Will Working for Workers Four work?

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

I was back at the Pink Palace last week as a member of the Social Policy Committee. The bill under scrutiny was Bill 149 – the Working for Workers Four Act. The bill introduces several changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA) and other employment-related legislation. 

As evident in the title, this is the fourth piece of legislation to protect Ontario workers and support injured workers. Given the content of the bill and the testimony we heard over two days of hearings, I could write several newspaper columns, but I will do my best to unpack it right here.

Regarding labour issues, there’s almost always an employee versus employer sentiment and that came through in some testimony. Some believed that a bill intended to protect Ontario workers should only encapsulate policy aimed at employees. I don’t see it this way.

I shared with those on the Committee that we, as policymakers, should strive to create policies that encourage and support a symbiotic relationship between the two. It is in the best interest of employers to keep their employees healthy and safe – it saves time and money, and it’s the right thing to do. 

However, four presenters expressed frustration surrounding gig work, specifically those who deliver for platform companies like Uber and Lyft. In short, these workers earn between $6.37 and $10.60 per hour after expenses, while $33.35 is the average revenue generated per hour. While platform companies continue to generate increased growth, many of their workers would like their fair share of that success. It’s up to policymakers to keep these international corporations in check – Bill 149 does not do this.

In my 23 years working for former MPP Toby Barrett, I heard from many families of injured workers. No doubt everyone wants fair treatment of injured workers; however, Bill 149 would amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act 1997, enabling the government to create an additional indexing factor on top of Workplace Safety Insurance Benefits. An injured worker’s benefits are currently based on the Consumer Price Index and keep pace with inflation.

I had the opportunity to question Ontario Labour Minister David Piccini at the outset of hearings. I asked him to provide data and evidence that super indexing was needed. The Minister could not demonstrate the need, and many presenters who appeared before the Committee agreed that super indexing was not only unnecessary and inappropriate but could create serious financial risk.

When the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Group disagrees with the approach you know something is awry. When have we ever known any government to treat people better than better? And, you’ve heard me say before the devil is in the details – well, this is a prime example as the percentage of super indexing is not laid out in the legislation and will be determined through regulation. 

At the end of the day, I remained suspicious, and therefore brought forward notices that would have seen additional indexing removed from the bill. My notices and rationale were supported by all opposition members, but the PCs failed to back down.

What all members of the Committee could agree upon is we want as many people as possible working, being treated fairly and kept safe. Bill 149 will accomplish some, not all, of this, but as technology advances in the workplace, legislation will require adjustments to move with evolving realities and demands.

MPP Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk