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Metro talks: Ontario labour minister on precarious work, minimum wage and degrees that don't get jobs

Metro sat down with Kevin Flynn as the province pushes ahead with Bill 148, designed to address concerns around temporary work and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2019.

Ontario Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn dropped by on Thursday.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Ontario Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn dropped by on Thursday.

Thousands of workers across the GTA face seemingly endless temp contracts, pay that doesn't keep up with the rising cost of living and degrees that don't match the job market.

Metro sat down with Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn as the province pushes ahead with Bill 148, designed to address concerns around temporary work and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2019.

On precarious work

It's a huge problem. A 2013 United Way and McMaster University study found more than half of workers in the GTA and Hamilton are working temporary, contract or part-time positions.

Flynn acknowledged that things are a lot tougher for young people today, especially in Toronto where housing costs are so high.

"It's still possible to get a good permanent job with a pension and good benefits; it's just becoming increasingly rare," he said.

Bill 148 is supposed to improve precarious work. But critics say there are still loopholes, like the fact companies do not have full responsibility when temporary workers are killed on the job. This creates a financial incentive for companies to use temp agencies, which have increased by 20 per cent in Ontario over the past decade, according to statistics obtained in a recent Torstar News Service investigation.

Flynn called the rise in temp agencies "alarming" but said the government is not out to get them. Instead, they want to remove financial incentives for companies to use them. Full injury liability could end up in the final version of the bill.

On a mismatch between degrees and the job market

A recent report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development says the most popular Canadian degrees are business, administration and law, but all the jobs are in engineering and information technology.

Flynn said the government "can do better" on this but stressed there's some responsibility for both students and parents to do their research before spending big bucks on a degree with low job prospects.

Stereotypes that devalue skilled trades and apprenticeships — two areas where there are still good, full-time permanent jobs — also need to be scrapped, he said.

On the minimum-wage hike

The province announced in May the minimum wage would rise from $11.40 an hour to $14 next year and $15 in 2019.

Critics, including the province's own independent fiscal watchdog, warn this could cost thousands of jobs as it will lead to higher payroll expenses for businesses.

Flynn said the bottom line is minimum wage is now no longer "beer money" and isn't enough to support families.

"This isn't money that goes into trust funds or offshore accounts or anything like that; this is money that gets spent the same week," he said.

He said the government is working on a plan to alleviate pressure on business.

"I think you'll see job loss in some places; I think you'll see job increases in others," he added.

On automation

Flynn said it's challenging to plan when technology is changing so quickly and "jobs are being invented every day that simply didn't exist before."

He doesn't think automation is always a "job killer" — but it can be. Parents and students need to be realistic when planning for future careers.

"Every kid thinks there's a job out there as a video-game designer and they're kind of disappointed when they graduate that there isn't a job out there," he said.

We also asked Flynn some of your questions. His replies have been condensed and edited:

Navi, former temp agency worker from Brampton

Q: In some of my assignments, I know people who have been working for years in the same company making the same wage. What are you doing to make sure companies cannot keep us working through agencies for long periods of time? I feel they should hire us directly.

A: What we’ve done is brought in some very specific restrictions that are part of the bill right now, a) for the pay itself, and also for the amount of time that you can be in that position as well. The two issues are very clearly addressed.

Parminder, Brampton temp agency worker for over 10 years

Q: How are you going to make sure that we get the same pay as our co-workers where we are assigned? The employer will just say that the jobs are different to avoid paying us the same.

A: We’ll have very firm criteria. a) You’ve got the ability as an employee to ask why you’re not earning the same as a person next to you. So that’s protected. It would be clearly defined in the bill when it comes to temporary help specifically. b) We want to set those criteria as firmly as we possibly can; we don’t want to see it abused.

Anna, grocery story worker

Q: I am really happy about the increase to $15. What if my employer doesn’t pay the new minimum wage?

A: That’s just completely illegal. That would be a complete contravention. You can’t just choose to pay somebody less. Employers can’t treat you that way.

Lydia, Ottawa, works two server jobs and one contract job:

Q: Why aren’t employers required to give schedules in advance and why did the government give employers more loopholes to avoid new shift rules?

A: A lot of employers came forward to us and said there’s good reasons why we need more flexibility. That was kind of weather-dependent industries, places like golf courses. And what they tell me is the employees want more flexibility with that. It's just the way that discussion has taken is trying to build flexibility for employers but within the framework of decency. It was felt that four days was something that was reasonable and was doable. And wouldn’t really alter the practice of most employees. If there’s a feeling that more people share the opinion that that’s not the right number, we’re open to amendments on this.

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