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McGuinty backs bill banning owners from dipping into employee tips

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty answers questions during a press conference on May 29, 2012.


Restaurant and bar owners in Ontario would be banned from taking a portion of the tips earned by their employees, under a private member's bill endorsed by Premier Dalton McGuinty.

He has called on his Labour Minister to take a closer look at the bill introduced on Monday by New Democratic Party MPP Michael Prue. The bill would ensure that tips left by customers for servers go just to them and other staffers rather than to owners and managers.

"I think the NDP have put their finger on an important issue," Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Wednesday. "I think we've got a responsibility to take a very careful look at it."

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Most consumers assume they are providing a bit of extra income to people waiting on tables and have no idea that a portion of the tip they leave goes to the owner or manager, Mr. McGuinty said.

"I think that's the implicit understanding we have as consumers, and I think we should have a law that reflects that," he said.

Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey said she plans to meet with Mr. Prue to discuss his bill, which she says would have to be amended significantly. She said it is not clear whether the government will adopt the bill as its own or leave it as a private member's bill.

Ms. Jeffrey was initially cool to the idea, saying on Monday that it's okay for management to take a share of the tips as long as the practice is clearly spelled out when staff are hired. Besides, she added, good waiters and bartenders who don't like sharing tips with their employers can always find work elsewhere.

The government's change of heart follows widespread media coverage about the growing practice of so-called tip outs to management. Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris called the proposed ban a "no brainer."

"We all go to restaurants and we expect when we leave a tip that it goes to that person who's provided good customer service," he said.

Mr. Prue has been fighting for more than two years to ban tip outs. He first introduced the bill in 2010, but it died before the provincial election last October, even though it had the support of all three parties.

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"Now we have an opportunity, in this minority parliament, to see to it that restaurant and bar owners and managers be banned from taking their employees' tip money," Mr. Prue said. "We have a chance to finally give these workers the protection they so deserve."

His bill would amend the Employment Standards Act by adding one sentence prohibiting employers from taking any portion of an employee's tips or other gratuities.

Ms. Jeffrey said there needs to be language to address confusion in the hospitality industry between a tip out and tip sharing - where servers share a portion of their tips with fellow workers who assist them, such as bartenders and busboys.

But with the spring session of the legislature wrapping up tomorrow, nothing is expected to happen on the bill until the fall session begins.

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