Toronto – September 5, 2018 – It only took just three months for the Ford Conservative government to start wreaking havoc in Ontario.
Premier Ford called the legislature back right after the June 7 election and immediately began his assault. He targeted the least well off by cancelling the basic income pilot project and by decreasing the planned benefit increases for those on social assistance. The 2015 sex education curriculum was abolished and replaced by the old 1998 curriculum, and a ‘snitch line’ was introduced to report on teachers still teaching the new curriculum. The work being done on a new Indigenous curriculum recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was halted. The democratic rights of voters in Toronto were trampled on when Ford changed the rules right in the middle of municipal elections – arbitrarily reducing the number of wards in Toronto from 47 to 25 and throwing the elections in disarray. These are just a few of the attacks already launched by Ford.
The labour movement is rightfully concerned about what could be coming next regarding the rights of workers in the province. Ford has announced that he will not proceed with the planned minimum wage increase to $15 that was scheduled to come into effect in 2019. The government has also announced that it will be reviewing the changes made by Bill 148 to the Labour Relations Act and Employment Standards Act. Ontario’s labour movement spent a lot of energy to achieve some modest improvements to these acts which are now threatened by the government’s review.
But what else is in store for labour? The last Conservative government in Ontario under Mike Harris was quick to wipe out gains made by workers, especially around their rights to join a union. Right-wing governments across North America have constantly looked for ways to weaken the ability of unions to bargain improvements for their members, and to restrict the ability of workers to organize.
We should anticipate the same from the Ford government.
The union advantage has proven to not only raise the wages, benefits and working conditions of union members but also for non-union workers in the community. Ultra-conservative governments have looked at legislative ways to hamstring a union’s ability to help workers bargain improvements with their employers. One of the tactics that has been used in the US are laws that allow workers to opt-out from paying union dues in a unionized workplace, but still allows them to receive all the benefits of the collective agreement. This type of ‘freeloader’ legislation weakens the union’s bargaining power and its ability to negotiate improvements in collective agreements; which in turns make the workers more inclined to not want to pay dues. It is not surprising that in states where this type of freeloader legislation has been introduced, workers have lower wages and fewer benefits than comparable workers in other states; the profits for business go up, and so do poverty rates.
Ford cannot be allowed to turn Ontario into Alabama. The fight for fairness in Ontario is on, with an assault on workers’ rights likely on the horizon from the Ford Conservative government.