague from London West did a fantastic job going through all the schedules, so in the limited time I have, I will focus on particular schedules that many of my constituents reached out about.
Let’s start with schedule 3, recognizing internationally trained professionals. It sounds like, from the government side, this is the golden egg that will solve all the problems for immigrants. As the critic for citizenship, foreign credentials and immigration services, first I want to thank the government and commend them for finally shining some light on the challenges faced by internationally trained professionals in this province. I want to thank them for listening to us, listening to many of my constituents, who have been begging this House since I’ve been elected to recognize this issue and to address it. For years people have raised it, and they finally were glad to see this happen. However, the impact of schedule 3 falls short.
Schedule 3 of this bill amends the FARPACTA, Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act—and whenever I read this one or the name of this bill, the Working for Workers Act, I feel like we need to do a whole session on changing names of these bills, because they don’t seem to do what the bills actually are titled. Talk about fair access here—boy. The core of this schedule is the removal of the requirement of Canadian experience from regulated professions, excluding health care workers. Well, from the get-go, it excludes health care workers. This schedule only impacts regulated workers who are in regulated professions and fails to address the multiple other barriers, including discriminatory hiring practices, which is one of the biggest barriers to getting employment across this province; the bias within our systems, in our regulatory systems; the huge amount of cost—and I’ve highlighted this during my second reading debate.
Our immigration process, the system, actually prioritizes and recognizes the advanced degrees and experiences, but leaves their talents and potential as soon as they come to this country. Highly educated and experienced immigrants can still be discriminated against in their workplaces and the hiring process. This government does not lay out any strategy to address that. This government has not even agreed to create the Anti-Racism Directorate the way it should be done, or invested in it, Speaker. There are many people who have given us life experiences about the way we could have actually improved this. The Anti-Racism Directorate would have addressed the forms of systemic discrimination that disproportionately impact immigrants.
Exhausted from this process, Sam reached out to our office. Sam’s credentials and professional designations are endless, yet Sam received a job rejection clearly stating that they will not hire someone without Canadian experience. I’ll quote what’s written in their rejection letter: “Unfortunately we are looking for more Canadian experience.”
Here is what Sam shared with us—and this is for hiring, Speaker; this is not a regulatory body. This is what the real problems are. I want to share Sam’s frustration, because I think it really highlights what people are actually going through. He writes, “I am rather disappointed in your feedback having set a second interview date with me today and rejected my application a few hours to the interview based on your presumed Canadian experience.”
He goes on to write, “Rejecting a candidate based on Canadian experience is discrimination based on race and nationality which is contrary to Ontario Human Right Act and Canadian Human Rights Code.”
He also adds, “Furthermore, I am a certified HR professional in Ontario with CHRP and Canada with CPHR. These two certifications are the major HR certifications required to prove my competence in HR.” Sam has expressed to us the negative impact this has had on his life and his mental health as well, Speaker.
I also want to share another example from an internationally trained professional, a dentist. He writes, “I am a foreign-trained dentist with master’s degree in oral and maxillofacial surgery. I am struggling since three years here because of barriers to recognition of my skills and education. I have already completed first two exams for my licence but my third exam got delayed by one and half year because of COVID. I am working as a security guard with minimum wages.”
Speaker, we could have done better for all of these people, for Sam and for—I don’t want to share the name, because I don’t have permission to do so, but the experience is important to share.
Immigrants in Canada earn less, on average, than those born in Canada. Immigrants earn about 10% less than those born in Canada, and 30 years ago, actually, I want to mention, that gap was about 4%. So it has actually gotten worse, despite the fact that the immigration process, which is stricter now, includes the points system, a significant portion of which is the higher education and the higher skills which allow for these immigrants to come to the country with their credentials.
Highly educated and capable individuals are underemployed and deskilled—not to mention the opportunity cost for our province. Research has also shown the negative impact this has on our economy, Speaker, because there’s a huge opportunity cost that’s lost and we’re not giving them the potential. And the member from Timiskaming–Cochrane just talked about the amount of doctors that they need in their riding, in their constituency—the dire need for this, especially as we get through COVID right now.
Speaker, this bill addresses a portion of the solution, when they look at the Canadian experience. And I know the way that it’s being talked about by the government members does not actually reflect what’s really in the bill, and that’s very problematic because the real solutions that internationally trained professionals need, a lot of that is not addressed here.
