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Low-Wage and Precarious Work

Low-wage and precarious work continues to erode employment standards and quality of life for workers across the country. From growing part-time work and minimum-wage jobs, erratic work schedules, little to no access to benefits and basic provisions like paid sick days, and insecure temporary and contract work, we have seen employers continue to cut labour costs under the guise of “flexibility” and “efficiency”. For workers, however, the impact of job insecurity and uncertainty are felt not only in the workplace, but in households and communities as well.

While often associated with the retail and hospitality sector, we are increasingly seeing precarious work  infiltrate other sectors of the economy, including student transportation, health care, social services, manufacturing, and telecommunications.

We also know these negative impacts are disproportionately felt by Indigenous workers, women, people with disabilities, people of colour, immigrants, LGBTQ workers, and young workers.

Joining the movement for decent wages and working conditions

In cities across North America, we have witnessed a wave of worker-led movements calling for a $15 minimum wage and better employment standards, in recognition that workers who work full-time should not be living in poverty. These movements have been incredibly successful at not only pressuring governments to implement a higher minimum wage, but openly challenging claims that improving conditions for workers is bad for the economy.

Over the last few years, Unifor has joined labour, community, and grassroots advocacy groups across the country to pressure the federal and provincial governments to respond to the threats posed by precarious work by modernizing labour laws and taking meaningful legislative actions to protect vulnerable workers.

As a result of our collective actions, we are seeing significant improvements. In Alberta, the province went from having the lowest minimum wage in the country to the highest, at $15 an hour, while making improvements to overtime pay and increased access to job-protected leaves. In British Columbia, the provincial government also raised its minimum wage with a plan to reach $15 by 2021, while also updating employment standards to protect young workers, worker gratuities, and investments towards workplace investigations and employment standards enforcement. Calls for $15 and fairness are also being echoed in provinces such as Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

In Ontario, however, a business-friendly government and the corporate lobby have worked hard to  maintain the status quo. The 2018 election win by the Progressive Conservatives led by Doug Ford saw nearly all provisions in Bill 148 (The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act) which made several positive changes to lift  standards for low-wage and precarious workers – including increasing the minimum wage to $15 – repealed.

Unifor Ontario Regional Council immediately responded by implementing a bold bargaining program entitled  The Decent Work Bargaining Program, which required all future rounds of Ontario collective bargaining negotiations to include language on standards and protections that were removed by the Ford government. This includes a start rate of $15 an hour, equal pay for equal work, paid emergency leave, fair scheduling  practices, and more. In just a few months, nearly half of all Ontario bargaining to date has successfully negotiated a $15 start rate, while a third have negotiated equal pay for equal work provisions based on employment status.

Low-wage and precarious work continues to erode employment standards and quality of life for workers across the country. 

Our bargaining priorities

Negotiating legislative gains within our collective bargaining agreements helps raise awareness of these  standards among our members and protect them when they come under political threat. Our bargaining priorities will look to continue raising standards for low-wage and precarious workers across the country.

As such, Unifor will:

Negotiate a start rate of $15 an hour. Wage ‘escalator’ provisions will also be negotiated so that any increases to provincial minimum wage rates would also result in corresponding proportional wage increases for low-wage members.

Protect against job loss through sub-contracting and contract-flipping by negotiating successorship rights language in agreements, ensuring that both members’ jobs and previously bargained gains are protected when a new service provider is selected.

Negotiate equal pay provisions so that workers, regardless of employment status (such as part-time, temporary or contract) and who are engaged in similar work (with the same skills, responsibilities, and working under similar conditions), are not paid differential wage rates.

Negotiate a minimum of two paid emergency leave days which can be used by workers in each calendar year in case of personal illness, or that of a child or family member. These leaves should not require a doctor’s note.

Promote full-time, permanent work in our workplaces by negotiating language that would re-classify  members who regularly put in more than part-time hours as full-time workers with full access to benefits.

Work to make sure that temporary, contract, and on-call workers are included within the scope of our collective agreements and push for their transition to permanent employment status.

Negotiate language that would ensure fair scheduling practices so that workers can balance work needs with family obligations. This would include allowing workers to request a change in work hours or location (where applicable and corresponding to existing seniority rights). In addition, members would have the right to refuse a non-scheduled work shift if given less than 96 hours’ notice.

Negotiate that all on-call workers receive at least three hours of regular pay whether or not they are called into work or called into work for fewer than three hours. Employers must also provide workers with at least 48 hours’ notice of a shift cancellation or on-call shift opportunity.

Negotiate schedules with guaranteed hours of work so that members have security in knowing what their work incomes and weekly hours will be on a regular basis.

Continue encouraging cross-training in workplaces so that workers can increase skills and potential hours of work by performing a greater number of work functions. This provision would not be used to undermine negotiated job classifications or the creation of full-time work.

For workers receiving gratuities, provisions should continue to be negotiated to ensure a fair processes of distribution among workers and ensure tipped workers do not receive lesser benefits due to a lower hourly wage rate.

Success stories

Loblaws Distribution Centre (Local 222): Members successfully bargained elements of Ontario’s Decent Work Bargaining Program. The new agreement includes equal pay for equal work for part-time and clerical workers, 96 hour notice for shift changes and cancellations, an improved disciplinary process, better job ownership, signing bonuses, and the establishment of a joint Diversity Inclusion Committee to proactively address racism and discrimination in the workplace.

Rexall Pharmacy (Local 414): Members successfully ratified a new collective agreement which saw the inclusion of wage escalator provisions for all job classifications with an additional two per cent ‘top-up’  increase, equal pay for equal work, protection against contracting-out and tech change, significant changes to scheduling practices where hours for part-time workers would be based on seniority with the most senior members getting up to 28 hours, and the creation of 25 full-time jobs.

Parq Casino (Local 3000): Members successfully fought back attempts by the company to contract out dozens of food and beverage service jobs to a non-union service-provider. The new agreement also saw significant wage increases for some of the lowest-paid gaming workers, access to sick days, and language to protect workers against abusive patrons.

London Automotive & Manufacturing (Local 27): Members working in the auto parts sector sector negotiated language restricting the use of “auxiliary employees” and required they be covered by terms of the agreement.

Postmedia (Local 87-M). During the recent round of bargaining at the London Free Press, the union secured key contract provisions mirrored in Ontario’s Bill 148, including a $15 per hour starting wage for 70 full- and part-time workers who insert flyers, along with two paid emergency days for new hires, despite the Ford  Government’s decision to repeal these and other provisions.

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