Province’s new wage laws won’t apply to students under 18, film and TV workers
The province of Ontario has quietly passed exemptions to its Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs law, removing firefighters, film and TV industry workers, and students under the age of 18 from certain aspects of the new legislation.
Some experts contend the exemptions could open the door for employers to exploit certain workers, particularly those under the age of 18, by forcing them to work for far less than their peers.
The legislation, which came into effect on Jan. 1, raised the minimum wage in Ontario to $14 an hour and enacted strict rules on Ontario employers, requiring them to pay workers equally regardless of whether they were part-time or seasonal staff. The legislation also specified a lower minimum wage, $13.15, for teenagers under the age of 18.
Under the act, a seasonal worker who may be acting as a store manager only during the peak Christmas shopping period would be paid the same amount as the store’s full-time manager who may have been working at the store for the past 20 years.
The new exemptions, however, open the door to a different scenario: An employer could pay a student $13.15 even though they may be working with colleagues, over the age of 18, who make much more money for doing the exact same job.
It isn’t just a matter of two people making a different minimum wage, critics say. The exemptions raise the prospect of two people doing the same job, but not being entitled to the same pay.
“The fact that someone is a student, for instance, versus someone who is not but is doing the same work — it would be difficult to justify why the pay is going to be different,” says Gustavo Indart, senior lecturer in the department of economics and the department of political science at the University of Toronto.
“One of the reasons for these regulations is for fairness, and if someone is doing the same work, they should be paid the same amount. If you can have a worker of similar skills and pay a lower wage, then they (employers) will try to do so. There is no justification for that. There is no economic justification for that.”
The equal pay provision has become an issue for many industries, which argue that it cannot be uniformly placed on all sectors of the province’s economy due to differing work conditions.
A spokesman for the government said exemptions to the new labour law are in part based on “productivity” and “merit.”
“Students who earn minimum wage have received a pay increase of $2.25, to $13.15 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2018. The wage will rise to $14.10 in 2019. A student minimum wage has long been in place to encourage employers to hire young Ontarians into their first professional positions, and who generally have less work experience and more limited availability than workers who are older than 18,” said Michael Speers, a spokesman for Ontario Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn in an email.
“When it comes to equal pay for equal work, exemptions to this provisions are also based, among other things, on productivity … and merit.”
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario had asked to be exempted, arguing the legislation could cost municipalities millions of dollars annually in volunteer firefighter salary increases, additional costs that would be passed on to municipal taxpayers across the province.
Ontario’s 24 colleges are all in a similar predicament, since they rely on an army of contract instructors who are paid substantially less than full-time professors. The equal-pay provisions in Bill 148 could cost Algonquin between $20 million and $29 million a year, according to budget documents. That represents between 5.3 and 7.7 per cent of the college’s annual expenditures of $377 million.
The province has yet to address the situation at the province’s colleges. However, the newly added exemptions for firefighters, students under the age of 18, and workers in the province’s film and TV industry will take effect April 1.
The province has been a supporter of Ontario’s media industry over the years. The provincially run Ontario Media Development Corp. offers tax credits of as much as 35 per cent of all labour costs to film companies that want to make movies and TV shows in the province. That benefit can be even higher if companies are willing to film outside the Greater Toronto Area.
Bill Skolnik, chief executive officer at the Directors Guild of Canada, said the exemption is one that the industry had prior to the introduction of the legislation. He said, the film and TV industry asked that government continue to exempt its workers from equal pay for equal work provisions because it is unionized and has negotiated its own rates. He also said, the industry pays part time, or daily workers, more per hour than it does full time workers.
“Part time people get paid more than full time people,” he said. “The whole purpose behind the legislation was so that employers couldn’t use part time people who normally get paid less than full time people, to replace full time people.”
Skolnik argued that it wouldn’t be feasible for the industry to raise the wages of full time workers to match those paid to part time, or contract employees. He said the higher wages are necessary to act as an incentive to last-minute staffing needs for the film and TV industry.
It is estimated there are around 35,000 workers in Ontario’s film and TV industry.
But, Julie Kwiecinski, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s director of provincial affairs for Ontario, said the “optics” of the exemptions are “very poor.”
Kwiecinski said the CFIB represents several companies in the film and TV space. “This is equal pay for work of equal value and this is one of those issues. It’s passing strange in light of everything we are hearing. It’s a huge, hot issue. There are a lot of other industries that need help in this province, so why help this one in particular?”
Kwiecinski has been bombarded with complaints from medium- and small businesses in the province who are struggling to absorb the increased wage costs while continuing to operate a viable business.
“Small business owners are not multimillionaires. They aren’t conglomerates rolling in the dough,” she said. “(Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne)’s attacking main street. She’s attacking the middle class. When prices go up, everybody pays that. The minimum wage earners pay them, the middle class pays them, everybody.”