Ontario workers deserve to exercise their democratic rights without fear of reprisal
Good morning. My name is Tim Maguire and I am the President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79. On behalf of the Executive and members of CUPE Local 79, I wish to thank the Committee for this opportunity to express our views on the Private Member’s Bill 77, entitled Labour Relations Amendment Act (Fairness for Employees), 2012
Let me take a few moments to tell you who we are. CUPE Local 79 is the largest municipal local union in Canada. We represent approximately 20,000 full and part-time employees of the City of Toronto, Bridgepoint Hospital and Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Some of the areas we work in are Public Health, in the Homes for the Aged, in Employment and Social Services, in Parks and Recreation, in Housing and in Court Services.
We are child care workers, ambulance dispatchers, city planners, hospital workers, building inspectors, shelter and hostel staff, public health nurses, water and sewage treatment employees and the cleaners who work in numerous locations across Toronto including Police stations.
In the course of their work day, through the programmes and services that they provide, CUPE Local 79 members come in contact with the entire spectrum of diversity that is Toronto.
CUPE Local 79 is here to wholeheartedly support this bill, Bill 77. Every Ontario worker deserves to be able to exercise their democratic rights without fear of reprisal. Canadians have a proud tradition of placing a high value on their individual rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of written expression. Ontario’s workers deserve nothing less. Unfortunately, current labour laws allow employers to bully, intimidate, and fire employees with impunity, merely for attempting to organize. Bill 77, The Fairness for Employees Act, enhances the Ontario’s Labour Relations Act with a few modest, uncontroversial reforms that can easily be implemented, with support from all parties, all parts of the labour movement, and hopefully, employers.
In 1995, the Mike Harris government enacted legislation called the Labour Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendment Act. At the time, the Act was dubbed by many critics “an act to gut the rights of Ontario workers.” That piece of legislation essentially eliminated 50 years of progressive labour law tradition in Ontario!
CUPE Local 79 believes that Bill 77 will begin the necessary return to an era when more progress was being made, including under former Premiers John Robarts, Bill Davis and David Peterson. All of the workers in this Province need to have the fundamental, democratic right to organize. If workers want to exercise that right, an employer should not be able to threaten them with job loss. That’s just wrong and flies in the face of the democratic rights that so many workers over the past century have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to achieve. Vulnerable workers need to have the tools to protect themselves. The current legislation is often failing the most vulnerable of workers in Ontario, many of whom are women, first-generation immigrants, and part-time workers. Bill 77 will give them those much-needed tools, and will help to make the workplace better for all workers in Ontario.
CUPE Local 79 views the following as just some examples of the extremely positive and welcome amendments that this legislation will bring to current legislation:
- Bill 77 will provide more protection under successor rights when a business is sold, for some of our most vulnerable workers, for example cleaners and food service employees. The issue of cleaners earning a living wage, which our members do, is very near and dear to our hearts. Unfortunately, cleaners working for many of the contractors in the cleaning sector earn only poverty wages. Many of these contractors are non-union and often ignore employment standards, WSIB rules, and misclassify employees to avoid mandatory payroll deductions.
- In terms of the interest arbitration procedure for a first contract, Bill 77 amends the current act to provide an additional route to binding arbitration. This will be helpful to parties who have applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to direct the settlement of a first collective agreement by arbitration.
- All too often, workers get fired during organizing campaigns. Bill 77 would help protect employees from employer reprisals.
This legislation is all about trying to protect a decent standard of living and not letting the baseline fall to the level of the lowest common denominator.
CUPE Local 79 strongly urges this Committee to support the very practical, doable, modest set of legislative reforms proposed in Bill 77. These measures are not too much to ask for!
In conclusion, I would just like to say that all the elected members of this Legislature have an obligation to ensure that Ontarians live in an equitable society where everyone has opportunities to enable them to reach their full potential and prosper. By making a small step in the right direction to achieve greater fairness for employees, you will help the move in the right direction not only for Ontario’s workers, but for communities across this Province. CUPE Local 79 is asking that you do everything you can to make sure that your colleagues in the Legislature support Bill 77 at third reading and pass it into law!
Thank you again for this opportunity and please feel free to ask questions on any of the points that I have raised today.