Speaking to a room full of foodservice operators gathered at Restaurants Canada headquarters for a Members Forum event on Oct. 17, Ontario Labour Minister Laurie Scott said she understood the difficulties they have had to face since the province’s previous Liberal government enacted Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, in 2017.
“Restaurateurs such as yourself have had to make tough choices,” she said. “Either raise menu prices and pass costs onto your diners, cut staff and hours, or take losses when you already have razor thin profit margins.”
The average pre-tax profit margin for restaurants and other foodservice businesses in Ontario is only 3.1 per cent, the lowest in the country. So far this year, menu prices across the province have risen by 6.6 per cent, as foodservice operators have had to adjust to the sudden minimum wage increase to $14 per hour in January. This is the largest menu price increase the province has experienced since the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax in 1991.
The labour minister assured the crowd at the Restaurants Canada Members Forum event that new legislation was on its way to provide some relief.
“We know most of you are small business owners and your success is vital to the communities where you operate. We want all of you to succeed,” she said. “That’s what our goal is.”
Less than a week later, the provincial government unveiled Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act.
If passed by Ontario’s legislature, this bill will make a number of reforms to existing labour laws and regulations, and to upcoming changes scheduled to come into effect under Bill 148.
Below is a breakdown of what foodservice operators need to know about how the Making Ontario Open for Business Act will impact their operations.
Minimum Wage Will Remain at $14 per Hour
The amount of the first increase to the minimum wage that was mandated under Bill 148, combined with the speed with which it was implemented, was unprecedented in North America. As the Progressive Conservatives promised during the spring election campaign, they will be giving employers time to catch their breath by cancelling the additional increase that was scheduled to take place on January 1, 2019. Under Bill 47, the minimum wage will remain frozen at $14 per hour until October of 2020, giving businesses more time to adjust and prepare for future increases. From October 2020 onward, the minimum wage will be subject to annual increases tied to inflation (Restaurants Canada anticipates the next increase will be approximately 28 cents).
Burdensome Scheduling Provisions Will Be Repealed
Bill 47 will repeal the following scheduling provisions under Bill 148 that were supposed to come into force on January 1, 2019:
- The right to request changes to schedule or work location after an employee has been employed for at least three months.
- A required minimum of three hours’ pay for being on-call if the employee is available to work but is not called in to work, or works less than three hours.
- The right to refuse requests or demands to work or to be on-call on a day that an employee is not scheduled to work or to be on-call with less than 96 hours’ notice.
- A required three hours’ pay in the event of cancellation of a scheduled shift or an on-call shift within 48 hours before the shift was to begin.
The record-keeping requirements that relate to the scheduling provisions above will also be eliminated under Bill 47.
Given fluctuations in consumer demand, and other factors that make foodservice operations unpredictable, the provisions listed above would have been prohibitive and unworkable if rolled out as planned.
Related to this, Bill 47 will also modify the existing three-hour rule so that when an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day is required to report to work, but works less than three hours, the employee will be paid for the three hours at their regular rate (as opposed to being paid the minimum wage for the three hours, as was previously required).
Leave Days Are Changing, Vacation Entitlements Will Stay the Same
Under Bill 148, employers were required to provide all workers a minimum of 10 personal emergency leave days per year (eight unpaid and two paid). Bill 47 will amend this so that employers will only need to provide a minimum of eight unpaid days within the following categories: three sick days, two bereavement days, and three family emergency leave days. And once again, employers will be permitted to ask their employees for a doctor’s note when they take sick days off.
Current provisions for domestic and sexual violence leave will be maintained, which give an employee the right to take off up to 10 days and 15 weeks in a calendar year if they or their child has experienced or been threatened with domestic or sexual violence. The first five days of leave taken in a calendar year must be paid and the rest can be unpaid.
Employees will continue to receive three weeks of paid vacation after five years with the same employer.
Previous Formula for Calculating Public Holiday Pay Will Be Restored
Bill 148 introduced a new formula for calculating public holiday pay, which required employers to divide regular wages earned in the pay period before the public holiday by the number of days worked in that pay period. This made hiring casual and part-time workers more costly, and created a situation where full-time staff were not being fairly compensated. Bill 47 will bring back the previous public holiday pay formula.
Reverse Onus Will Be Repealed for Misclassification Disputes
Bill 47 will repeal the reverse onus that was placed on employers by Bill 148 to prove that an individual is not an employee in the case of a dispute. This requirement was a concern for many members of Restaurants Canada.
Equal Pay for Equal Work Requirement Will Be Repealed
Bill 148 required employers to pay part-time, casual, and temporary staff the same as full-time workers doing similar work. This added excessive administrative and labour costs that were particularly challenging for small businesses with minimal resources. Bill 47 will remove this requirement, but employers will still be required to pay workers of different sexes equally for similar work.
Employers Will Regain Previous Power to Protect Employee Privacy
Bill 47 will repeal the provisions under Bill 148 that required employers to hand over employee contact information to union organizers if as few as 20% of their workers show interest in joining a union. This had many employers and workers concerned about privacy.
Make Your Voice Heard
If you have any questions or concerns about the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, please do not hesitate to get in touch with James Rilett, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Central Canada, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-387-5649 ext. 4241.