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Despite coming changes to labour laws that will make it cheaper to hire temporary workers, some staffing agencies say they don’t support the Ontario government’s plan and would prefer to stick with the previous rules.

Bill 47, the Conservative government’s Making Ontario Open for Business Act, became law on Wednesday. It allows employers to pay temps less than permanent employees for the same work, and removes provisions that made it easier for such workers to unionize. The changes are among a swath of rollbacks to the previous government’s Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. That legislation, passed in 2017, was to increase the minimum wage to $15 and gave workers two paid sick days – both measures that have now been shelved.

After spending about eight months adapting to Bill 148, Tracy Clendinning of Liberty Staffing Services says it’s frustrating to have to go through the whole process all over again. As the southern Ontario company’s director of operations, she spent significant time and money making changes to all the business’s documentation, as well as educating staff, clients and workers on the new rights.

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“It was overwhelming for us at first, but it was the greatest thing that happened for the work force,” she told The Globe and Mail. “We were 100 per cent behind it. Why should they not be paid equal pay for equal work? They are not second-class citizens.”

Ms. Clendinning says many of Liberty’s clients think it’s unfair to revert to a lower wage and will continue paying temp workers the same wage as permanent staff. She feels Bill 47 is not helping business thrive in Ontario as advertised. “It’s costing companies more money and it’s going to hurt a lot of industries … It’s like a divorce. The only people making money are lawyers.”

Ministry of Labour press secretary Christine Bujold says the government is committed to fairness and human rights. She says the changes are necessary to “give our job creators the ability to hire workers, invest back into their business and attract new businesses to come to Ontario … It’s disrespectful and insulting to senior, long-term employees for government to force employers to pay the same rate to a new part-time or temporary employee with no experience whatsoever.”

Wayne Lewchuk, a professor of economics and labour studies at McMaster University, is not surprised that some employment agencies welcomed higher wages for temps. Many agencies – including Liberty – charge clients a percentage on top of workers’ pay, which means they stand to make more money if workers are paid more.

“They probably would have fewer workers who get contracted out, but would be making more money on the ones who did.”

Teledent Dental Services, a southern Ontario agency that matches dental-office staff with employers, charges clients a flat fee – but also has frustrations with the incoming legislation.

“This is a big win for employers,” said partner Cameron Kroetsch, who was formerly the president of an academic labour union at the University of Guelph, and ran unsuccessfully for Hamilton city council this year. “I don’t actually think it’s going to make their day-to-day life any easier or better, but it’s going to mean temporary and contract workers have it harder.”

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Bill 47 will also affect the methods temporary workers can use to unionize, explained Toronto employment and compensation lawyer Jordan Kirkness. A major change that came with Bill 148 was permitting “card-based” union certification for temporary workers – essentially allowing for a group of temps to become unionized after more than 55 per cent of them had signed cards, without requiring a vote. Workers in building services, home care and community services were also made eligible for this style of organization, and will now lose that right.

The provision was meant to make it easier to unionize a rapidly changing work force, where conducting a vote can be challenging, said Mr. Kirkness, an associate at Baker McKenzie. Compared with the more common style of unionization drive, which requires notice to the employer and a campaign period, card-based organizing tends to “blindside” the employer, he said.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada’s National Capital Region office says it ran a card-based unionization drive on behalf of about 160 Modis Canada temps doing technical support at Shared Services Canada. It applied for certification in February.

Modis contested several aspects of the application to the Labour Board. The drive eventually dissolved when the contract came up for tender and the government chose a different company, said PSAC regional executive vice-president Greg McGillis.

In an e-mail, Ms. Bujold said the government believes that moving away from card-based certification, and making it more difficult for unions to access employee lists, will protect workers’ personal information.

“Our reforms give back to those workers their right to a democratic, secret ballot.”

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Plamen Petkov, Ontario vice-president for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says that getting rid of card-based union certification in several sectors “brings back fairness in labour relations,” because a vote will be required. “This way, all employees (including temporary workers) can decide whether they want to join a union without any fear of intimidation or reprisal.”

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