Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs regarding Bill 148: Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017

YWCA Toronto
July 20, 2017women sitting together in a row

YWCA Toronto is the largest multi-service women’s organization in Canada. We have a long and proud history of providing direct services and tackling systemic issues to help women escape violence, move out of poverty, and access safe affordable housing. We also work with young girls - building their leadership and critical thinking skills. Our Association serves over 13,700 people annually in 32 programs across Toronto.

Helping women build strong economic futures is a key focus of our vision, mission and strategic priorities. We also have a long history of partnership with the provincial government to deliver employment and training programs, including with our Women’s Employment Centres in Scarborough and Etobicoke; our Women in the Skilled Trades Programs and Moving On To Success, an employment program for women who have experienced violence and trauma. We also advocate at all levels of government for strategies to curb the growth of precarious employment and to promote fair employment standards.

As an employer, YWCA Toronto is committed to advancing decent work and liveable wages. Our staff are unionized with CUPE. We offer a comprehensive benefits and retirement plan, and we are committed to the principles of the Ontario Non-profit Network’s decent work movement. That said, the non-profit community has been challenged by a shift to project-based funding and we are bearing a huge responsibility and weight for operational costs. Government funding structures need to be reformed in order to allow us to support decent work and liveable wages in our sector.

Our Association supports The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 (Bill 148) because women in our programs have told us what they need: permanent, full-time jobs with benefits and workplace protections. This submission focuses on two key measures related to Bill 148 that will benefit women in the labour market:

• A $15 provincial minimum wage
• Paid leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence

A $15 minimum wage

We support increasing the provincial minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019.

Across all of our programs, women tell us that they are working for low wages in part-time, temporary or contract jobs without employment benefits, workplace protection or the right to form, and keep, a union. Most have no guaranteed hours of work, no benefits and no sick time. They also tell us that finding affordable child care when they need it is next to impossible. Job insecurity and a broken social safety net keep women trapped in poverty.

In consultations with program participants, we have spoken to highly skilled women who are unable to find full-time, permanent employment in their fields. Newcomer women tell us that employers often require "Canadian experience", even though women may have experience in another country. This job market discrimination traps women in low-wage, precarious jobs. We have also spoken to our tenants – women who have been able to secure safe, affordable housing with YWCA Toronto – who are still falling behind because they are unable to secure full-time permanent employment. With the status quo, too many women are falling behind.

The data builds an even stronger case for action. A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) entitled Ontario Needs a Raise found that women will benefit most from a $15 minimum wage. They write: “The minimum wage increase means that 27% of women and 19% of men will receive a raise. The gendered nature of work explains much of this. Women are more likely to work part-time, they are more likely to care for children and parents and they are more likely to work in low wage industries.”

Where gender intersects with race, citizenship and other identities, the barriers increase. The referenced CCPA study found that 42% of recent immigrant women would benefit from a $15 minimum wage. Other studies have found that racialized women are over-represented in the 20 lowest-paid occupations. And a United Way Toronto and York Region study found that racialized women in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area experienced an increase of almost 20 per cent in precarious employment between 2011 and 2014.

Further, Indigenous organizations have long been calling for increased opportunities for training and employment to enable Indigenous women to secure good jobs with benefits.
A 2016 report from the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board points to economic gaps in income, education and training between Canada's Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.

While we recognize that there is some opposition to this legislation, we urge Committee members to remain steadfast in your support for a $15 minimum wage. The bulk of evidence shows that this move is good for the economy, and it is critically important for lifting women out of poverty and for ensuring fairness in Ontario’s workplaces. We strongly disagree with those who state otherwise.

Paid leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence

We recommend that an amendment be made to include the provisions of Bill 26, the Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act, 2016 put forward by MPP Peggy Sattler.

Currently, Bill 148 proposes only two days of paid personal emergency leave which can be accessed for domestic and sexual violence. We feel this is insufficient. Bill 26 allows for up to 10 days of paid leave to obtain specific services related to the violence, such as seeing a doctor, talking to a counsellor, finding a new place to live, and meeting with lawyers or police. As you are aware, this legislation passed Second Reading with all-party support.

YWCA Toronto was an early supporter of Bill 26 because we strongly believe that women who have experienced domestic violence or sexual violence must be able to get the support they need to recover and deal with the violence without jeopardizing their jobs.

During consultations with women in our programs who have experienced violence, legal support is often raised as a common theme. Many women want to build stability and safety for themselves and their children and this can take on many forms. It can mean protection, which often comes through criminal court proceedings; it can mean financial security, which often comes through family court proceedings for custody and child support proceedings; and it can mean stability as immigrants through protecting their legal status in Canada. These legal processes often require women to be available for legal procedures during regular work hours. Women often can arrive at court at 10:00 am and it is possible that their case will not go forward until well into the day. Also, courts generally do not operate in the evenings. In this context, providing up to 10 days of paid leave from work is critically important as it will help to enable women to enforce their legal rights, find safety and stability.

Looking across Canada, employees in Manitoba are entitled to 10 days of leave, five of which are paid. They are also entitled to up to 17 weeks of continuous leave. A private member's bill was introduced in Saskatchewan in March that would allow workers access to the same leave as in Manitoba. Similar legislation has been proposed in British Columbia. By moving forward with this amendment, Ontario has an opportunity to lead, and build on the excellent work of the government’s ground-breaking It’s Never Okay Action Plan on Sexual Violence and Harassment.

In conclusion, women in Toronto and across this province are waiting to see the Standing Committee advance poverty reduction and strengthen our labour laws. As Premier Kathleen Wynne said during a recent visit to YWCA Toronto, “Government exists to make society as fair as it can be.” We wholeheartedly agree. In this spirit, we are calling on you to reject suggestions that will make work more precarious, and instead act to curb the growth of precarious work, promote fair employment practices and continue to lead in supporting victims/survivors of violence. Now is the time for action.

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