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Ontario Hansard - 25-November2021

Ms. Peggy Sattler: It is a pleasure for me to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill 27 as the Ontario NDP labour critic. This was an interesting bill, Speaker, I have to say, but I do want to start by recognizing my colleagues the MPP for Niagara, who is the very passionate critic for worker health and safety, and the MPP for Scarborough Southwest, who is the NDP critic for foreign credential recognition, who sat with me, government members and an independent member on the social policy committee that considered this bill.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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