I want to be very clear. When I talk about health care workers, for example, I’m not asking for exemptions; I’m just asking for them to have an opportunity so that they can go throughout bridging programs, so that they can actually find a path that’s practice ready to be able to actually practise in this province.
Speaker, we could have done better creating those pathways, making sure that we’re addressing the shortages. We could also have done better in understanding the problem by consulting with many of these regulatory bodies, many of which were not consulted with, and especially when it comes to health care professionals. After a huge pandemic—and we’re still in this pandemic—we could have done better by those workers.
Now I want to look into schedule 4. Schedule 4 allows the minister responsible to collect personal information about migrant workers. Migrant workers in Ontario and in Canada overall have few to no rights in this country and are mistreated in their line of work. They even lose their lives, and we have seen this during this pandemic. During COVID, migrant workers were suffering from increased risk of COVID with no support from our government. They are disregarded as a federal matter by the provincial government. It’s like we play hot potato with their lives. Yet now the provincial government seeks to collect their personal health data without disclosing what will be done with that data, not to mention the fact that they are still not given any rights to actually be protected.
Schedule 6: One of the most disheartening and harmful parts of this bill is schedule 6, and a lot of my colleagues talked about this already. The changes that workers and worker groups across this province have spoken out against—if you listened to the committee hearings, Speaker, you would have seen the amount of people who talked about it who were horrified at seeing what’s written in schedule 6.
This schedule will allocate WSIB surpluses—the so-called surpluses—at the end of the year back to the employers, and it removes the obligation of the board to maintain the funds that workers in the province pay into as their insurance against future injury. It takes that money and gives it back to the employers. Not only is this incredibly unfair and harmful, but it also incentivizes employers to not sign off on their employees’ WSIB claims. That is so problematic because we’ve seen what the records are for WSIB claims and just the devastating stories of so many workers who deserve to be paid out, who deserve to get compensation and are still fighting that battle or are still going to workplaces that are unsafe.
It undermines and hurts injured workers across this province. Carol, a constituent of mine, was disheartened after hearing this government and its members address this provision. As an injured worker, she was deeply hurt to see how this government was disregarding her and thousands of others. She pointed out that one of the government MPPs made light of injured workers during the committee—because she was actually watching committee hearings. She put it simply, and I want to quote her:
“As an injured worker who has absolutely no income because of deeming, I want to inform you that all the good that is present in schedules 1 to 5, it is overshadowing the real issue with the WSIB surplus. There is a surplus because it is taken from the injured worker; it is our money, not the employers’.”
She goes on to write, “I returned to work under modified and then forced by WSIB back to the position that injured me. I went to this position four times and was injured four times and finally refused to do the job that keeps injuring me.
“At this point I was deemed. This has left me in debt to my employer 10,000-plus dollars. I currently have no income and the regulations of WSIB are cumbersome and lengthy. I have in turn been dismissed from work and my EI has expired.
“This so-called surplus is no such thing; $10,000-plus of it belongs to me and clearing the debt caused by WSIB to my employer.
“I question how many other injured workers owe money that WSIB claims is a surplus.
“If the money is to go back to the employer then the whole process of compensation is lost.
“There is a use for the so-called surplus. It could be used to simplify the claims process, shorten the lengthy waits for decisions, restore injured workers benefits, and it could be used for occupational health research that is peer reviewed.”
Speaker, I had to share her words because I think she clearly outlines a flaw within this bill as well as the solution that could have been proposed within this legislation.
I know my colleagues are going to get up during the Q&A period and ask me, “Why not talk about the positive parts of the bill?” Well, first, the entire bill should have been positive. But let’s talk a little bit about the positive parts of this bill. I see that I have just a few minutes left, so I want to point out that there are some parts of it—and I pointed out the one section of schedule 3, which does a limited amount of good to some people. This bill also has a section, schedule 5, which allows for delivery workers, like app workers, couriers and truck drivers access to washrooms. Well, that’s great. It’s just shameful—during the pandemic, for the last two years, we’ve heard about how difficult it’s been for people—that it took them that long. But you know what? We’re getting there.
