Little help for workers laid out in Ontario budget

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Decent work is the “expectation, and not the exception,” Ontario’s new budget document says, but specific monetary commitments to that end remain vague in this year’s plan.

Instead, government — and workers — await the final recommendations of the so-called Changing Workplaces Review, which is examining labour and employment law reform and is expected in the coming weeks.

More on the 2017 Ontario budget

The review will address fundamental issues related to precarious work, the budget said, including:

The budget also identified robust enforcement as a key element of the review.

“Strong, effective enforcement is essential to ensure that employers who do not respect protections for workers are held accountable,” the budget document said.

Workers’ rights advocates have long called for more resources to be dedicated to that effort, and investigations by the Star have revealed how the Ministry of Labour often fails to recover funds for victims of wage theft and other workplace abuses.

Minister of Finance Charles Sousa said his government had taken a “principled approach to protecting workers.”

More than three-quarters of jobs created in Ontario since the recession have been in above-average wage industries, the budget said. That is defined as sectors that pay $26.15 an hour or more. But the new jobs do not necessarily pay the above-average wage.

Some 22 per cent of new jobs were created in below-average wage industries such as the food and retail sectors, where critics say workers often face erratic schedules and job insecurity.

The budget pointed to strong growth in full-time positions — 98 per cent of the 691,000 jobs created since the lowest point of the recession, June 2009, were full-time roles.

Looking year over year, 82 per cent of new jobs since 2009 were permanent and 18 per cent were temporary across Ontario.

“Our unemployment rate is below the national average and the lowest it’s been since 2007,” Sousa said. “Our economy is growing and leading.”

According to research by the United Way and McMaster University, 52 per cent of jobs in the GTA now face some form of insecurity — whether it be contract positions, part-time or short-term gigs.

“Ontarians today are hurting. Wages are down, and the cost of living is up,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

“Ontarians waiting for a $15 minimum wage will have to wait for a change in government.”