Ministry of Labour gives with one hand, takes from the other

McGuinty uses slight of hand announcement to further his austerity agenda: announces hiring of 18 ESA officers one day; lays off 19 days later.

logo for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)Toronto (02 Oct. 2012) -  An announcement last week by the Ministry of Labour that it intends to strengthen the Employment Standards Act (ESA) by hiring 18 additional enforcement officers was quietly followed days later by a decision to lay off 19 staff doing investigative work.

On September 17, the Ministry announced with considerable media fanfare that it was hiring the additional officers in a bid to “protect” vulnerable workers from predatory employers who fail to meet minimum standards of wages, hours of work, paid holidays and other regulations under the Act.

Three days later, on Sept. 20, 19 employment standards officers were told they were out of a job, as part of the government's austerity agenda. Seventeen of the 19 officers have 20 or more years of service with the provincial government.

“This move has all the hallmarks of how the McGuinty government goes about misguiding the public and distorting the truth about the future of public services in Ontario,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “The Ministry said this was a ‘proactive’ move on its part to protect vulnerable workers; I say it doesn’t move the yardsticks one inch forward in protecting the workplace rights of employees.”

The duties of employment standards officers include investigating complaints from workers, many of whom are new Canadians and who come from minority groups, when their employers fail to meet the requirements of the Act. Each of the affected officers facing layoffs carries an average of 25 investigations at any one time. Under ESA regulations, they are required to clear a case within 40 days or pass the file to a more senior officer.

“When you get past all the bafflegab coming out of the Minister’s office what we really see is how the government is eliminating that first level of investigation by punting cases to other officers who are already overworked,” said Thomas. “No matter how the Ministry wants to spin this, the issue is that these changes do nothing to strengthen working conditions for tens of thousands of marginalized workers who already bear the cost of unethical and unscrupulous employers.”

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