Yet, even with that section, Speaker, it falls short. The fact that it’s excluding Uber drivers, Lyft, transit and taxi drivers—I’ve heard from so many taxi drivers. When we were in committee hearings and clause-by-clause, we went through this and talked about amendments for each of these issues that I’m highlighting, each of the issues that my other colleagues have highlighted. We have proposed amendments to all of the sections that we could actually touch, that we were allowed to propose amendments to. And we did. All of them were rejected—all of them.
If we want to work together and actually fix and propose something and pass something that is helpful and that supports people across this province, why not listen to the amendments? Why not listen to the committee hearings? Because there were people who talked about—the OFL came and were just really pointing out what’s wrong with schedule 6, for example. The migrant workers group came and talked about what it would mean to give them real rights. TRIEC came and talked about how we should have included health care workers. All of these sections—we could have done so much better for workers across the province, whether they’re migrant workers, whether they’re internationally trained or whether they’re workers who were born in this province, and yet this bill falls short of all of that.
Yes, there are some parts that are praiseworthy, but let’s not jump up and down because you’re finally giving access to truck drivers. Really? This omnibus bill, which you could have actually supported workers and supported people with—this is what it’s going to be about?
This morning I held a press conference with Dr. Makini McGuire-Brown, Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan and Dr. Luca Salvador, three advocates who have been fighting so hard for health care workers to finally be recognized. Not just recognized; I don’t mean they come here—you know, immigrants who have these skills come here and actually just go and start practising. But I mean, when they come here, they have a bridging program. They’re able to find a path. That’s what Dr. Makini talked about: “Here is what we can actually do.” You didn’t even consult with the regulatory bodies to actually address this.
I know the members want to heckle me, correct me and talk about how they have done their due diligence. No, you haven’t. You have not. When I read this bill, that is shown in this bill. And that’s extremely problematic, because bills are not incremental. I don’t know the next time it will be amended. When I looked at FARPACTA, for example, I don’t know—the last time it was amended was probably 2006, maybe. Are we going to wait for another decade or so to actually talk about health care workers? Is this how we’re really treating Ontarians and workers across this province?
Speaker, I ask this government to listen to the people of this province and do better by all of them.
The member talked about that we did not talk to the regulators, so I just want to talk about the people we spoke to, so that she’s aware of this: Professional Engineers Ontario, the College of Nurses of Ontario, the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario, the Ontario College of Teachers, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, the Ontario College of Pharmacists, the College of Midwives of Ontario, the college of traditional Chinese—the list goes on and on and on.
I just want to say this, Madam Speaker: Yes, absolutely, we did consult with regulators. We did consult with bodies. And it is required, also; it’s not something where we’re proud that we did something. Everybody does it. All ministers do it all the time. So my question is—
Response? The member from Scarborough Southwest.
I could go on with the list, but instead I want to point out—I want to quote from the member opposite. I want to quote from the Hansard, something that he mentioned a few days ago: “As I talked about, foreign credentials: Once they have the licensing in place—and they can actually expedite their licensing as soon as five years. They don’t even have to work on the minimum wage.”
But five years is okay? That’s an expedited form? This is what you’re going to give internationally trained professionals, is that they’re going to be expedited in five years?
I’ll just finish what I was saying: When you talk about expedited certification, five years is not expedited. You’re talking about somebody working on minimum wage. Think about their mental health. Think about trying to survive in this province. Think about putting food on the table. Think about education. Think about what they need to do in order to make sure they’re providing for their families. All of that was not considered in this bill, Speaker.
We are a government with open ears, so at this point in time I want to ask the member—yes, there may be some not in the committee that we have met, but we are still open, so I encourage—can the member support this bill?
We have just gone through two years of this pandemic, Speaker, and there’s a shortage of nurses right now in this province. The member from Timiskaming–Cochrane talked about the fact that per—was it 5,000 people?—you have one family doctor. That is not acceptable.
And we have people who are ready. Dr. Ahmed Al Khatib, who I talked about, is one of those doctors who works in a community centre in one of those northern regions, and he’s getting paid a very, very small amount for the skills that he has, but he’s continuing to do so because he’s able to support—
I myself have also worked with many within my riding, folks who were sold the Canadian dream. Headhunters promised them the land of milk and honey, and this dream has turned into a nightmare. I think in particular of somebody who was the head of dentistry at a hospital in Dubai. She was so skilled, so highly trained that she was able to administer anesthesia to a three-and-half-year-old but yet still is unable to achieve that Canadian dream of dentistry here in Ontario.
