Christine Elliott, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership candidate and MPP for Whitby-Oshawa, says that, if elected, she would scrap the government’s 48-hour-per-week limit on voluntary overtime, allowing employees to seek up to 60 hours of work per week and reinstate the policies outlined in the Employment Standards Act, 2000.
“(Premier) Dalton McGuinty’s 48-hour-per-week limit on working hours hurts working families, especially in these challenging economic times,” says Elliott. “It creates unnecessary hardships for those who rely on precious overtime hours while struggling to make ends meet without taking on a second job.”
“The current cap on voluntary overtime also denies employers the flexibility they need to meet employee demand for working hours, especially at a time when the last thing small businesses need is more red tape.
“I would allow employees to work at a pace that is right for them, without encountering interference from government and red tape. Employers should be able to accommodate their business’ needs and their employees’ requests without fear of exceeding an arbitrary, politically-motivated cap on hours.”
The current restriction on voluntary working hours was introduced by the McGuinty government in 2004. It amended the Employment Standards Act, 2000 under which a 60-hour voluntary working week was permitted in many non-unionized workplaces. Union employees have long had the right to negotiate minimum and maximum working hours independently of this restriction.
Under McGuinty’s amendment, which took effect March 1, 2005, employers must file an application with the Ministry of Labour if an employee wants to work more than an average of 48 hours per week in a given two-week period.
“Employees should not have to take second jobs to earn enough income for their families simply because their employers are forbidden (from meeting) demands for work.
“As Ontario struggles with a slower economy, we need to make things easier for working families and small business owners, not harder.”
Elliot has also expressed concerns over the way Ontario is treated with regards to Employment Insurance (EI). She says she feels that if the federal government will not reform EI to be more responsive to the current needs of Ontarians, the province should consider withdrawing from the program.
“The federal EI program is unfair to Ontario,” she said. “Ontarians who pay into EI during good times should get benefits when they need them, just like they were promised. EI reform is vital to help Ontarians make ends meet and get back on their feet as quickly as possible. I will fight for Ontario’s fair share.”
“Ideally, the federal government will quickly reform EI to better meet Ontario’s needs. But, if this is not possible, then the province can consider opting out of EI. We can shape our own future by designing and implementing a replacement EI system that will better meet the needs of working Ontarians.
“Ontario’s working families deserve the peace of mind that a better-functioning EI system would create, particularly in these difficult times.”
Here are some of the ways Elliott feels the existing federal Employment Insurance program fails Ontarians:
■ EI allocates benefits and eligibility to workers in high unemployment regions, which are disproportionately outside Ontario, while charging all workers equal premiums;
■ EI subsidizes seasonal work concentrated outside of Ontario at the expense of workers in sectors fundamental to Ontario’s economy; and
■ EI creates stress for beneficiaries because the program’s complex administration often leads to delays in payment processing.
“Ontarians know all about the unfairness of the current EI system. I hope they will join me in standing up for Ontario by demanding EI is made more responsive to the needs of our province’s workers. If reform (at the federal level) is not possible, then we must rise to the challenge and build a made-in-Ontario EI solution,” said Elliott, who is the wife of federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty.
And, federal Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, fresh from his coronation in Vancouver at last weekend’s party convention, is also proposing changes to EI.
Ignatieff was quoted in the media on Monday recommending a “temporary” minimum standard of 360 hours of work to draw EI benefits. Currently, the average worker needs to have worked between 420 and 700 hours – depending on where in the country they live and the regional unemployment rates – before they can qualify for EI.
“We’ve got 54 different regional rates of eligibility across the country,” he said, adding that a standard rate across the country would be in the national interest.
“It strikes Canadians as unfair that if you pay into the thing, your eligibility depends on where you live.”