Unions representing higher paid workers will probably seek raises

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An umbrella group for Ontario municipalities is fretting about proposals to overhaul the province’s labour laws, including hiking its minimum hourly wage to $15.

Provincial hearings into the Liberal government’s proposals wound down Friday in Toronto. Many communities, including London, are still weighing how the reforms would affect them.

The government’s bid to boost the minimum to $15 an hour starting in 2019, up from $11.40 now, is part of a series of changes known as Bill 148. The legislation would also require, among other things, equal pay for part-time workers and expand personal emergency leave for workers in the province.

The municipal sector is heavily unionized and most employees wouldn’t be affected directly by the increase in the minimum wage.

“It will be an issue — how big of an issue, at this point we haven’t worked on it yet,” said Graham Dart, human resources director for the City of St. Thomas. “There will be an impact on the budget.”

The increase would mostly affect seasonal workers. Dart said many of the city’s temporary summer employees are paid slightly above the minimum, but less than the proposed $15 hourly rate.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) said unionized workers are likely to want increases if the minimum wage is sharply raised.

“It will come up primarily when collective agreements are opened and everybody is going to want to go up,” said Monika Turner, AMO’s director of policy.

In London, city treasurer Anna Lisa Barbon said the city is still running its numbers on the proposals. While modest minimum wage increases were factored into London’s three-year spending roadmap, what the province proposes is “well in excess of those included,” she wrote by email.

“We may need to bring forward a business case as part of the city’s 2018 annual budget update process later this fall,” she said.

AMO’s Turner said a comprehensive analysis of the proposals is needed before any changes are made. “This really presents us with real public concerns. We’re government, we have to provide these services. We also have to be able to afford them,” she said.

The Ontario Municipal Human Resources Association, a human resources personnel group, is just as critical of Bill 148.

“These amendments fail to address how our workplaces are changing, with the increasing trend towards mobile workers and flexible work arrangements,” said Louise Ann Riddell, the group’s executive director. “We believe that a more measured approach would support positive changes.”

Labour groups say the reforms are a step in the right direction, but that more needs to be done.

The Ontario Federation of Labour argued the province’s labour laws should extend to dependent contractors and that provisions meant to ensure workers doing similar work are paid the same should be strengthened.

“The dramatic restructuring of workplaces has shifted the distribution of risks, costs, benefits, and power between employers and employees, leaving many in precarious situations,” it said. 

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