TORONTO – Most people in Canada are gearing up for barbecue season and special 150th Canada Day celebrations. Millions will choose a glass of wine or a cocktail as part of that celebration. However, an imminent strike at Ontario’s ubiquitous Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) to protest precarious work conditions may throw a wrench into Canadians’ plans – and the 8,000 employees of LCBO.
The employees don’t yet know if they’ll be on strike, or who among them may retain their jobs once the dust settles. If management gets its way, according to Craig Hadley, a union rep and 20-year employee of the LCBO, there will be lay-offs.
Hadley is the representative for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). He tells the Precarious Work Chronicle that if there are staffing cutbacks, there is also an uncertainty as to whether or not workers will even be eligible for a full and fair severance.
This is because as employees of a Crown corporation, they are not covered by the Ontario Ministry of Labour Employee Standards Act. As a result, he says the valuable protections contained in the act that apply to most workers in Ontario do not apply to the 80,000 people working under the Collective Bargaining Act in Ontario for Crown corporations like LCBO. This is but one of the basic rights that negotiators are still fighting for in their current talks with management.
Recently, the Ontario Liberal government did major labour law reforms that were largely praised, but none of these affect Crown corporations.
They’re on a tight deadline. The union will be in a legal strike position on June 26. It’s a challenging negotiation, says Hadley, who was preparing for a week of tough contract talks.
“Legally, management is holding all the cards and they’re not shy about using the law to their full advantage,” he says.
Hadley describes himself as a mobilizer for OPSEU, but he’s also a 20-year veteran employee for the LCBO. His career in liquor retail began as a security guard, a job he held while studying at university. He quickly learned that the normal labour laws didn’t apply to LCBO employees after he called the labour board to ask why his employers were allowed to make him work 16 hour shifts without a break. As it turns out, it was perfectly legal. He quickly learned why.
“The Employment Standards Act is wonderful because it covers anyone in the private sector, but if you are a Crown employee, you’re not covered,” Craig explains. Instead, it’s the Crown Employees Collective Bargaining Act of 1993 that is the law that sets the labour standards for crowns.
“This legislation is really toothless,” Hadley continues. “It basically says that if you are a Crown employee, the only thing you are entitled to is notice of termination and you are entitled to severance, but it doesn’t speak to how much.”
Hadley says it also doesn’t speak to the amount of hours you can work in a day, or maximums or minimums of hours worked, or wages.
“So in essence, you could be paid five dollars an hour if your collective agreement says so.”
Hadley is frustrated when he considers even private sector examples.
“The LCBO has two hour shifts. McDonalds can’t do that. Wal-Mart can’t do that. But the LCBO can do it because we don’t have any protections.”
One of the biggest concerns the union rep has is over management’s use of the law regarding lay-offs and severance. Management is asking for the unlimited right to lay-off workers, he says, but if they get their way employees will not be entitled to receive a fair severance.
“Under the Employment Standards Act we would be entitled to two weeks pay for every year worked as severance, and in a private company, you could be looking at up to four to five weeks. We don’t get that. If they were to lay off someone, we would get one week’s pay for every year worked.”
Hadley says it gets worse.
Even if an LCBO employee was casual status for 15 years – “which is a good snapshot of a lot of our employees” – and then moved up to full-time, the language that management is suggesting would make it so that your time as a casual employee doesn’t count when it comes to calculating severance in the future.
According to the Globe and Mail, in a written response to the newspaper the Crown corporation has said that it needs flexibility to assign workers as it confronts a more competitive retail environment where an increasing number of private grocers can now sell beer, cider and wine.