My question to the member is, how did the government respond to amendments about respect and fairness and a bridging program for foreign-trained professionals?
If you really want to work together and actually fix a lot of these things, the fact that you’re excluding a whole range of workers, transit workers who are not going to get access to washrooms—unbelievable.
We know we have a shortage of teachers in Ontario. Had this legislation been in place 22 years ago when we immigrated to Canada, my mom today would be working as a teacher. Instead, she’s working as a housekeeper in Brampton Civic, which I’m very proud of because there is no shame in working hard and there is no shame in working our tail off.
My question to the member is, why is the opposition not supporting training to help people get into better jobs?
When we talk about immigrants, it’s not about the fact that one job is more than the other, Speaker. Let me be extremely clear: It’s the fact that someone who has 10, 15, 20 years of experience and comes here with the hope and dream—and they’re given that hope and dream by our federal government. But the fact is, when they come here, they’re told no. They’re told that the door is shut because you do not have the right to work in the same field that you have practised in, and it’s deemed less than what they’re actually able to provide. That’s not fair. They shouldn’t be working in those minimum jobs because they deserve better, Speaker. It’s not about—
Can we restart the clock, please, and give her a fair shake at this? Okay. I return to the member from Mississauga Centre for her remarks.
Before I begin, I want to first congratulate my colleagues, who, through their tireless work and dedication, have crafted Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, 2021, with the intention of supporting Ontario’s workers and businesses, both now and in the times after this pandemic. To our Premier, to our Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, to the parliamentary assistant to the minister and to everyone else involved in the policy-making process: Your hard work is an example to us all.
Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic brought upon Ontario one of the sternest challenges that we have collectively faced. Our supply chains, our work environments, our ability to buy goods and services: These were all impacted by this ever-changing virus. But in full resilience and determination was Ontario’s workforce, who persevered during these uncertain times. They kept our shelves full, our pantries stocked and our deadlines met.
And just as each and every one of Ontario’s workers supported this province in one of the greatest challenges it has ever faced, our government has a plan to support and protect these workers and their families as we chart a new course in the post-pandemic Ontario. The Minster of Labour, Training and Skills Development said it best when he said, “We’re not responding to the future; we’re charting our path forward.”
This piece of legislation will be unprecedented in the way that it prioritizes our workers and businesses as our industries and our businesses continue to evolve in the world today. It was during the pandemic that trends relating to the changes in work and in working environment accelerated, meaning that types of jobs and the ways that we work are changing at an unprecedented rate. Remote and hybrid work, becoming necessary during the pandemic, may for many of us remain as an alternative to traditional in-person work environments. Greater automation in manufacturing, distribution and retail sectors, expanded to aid in social distancing and avoid interruptions in critical industries, may now be here to stay in a way that we may not have seen before.
The intersection of technology and the service industry was pivotal during this pandemic, with digital platform workers delivering the food we eat, the supplies that we need and driving us to the places where we need to go. I must admit, even in my own household, I don’t actually go to the grocery store anymore. I do all of my ordering online. We thank those platform workers who deliver our food and our essentials when we need them. It remains to be seen which of these trends are permanent and which will change as we continue to transition into a post-pandemic economy.
Peu importe la façon dont ces tendances se poursuivront, et peu importe comment nos industries et nos entreprises changeront à l’avenir, une chose est sûre : ce gouvernement jettera son dévolu sur l’horizon, montrant la voie non seulement au Canada, mais partout dans le monde, en agissant pour protéger nos travailleurs et notre économie.
Avec notre vision, nous le ferons à chaque étape du processus.
Nous veillerons à ce que l’Ontario demeure une destination de choix pour les talents internationaux, tout en offrant à nos entreprises un environnement qui favorise la croissance et l’innovation.
Nous veillerons à ce que la santé et la sécurité des travailleurs et travailleuses de l’Ontario restent protégées maintenant et à l’avenir.
Nous veillerons à ce que les travailleurs et travailleuses de l’Ontario soient traités avec équité et respect en milieu de travail, afin qu’ils puissent réaliser leur plein potentiel dans la profession qu’ils choisissent.
Nous veillerons à ce que les travailleurs et travailleuses de l’Ontario puissent prospérer face à l’avenir du travail, et, ce faisant, nous maintiendrons que l’économie de notre province reste forte et compétitive à l’échelle mondiale.
