By Sue Tiffin
Published Nov. 14 2017
Bracing for changes to provincial legislation that could have a substantial implication on small municipalities in Ontario Highlands East council discussed Bill 148 – Fair Workplaces Better Jobs which Mayor Dave Burton referred to as “foolish Bill 148.”
“We really need to stand up and get clarification because the cost implications could be huge” said Shannon Hunter CAO at a council meeting held on Nov. 1.
The controversial Bill 148 has been in the news for increases it brings to the minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 per hour beginning in 2019.
“The increase in the minimum wage has a huge implication for us because we’ve always we’ve been a very proactive municipality supporting summer students” said Hunter.
“But when you see the number on paper it is quite substantial.”
Highlands East municipality hires more than a dozen students to cover roles at the information centre landfill sites parks and recreation department septic inspection program and swimming pool.
Assuming the same number of students are hired increases in wage next year not including increases to vacation CPP and EI would come to $11347.
But it also brings changes to the workplace including equal pay for part-time workers and increases to on-call pay for firefighters and other emergency workers that smaller municipalities across Ontario are saying would be detrimental.
“This is the area where I said we could have huge problems because we’re required to move snow” said Hunter.
“If the legislation is left the way it reads all plow operators could potentially be on call every weekend. Minimum of four hours paid in a 24-hour period just taking the 20 weeks is $13266.”
That amount does not include the increase in paid on-call hours for managers and supervisors.
The township’s current collective agreement provides four hours accumulated time per day for each day on call.
“If this is required for managers firefighters and staff to be paid on call the cost could be substantial” reads Hunter’s report.
She notes there are still “unknowns” within the bill such as whether municipal staff that carry a phone would be required to be paid “on call” if they are expected to answer a call and if volunteer firefighters would be included in the on call requirement.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) filed a submission last week to the province’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.
“Municipal governments have property taxes as their primary revenue source and we are not permitted to run operating deficits which the other two orders of government can” reads the submission. “Bill 148 if not amended will force municipal governments to either greatly increase property taxes reduce local services or have to do both.”
The submission notes that municipalities would struggle without an exemption for volunteer firefighters from on-call provisions – they would need to be paid for three hours while on call even if a fire isn’t taking place.
“If this full exemption is not provided it will force over at least 100 municipal governments to reconsider what fire services will be provided reads the submission.
Councillor Cec Ryall questioned if all of Ontario’s municipalities were joining together to question the changes. Burton suggested they were.
“I would hope it would be” he said. “I would think it would be affecting us all; it’s huge.”
The bill has passed a second reading and is now at the amendment stage.
According to AMO the Minister of Labour “has assured AMO and delegates that the unintended consequences in the drafting as relates to municipal governments will be re-examined.”
– With files from the Minden Times