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Employment Standards, Human Rights and the LCBO

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Some time ago the Globe and Mail ran a series of articles about the alarming growth of poorly paid, part-time employment.   This was done after an Economic Council of Canada report on the erosion of good jobs – those with regular full time work schedules and decent pay.

Sound familiar?  The authors’ main source could have been the Ontario Liquor Board’s current bargaining posture towards OPSEU.   Truth is, the report by the now-defunct Economic Council was published almost 20 years ago and the Globe printed its series followed up a few years later in 1993.  The Canadian labour movement has been fighting off the loss of full time good jobs for generations.

From the time OPSEU grew out of the Civil Service Association of Ontario in the 1970’s, there’s been a persistent and dramatic increase in part-time employment and the casualization of work.  It’s been a disturbing trend that’s hit both the private and pubic sectors.

We know the major reasons – the growth and power of transnational employers, work getting restructured and shifted overseas to lower wage countries and the growth of labour-displacing technologies.  Then there’s the never-ending drive by employers for more flexible, leaner production.  Provincial and federal governments have persistently sought to freeze or control our wages or privatize public programs when we resisted being “flexible”.

 Here in Ontario, OPSEU has been on the leading edge of the fight to preserve decent full time work.  How else can we retain some long term stability in our work and quality of life for our families? 

We’ve faced both wealthy and debt-ridden governments of all political stripes intent on undermining our job security.  Still, it’s a real shock to witness the bargaining expectations of a rich, profitable crown corporation like the LCBO.  It pours millions and millions of dollars a week into the McGuinty government coffers.  Yet the LCBO exploits the majority of its lower paid, reserve workforce – thousands of casual employees all subjected to multi-tiered wages and a host of related inequities.

When it comes to resisting equal pay for equal work, I can’t think of a worse public sector employer.

For all these reasons, I was very encouraged this past week when NDP Employment Standards Critic Cheri DiNovo unveiled a sweeping private members bill designed to bring our Employment Standards Act into the twenty-first century.

A central plank in this legislative proposal is a provision for equal pay for equal work.  If enacted, employers would no longer have a legal basis for imposing the gross inequity of multi-tiered wage rates for the same work. 

This kind of enlightened employment law is now coming into force across Europe. It’s a basic human right and the first class workforce at LCBO stores deserves nothing less.  There is no justification for the persistence of different wage rates for the same job based solely on a worker’s status as a part-timer, a contract worker, a seasonal, or a temporary employee.

The equal pay provision in the bill will finally bring Ontario law into conformity with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It will also increase the power and scope of work for OPSEU members at the Ministry of Labour who enforce employment standards.

This initiative deserves all-party support when it comes up for debate at Queens Park.  When there’s an opportunity like this to move forward on human rights, there’s no room for political parties to let useless partisanship get in the way.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President

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