Je vais donc passer un peu de temps à discuter de ce qui est inclus dans ce projet de loi et de la manière dont ces engagements seront pris en compte dans chacun d’eux. Je veux commencer par la disposition incluse dans la législation concernant le nouveau droit de se déconnecter.
Madame la Présidente, pendant la pandémie, les familles ontariennes ont fait preuve de résilience en s’adaptant aux nouveaux environnements de travail. Nos travailleurs savaient que, malgré les nouveaux défis auxquels ils et elles étaient confrontés pendant la pandémie, les rôles et les responsabilités de leur travail devaient encore être remplis. Nos travailleurs et travailleuses ont relevé ce défi et, grâce à leur courage et à leur détermination, ont veillé à ce que le travail se poursuive. Cette pandémie nous a montré à quel point le travail des travailleurs de l’Ontario est essentiel chaque jour.
Pour de nombreuses familles de l’Ontario, leurs maisons se sont transformées en bureaux. Madame la Présidente, même dans ma maison, j’ai transformé une chambre en mon bureau de travail. Et je suis très fière d’avoir trois drapeaux—le drapeau canadien, le drapeau ontarien et aussi le drapeau franco-ontarien—dans mon bureau à domicile.
Bien que la commodité d’une situation de travail à domicile soit évidente et que les possibilités qu’elle présente pour les travailleurs de l’Ontario en termes de flexibilité soient évidentes, ces lignes floues entre le travail et la maison ont constitué un changement sans précédent dans la nature du travail.
Ce gouvernement veut s’assurer que les travailleurs de l’Ontario peuvent profiter des avantages du travail à distance, tout en veillant à ce que leur temps de travail et leur temps en famille ne se confondent pas.
C’est pourquoi nous exigerons des employeurs de 25 employés ou plus qu’ils aient une politique écrite concernant que les employés se déconnectent de leur travail à la fin de la journée de travail afin d’aider les employés à passer plus de temps avec leur famille. Ce faisant, nous veillerons à ce qu’il soit plus facile pour les Ontariens et les Ontariennes de se détendre et de passer du temps de qualité avec leurs proches. Lorsque la santé mentale des employés est prioritaire, la productivité s’épanouit.
As Ontario’s economy recovers from the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on it, we need a workforce that is innovative, that is committed and that is ready to get to work. By supporting our workers with a clearly defined work-life balance, we will foster economic growth and also ensure that we retain our talent and continue to make our province a global destination for those seeking opportunity, and a good place to do business, to live and to raise a family.
Another important way this legislation will help in this respect is by making it easier for internationally trained immigrants to start careers in their professions. These professions include engineers, lawyers, architects, plumbers, electricians, teachers and many more. The Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development said it best when he said that Ontario is facing a generational labour shortage. As things stand now, there are hundreds of thousands of positions going unfilled, yet, we have some of the best human resources not in the country, but in the entire world. Many newcomers to Ontario have difficulties finding jobs in the professions that they know and love—including in my very own family—because of senseless bureaucracy and red tape. If we are to position Ontario for a strong economic recovery as the pandemic comes to a close, these two issues cannot be allowed to continue.
With this legislation, newcomers will be more able to contribute to our economy in their professions. They have the training, they have the experience, they have the qualifications and, I would add, they have the passion and determination to give back to Canada. It’s time that we unleashed their economic potential by giving them the same opportunities to contribute to our world-class economy.
I know that the minister has had many round tables on this issue and heard from many new arrivals, industry leaders, settlement groups and faith communities to understand what the barriers facing Ontarians are in these situations. Both the minister and the parliamentary assistant have displayed a strong leadership and commitment to this issue, and I know that the changes proposed here in the legislation will improve fair access to regulated professions and trades that are in need of talented workers.
As an MPP in the city of Mississauga, these changes will be sure to offer significant improvements to residents. Mississauga is a multicultural, global city that continues to grow through attracting international talent from around the world. I’m proud to say that we speak over 100 languages in Mississauga, and I’m proud to say that Mississauga is like the whole world in one city, and it truly is true. Even this weekend, I’m attending about 10 events from all different ethnic communities, and I’m so blessed and privileged to have that opportunity.
