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Kwiecinski: Buyer Beware of Bill 148

By Julie Kwiecinski

Published in the Toronto Sun on October 13, 2018

Lately, there’s been much ado about “Bill 148”, legislation passed by the previous Ontario government to increase the minimum wage to $15 and make a myriad of major changes to the province’s labour relations and employment standards laws.

From the minute the bill was introduced last year, the conversation was immediately dragged into the mud and over-simplified to the big, bad employer versus the good employee. This polarizing debate pitted employees against employers, distracting everyone from the serious faults in the bill as the previous government rushed to ram it through before the election.

Premier Ford’s comment during a recent Question Period (“We’re getting rid of Bill 148”) prompted the expected outcry from the usual suspects, once again demonizing small business owners. In reality, the profile of the small business owner couldn’t be further from this errant description.

Small business owners value their employees and in many cases, treat them like family. In a recent CFIB survey on the state of the Canadian workforce, two-thirds of Ontario’s employers identified their employees as the most important element of their success, the highest response of any available option.

Entrepreneurs have been walking the talk: Our survey last year revealed that an overwhelming 86.4% of Ontario’s small business employees were earning above the minimum wage.

In another CFIB survey, 84% of Ontario’s small business owners said they already offer their employees flexibility in the workplace to deal with personal issues.

So if businesses already offer what’s in Bill 148, then what’s the fuss?

First of all, legislating something that’s already happening in the workplace only leads to less flexibility. The small business working environment – where the boss often works side by side with employees – becomes a rigid place.

Under Bill 148 specifically, business owners have become stuck in red tape. Left unchecked, this red tape will multiply exponentially after January 1 when the paper burden is extended to recording every movement of scheduled and on-call employees. All of this under the constant threat of potential administrative fines, and in many cases, without the luxury of an HR Department. Where in this regulatory nightmare is a small business owner supposed to find time to focus on the business – on keeping and creating jobs?

Secondly, some of the other Bill 148 obligations also come with a hefty price tag to employers, on top of the recent 21% increase in the minimum wage. For example, a small business owner in the agricultural sector told us that the bill’s scheduling/on-call measures alone would cost them $65,000 per year. This is money that could be spent on a full-time position, or new equipment.

Another business owner in the IT sector told us their on-call costs would balloon by $150,000 every year, the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

And let’s not forget Bill 148’s unfair union rule changes.

For example, if at least 20% of a workforce in any sector decides to unionize, the employer will be forced by the Ontario Labour Relations Board to hand over the personal contact information of all employees to union organizers. This is undemocratic, and so is taking away the mandatory secret ballot vote from the unionization process for three sectors (building services, home care/community services, and temporary help agencies).

There are bad apples in all baskets of life. But any government that is truly serious about fixing employer-employee issues in the workplace should use a legislative scalpel, not a sledgehammer.

Many businesses of all sizes – regardless of how well they treat their employees – have been wrongfully tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, and trapped by the onerous regulatory requirements of Bill 148. They must be freed to do what they do best: Create jobs.

October 13, 2018

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