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Talent Ontario businesses call on Premier Ford to scrap incoming scheduling rules

Small-business owners in Ontario are calling on Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government to scrap a pending employment law change that will limit the ability to cancel or call in workers on short notice.

The scheduling changes are part of the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, or Bill 148, which was passed by the previous Ontario Liberal government, and are set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

As part of the changes, employees will have the right to refuse shifts scheduled less than 96 hours beforehand. Employers will be required to pay workers for a minimum of three hours at their regular rate if they cancel a scheduled shift within 48 hours of the shift’s start time. In addition, if an employee is on-call, but is not called in, the employer will have to pay them for at least three hours at their regular rate. Exceptions to these rules will be allowed in certain emergency situations and where the work is weather-dependent.

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The PC government already promised during the election campaign to change a key piece of Bill 148 that increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019. Instead, Mr. Ford has promised to keep the minimum wage at the current rate of $14.

Groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce are calling on the government to overhaul or repeal Bill 148, including the pending scheduling changes, one of the final amendments yet to take effect.

Julie Kwiecinski, director of provincial affairs for CFIB Ontario, says the scheduling and on-call changes need to be stopped to "avoid the nightmare of their confusing exemptions, significant added costs and excessive red tape on Ontario’s small-business owners.”

The scheduling changes are meant to give employees more predictability to better balance their work and personal lives, but business groups say the changes will hurt companies that rely on on-call workers, particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors where business can quickly fluctuate because of weather, flight cancellations and other unexpected events.

Rik Ocvirk, vice president of The Distillery Restaurants Corporation, poses for a photo at Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2018.

Tijana Martin/Globe and Mail

“Flexibility in scheduling has always been a hallmark of the food and beverage industry,” says Rik Ocvirk, vice-president of Distillery Restaurants Corp., which has five restaurants and a catering company in the Distillery District in downtown Toronto that together employ more than 700 people.

Mr. Ocvirk doesn’t have a big problem with the 96-hour scheduling rules but says the on-call regulations are unrealistic in his industry, where weather or special events can dramatically affect business activity, often on short notice. For instance, if there’s a special event nearby, restaurants may want to call in staff for additional support. Or if it’s raining, servers on call to work on a patio might prefer to stay home rather than go to work and earn little or no tips.

“On-call shifts are there for a reason,” he says. “If staff say, ‘I don’t want to come in,’ and we say ‘okay, we don’t need you anyway,’ why can’t we agree on a relationship we’ve built to make that adjustment?”

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At the very least, Mr. Ocvirk would like an amendment to the bill that enables employers and employees to come up with their own scheduling arrangements.

Tony Elenis, president and chief executive of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, says his members are also concerned about the impact on customers if businesses aren’t able to call in employees to help support an unexpected surge in activity. For instance, a cancelled flight might mean an influx of guests at hotels and restaurants near the airport, which could require additional staff to deliver proper services. It may also mean a number of guests won’t be arriving at the final destination as planned, which means fewer employees are needed.

Mr. Elenis and leaders of other business organizations say the provincial government is promising to review Bill 148, including the pending scheduling changes. While they haven’t made a commitment beyond freezing minimum wage, “for them to recognize these issues is a blessing for both employees and employers,” Mr. Elenis says. “They were very open … to the issues faced by the business community.”

A spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Labour Laurie Scott said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that the minister is considering recent changes made to both the Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Act by the previous government, stating that “businesses should have confidence in reasonable and predictable regulations. And everyone who works should have the confidence of a good job and a safe workplace.”

The spokesperson also said Ms. Scott “recently indicated the Ford government intends to keep its commitment to hold the minimum wage at $14 per hour on Jan. 1, 2019."

Sheila Block, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is hoping the scheduling changes go through as planned, saying the current system creates too much uncertainty for workers and their families.

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“Unpredictable scheduling means you don’t know what you are going to earn from one week to the next and it limits your ability to work at other jobs if you have to be on call,” Ms. Block says. “It creates a great deal of uncertainty for family life,” including people who need to arrange for childcare.

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