Excluding these newcomers from the jobs that they are qualified to do and excluding them from industries in need is a fact that will end with the actions of this government. This government remains committed to supporting both workers and businesses with measures like this, and with these changes we are further strengthening the capabilities of Ontario’s economy as we transition out of the pandemic.
Monsieur le Président, depuis que j’ai été élue comme députée de Mississauga-Centre, je me suis engagée à sensibiliser le public à la traite des personnes, qui est une préoccupation croissante non seulement en Ontario, mais partout dans le monde.
La traite des êtres humains représente aujourd’hui l’un des crimes les plus odieux au monde et continue de tourmenter les communautés vulnérables. C’est un crime qui s’attaque à l’insécurité, à la vulnérabilité et aux disparités économiques.
Monsieur le Président, ce gouvernement a continué d’accorder la priorité à la lutte contre la traite des personnes de toutes les manières possibles, et nous serons toujours là pour combattre sans relâche ceux qui cherchent à tirer profit des personnes vulnérables. Point final.
Mais le crime qu’est la traite des êtres humains est en réalité très nuancé, et il est important de se rappeler ce que recouvre ce terme. Quand quelqu’un pense à la traite des humains, il se peut qu’il ne pense pas à quel point cela peut être formel. La traite des êtres humains peut impliquer des entreprises et des organisations. Elle peut être institutionnalisée et elle peut être largement omniprésente d’une manière qui n’est pas considérée à première vue. L’exploitation du travail est une grande partie de ce qui constitue la traite des personnes, et je suis ravie de dire que ce projet de loi visera à lutter contre cela en ce qu’il vise à empêcher que les travailleurs nationaux et étrangers soient exploités.
Des inspections effectuées par des agents du ministère ont montré qu’il existe de nombreuses agences de placement temporaire en Ontario qui paient illégalement des personnes en dessous du salaire minimum et nient d’autres droits fondamentaux en matière d’emploi. Les agences de placement temporaire emploient des personnes pour les affecter à des travaux temporaires pour les clients de l’agence.
Avec cette loi, nous assurerons leur conformité aux lois provinciales en exigeant des entreprises qu’elles détiennent un permis pour exercer leurs activités en Ontario.
Under this proposed legislation, temporary help agencies and recruiters would be vetted before being issued a licence to operate. Applicants would need to provide an irrevocable letter of credit that could be used to repay owed wages to workers.
When the agencies operate in accordance with the Employment Standards Act and all other laws, they are a valuable part of our province’s economy. According to the WSIB, there were about 128,000 full-time employees employed by temporary help agencies in 2019, representing 2.6% of employment in Ontario. But when some firms pay below minimum wage and deny basic employment rights, it is exploitation. Full stop.
Taking advantage of vulnerable workers is something this government will not allow. With this practice, these agencies gain an unfair competitive advantage over law-abiding agencies through using exploitative practices as a way to undercut lawful rates. These practices hurt Ontario workers of all backgrounds and cannot and will not be tolerated.
With this legislation, penalties could be issued against unlicensed agencies and recruiters, as well as the companies who use them, with proactive inspection measures to ensure compliance with applicable requirements.
Last year, our government focused inspections on temporary help agency use in farms, retirement homes, food processing and warehouse facilities. As of October 1, 2021, just over $3.3 million was found owing to employees and approximately half has been recovered. Non-compliance during the 2020-21 campaign was found in areas such as minimum wage, record keeping, misclassification, hours of work, public holiday pay, overtime pay and vacation pay. Even worse is that there have been instances of these agencies trapping workers in this cycle of exploitation.
In February 2019, a raid in Barrie and Wasaga Beach, involving the Canadian Border Services Agency, Barrie Police and Ontario Provincial Police, rescued more than 60 migrant workers from a labour trafficking ring. Third-party recruiters were involved and were charging workers illegal fees and exercising control over their movements. This is a textbook instance of human trafficking in our province, and as Ontarians, we have zero tolerance for this taking place in our communities.
This government will continue to be committed to protecting this province’s workers from exploitation, and we will continue to be committed to eradicating human trafficking in Ontario. To continue being a place of economic opportunity and innovation, we will do what is necessary to ensure Ontario’s workers are protected by the Employment Standards Act, and we will punish agencies who think that these laws do not apply to them.
