Bill 38 simplifies the Retail Business Holidays Act. We've eliminated uncertainties by making it abundantly clear that all retailers, without exception, have the right to choose whether or not they wish to open or not open for business on Sundays.
Retail lessees and franchisees are ensured that the protection against having to open on Sundays currently afforded them under the act will be extended to Sundays, even though Sunday will no longer be a holiday under the act. In turn, retail workers are guaranteed the nine holidays specified under the Retail Business Holidays Act, and they are protected under the Employment Standards Act from being forced to work on Sundays.
By making Sunday retail business openings possible across the board, we've provided the most equitable treatment for all retail businesses. This legislation creates a level playing field while ensuring retail workers' rights.
We've also made explicit the nine holidays on which most retail businesses must be closed. These are January 1, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and December 26. On those days, no members of the public may be admitted to a retail business, nor may goods and services be sold or offered for sale by retailers.
The Retail Business Holidays Act sets out certain limited exemptions to this requirement. In addition, the government is also ensuring that the amendments preserve the right of municipalities to pass tourism bylaws permitting retail activity on those holidays during which most retailers would otherwise be required to close.
We believe that while it is important that these days be preserved as pause days, the legitimate interests of tourism must be addressed, and municipalities following provincial criteria are in the best position to do this.
During the last 10 months, we have had the opportunity to test public and business response. The results have been mostly positive. Once Bill 38 becomes law, it will be retroactive to its date of introduction, that is, June 3, 1992.
The principles behind Bill 38 are already at work. The bill meets the needs of consumers, the needs of business and, together with the Employment Standards Act, meets the needs of retail workers. It is working because Ontarians have wanted to simplify the law to eliminate uncertainties.
Ever since the Retail Business Holidays Act was proclaimed in January 1976, previous governments have proposed, debated and passed numerous amendments to the act. Cabinet committees agonized during each set of public hearings, and the Legislature debated the interests of the public and business. In each case, each successive change fell short of the equitable legislation that was needed.
To address the issue of retail businesses that was not dealt with in the Lord's Day Act (Canada), 1906 or the Lord's Day (Ontario) Act, 1943, the Retail Business Holidays Act, 1976, established a province-wide regime. The act required most stores to close on Sundays and other enumerated holidays unless specifically exempt from the closing provisions of the legislation and unless a municipal bylaw, essential for the maintenance or development of a tourist industry, had been passed permitting stores to open.
In February 1987, after several court challenges to the Retail Business Holidays Act, an all-party select committee on retail stores hours was formed and held 23 days of public hearings. In June 1987, the Ontario Legislature unanimously amended the Retail Business Holidays Act to allow the opening of book stores and art galleries, with restrictions on their size and number of employees.
In February 1989, the legislation was extensively amended to give municipalities broad powers to regulate retail shopping on holidays. Municipalities could pass bylaws either exempting stores from closing provisions of the legislation or requiring stores to close in circumstances where the legislation would have permitted them to open. To encourage public consultation, the legislation prescribed a scheme of notice to the public and the holding of a public meeting prior to the passage of any such bylaw.
A provision was included in the amended legislation permitting retailers who practise their religion on a day other than Sunday to close their stores on that day and to open on Sunday. This replaced the provision in the original legislation which permitted retailers to close their stores on Saturday and to open on Sunday, subject to certain limitations as to store size and the number of employees working on Sunday. Drugstores were limited to size, and the custom of roping off floor areas in stores on Sunday in order to comply with statutory requirements was prohibited.
The amendments also provided for increased maximum fines and prompted an amendment to the Employment Standards Act which permitted retail workers to refuse unreasonable Sunday work and which imposed an arbitral process upon employers and employees who could not agree on the matter.
In June 1991, Bill 115, the Retail Business Establishments Statute Law Amendment Act, was brought forward for first reading and in December of that year it was proclaimed. It allows Sunday retailing in December before Christmas, protects the rights of retail workers and creates the tourism exemption.
The discretion of municipalities to regulate in the area of retail holiday closing was replaced with an authority still vested in the municipality to exempt retail businesses from the Sunday and holiday closing requirements for the purpose of maintaining or developing tourism. Municipalities may pass such bylaws only where tourism criteria, established in regulations made under the legislation, are met. Such bylaws may be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. The amendments also set out minimum fines for contraventions of the legislation.
The Employment Standards Act was amended at the same time to provide most retail workers with an absolute right to refuse Sunday or holiday work and by providing most retail workers with 36 consecutive hours of rest in every seven-day period.
Experience and a recent change in public attitudes have combined to persuade the government that many people want the opportunity to shop on Sunday and are increasingly impatient of rules and regulations that prevent them from doing so.
It's been a slow and arduous journey. Ontarians wanted a clear direction, and this government has crafted the most equitable resolution to the issue. In June of last year, Bill 38, An Act to amend the Retail Business Holidays Act in respect of Sunday Shopping, was moved first reading in the Legislature. Today, we move second reading. The final step will be a free vote in this Legislature to determine final passage of Bill 38.
I want to remind the members of a number of factors that played a significant part in the development and introduction of Bill 38.
First, it is clear that people in Ontario want the right to shop on Sundays. The government has carefully monitored public sentiment in this regard, and it is obvious that public opinion is in favour of Sunday retailing over the past months. This bill reflects the wishes of a clear majority of the residents of Ontario.
Second, this decision is assisting in Ontario's economic renewal. The government recognizes that, by itself, Sunday shopping is not a solution to economic problems. However, such retailing will go some way to countering the onerous effect of the goods and services tax and federal policies affecting the value of the Canadian dollar. The government's decision has been of particular assistance in addressing the economic impact on Ontario's border communities of cross-border shopping.
Third, there are substantial protections in the Employment Standards Act for retail workers who choose not to work on Sundays. That legislation guarantees most retail workers the absolute right to refuse Sunday work. The law also guarantees that most retail workers will receive 36 consecutive hours of rest in every seven-day period. The Ministry of Labour has programs in effect to enforce these provisions.
This government has always maintained its commitment to protect the rights of retail employees who work on Sunday. Two years ago, we improved the Employment Standards Act to give retail workers the absolute right to refuse work on Sundays and holidays and to 36 hours weekly rest.
We also established a committee to advise on the impact of Sunday shopping, which reported back to my colleague, the Honourable Bob Mackenzie, Minister of Labour, in February of this year. This committee, made up of representatives from large employers in the retail sector, unions, municipalities and small business, worked diligently to create a document containing a number of recommendations.
In order to further protect the rights of these employees, the Ministry of Labour is looking at steps to ensure that the existing Employment Standards Act provisions are respected by retailers.
The government will also ensure that employers found in violation of these provisions are required to post a notice in the workplace advising all employees that the act has been violated. This measure is consistent with provisions in other labour statutes. In addition, there will be posting of the rights of workers in the language of the workplace.
Finally, the government will initiate a committee whose purpose will be to further explore the impact of Sunday shopping, to forward suggestions on common closings on statutory holidays, to continue to monitor the Employment Standards Act and make further recommendations as necessary.
At all times, and in especially these times of economic renewal, we have to govern with the public interest in mind and our policies must be responsive to changing attitudes. We have carefully monitored public and business reaction to Bill 38. We are confident that this amendment to the Retail Business Holidays Act does respond effectively to changing public attitudes and meets the needs of consumers and the needs of business in our province.
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