Speaker, there is, of course, much more to be said on this legislation, as it includes many other provisions set forth to protect the workers of Ontario, to work for the workers of Ontario. I know that my colleagues will speak to these provisions well and show to this House and to the people of Ontario the strength of this legislation in putting our workers first.
I want to end on reiterating how crucial this legislation is in the face of the changing nature of work in the 21st century. While the nature of what a job looks like might have changed for some, our commitment to your health and safety on the job has not.
As we gear towards a post-pandemic recovery, unleashing the potential of Ontario workers will be critical for long-term economic success. With this legislation, we are building on our commitment to our workers and ensuring the best possible workplace experience that we have had since the beginning of our mandate in 2018.
Our government knows the value of a strong economy and the good-paying jobs that support it. Our government knows the value of Ontario’s businesses who provide Ontarians with these well-paying jobs. And our government knows that when workers feel safe and protected and appreciated, they are in the best possible position to put in a good day’s work and contribute the most that they can to their company and to our province.
La loi sur le travail pour les travailleurs est fondée sur ces reconnaissances, et ce sera la nouvelle norme pour le reste du Canada alors que d’autres juridictions réagiront aux changements sans précédent du marché du travail et de l’économie. Je sais ce que cette loi signifiera pour mes concitoyens, et je sais que la ville que nous appelons tous « chez nous » bénéficiera directement des dispositions du projet de loi 27.
Je suis heureuse d’appuyer ce projet de loi et je suis heureuse de faire partie d’un gouvernement qui continue d’être un chef de file à l’échelle mondiale dans la gestion de la pandémie et des changements qu’elle a apportés à nos vies. Les Ontariens et les Ontariennes, ensemble, sortiront des épreuves de la pandémie et montreront au reste du monde à quoi ressemble une forte reprise économique. Ensemble, nous établirons une norme pour les opportunités d’emploi et dans les affaires que le reste du monde remarquera.
C’est par nos efforts collectifs, en incarnant l’esprit de l’Ontario, que nous avons traversé la tempête qu’est la COVID-19, et ce seront ces mêmes choses qui nous mèneront vers l’avenir de l’Ontario.
Speaker, my question is, would the member listen to Willy and many others and actually do the right thing and give the surplus to employees instead?
Yes, I did listen intently, as I was chairing the clause-by-clause consideration and the public hearings of this bill.
Through you, Speaker: To get through this pandemic, we understand that workers need our support. That is why we introduced Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, which will give workers a hand up to get better jobs and bigger paycheques. This includes those who have been injured on the job.
We continue to work with the WSIB to help workers and their families because we firmly believe that every worker deserves the dignity of a good job. For example, we’re expanding our Second Career program to help more people with disabilities find work. This includes supporting them with up to $28,000 for tuition, plus supports for living expenses, child care and other costs.
Speaker, I’m proud to be part of a government that’s working for workers.
We recognize that there are many, many professions that need help in recognizing foreign credentials.
I’m so proud that this particular legislation does impact the teaching profession, which would have made a huge difference for my family had it happened 22 years ago.
During the pandemic, one of the places I continuously begged this House to help was Cosmetica. Many immigrant workers—many women, actually—who are trained professionals from other places end up working, through agencies, in this place, a cosmetic factory. They were forced to work, and then they were fired. I begged the House for help. Many of these workers did not even get proper compensation—not to mention the fact that this government has voted against many of the other things that we requested, including paid sick days, most recently.
My question is, would the member support legislation like paid sick days? And where was the government when we were begging them to support Cosmetica workers, for example?
I am proud of this legislation because it will address some of the concerns brought forward by this member. We are working for workers, once again.
I did want to address that the member stated that this legislation would help people like her mother pursue employment in Ontario according to her training and skills and it would have made a huge difference for that member’s family. But is it fair that doctors, dentists, nurses and health care professionals are excluded from this bill?
Est-ce que nos partenaires soutiennent cette législation?
Mais je pense que ce qui est important de dire c’est que notre gouvernement va travailler pour les travailleurs et travailleuses de l’Ontario. Et ce projet de loi, le projet de loi 27, est une des choses par laquelle nous démontrons comment nous allons améliorer la vie des travailleurs et travailleuses de l’Ontario.
Je suis très fière de tous les changements qui sont proposés dans cette législation, et j’espère que l’opposition va faire la chose correcte et va soutenir et voter oui pour cette législation.
Report continues in volume B.
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