就業法例是強壯與健康社會的基石，也是一個健全又繁榮經濟體制的基礎。它們保證付出勞力的人獲最低報酬，確保沒有人陷於不人道工作環境或遭僱主無理對待。因為加拿大擁有就業標準的法例，僱員才能在工作時間內和換更之間享有休息時段的權利、限制每天和每周的工時、假期工作獲額外薪酬和每年獲兩周有薪假期的福利。總括而言，就業標準法保護著工人─ 特別是非工會工人 ─ 抵禦勞工市場傾向於工作過多而又工資過低的自然趨勢。
不過，近年來就業標準法對弱勢勞工的保障每況愈下。部分僱主趁各級政府對勞工市場的規管採取放任態度而違反就業法例有所增加。由於缺乏政府監管與執法，弱勢工人遭 剝削超時工作的薪酬、法定假期薪金、有薪假期和其他形式的補償 ─ 這些勞工本來應得的數額每年達數以億元計，造成一種「縱容商界、不利勞工」的經濟體制。
首先，執行不力，意味著不斷違反就業法的小撮僱主獲得競爭優勢，對佔大多數的奉公守法僱主不公平，最終逼使遵守法律的僱主為了繼續經營而削減工資和工時。其 次，執行不力，意味著弱勢工人需更加倚賴社會福利彌補他們被尅扣的薪金，對有限的政府資源造成不必的額外重擔。這些政府資源本來可用於比津貼勞工薪酬更 有意義的項目上。
Open for business, closed for workers: Employment standards, the enforcement deficit, and vulnerable workers in Canada
Article adapted from Daniel Tucker-Simmons, Broadbent Institute
Employment laws are a cornerstone of a strong, healthy society, as well as a robust, thriving economy. They guarantee that everyone who works earns a minimum wage for their labour, and that nobody is subjected to inhumane working conditions or horrible treatment from their employer. It is because of employment standards that workers in Canada have the right to rest periods during and between shifts, to maximum hours each day and week, to extra pay for working on public holidays, and to a couple of weeks of paid vacation every year. In essence, employment standards are there to shield workers – especially non-union workers – against the natural tendency of the labour market towards overwork and underpay.
These minimum standards are especially crucial for communities of vulnerable workers, including women, new immigrants, racialized people, youth, First Nations people, and persons with disabilities. These vulnerable workers disproportionately work in part-time, low-paid, temporary, and other types of precarious work. Vulnerable workers often rely on employment standards as their only protection against degrading and dehumanizing working conditions.
In recent years, however, employment standards have been failing vulnerable workers. Across Canada, employment laws are being violated by some employers that have been increasingly taking advantage of governments’ laissez-faire approach to labour market regulation. Since there is an absence of government-enforcement, vulnerable workers are being denied overtime, statutory holiday pay, vacation pay, and other forms of compensation – which adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The result is an economy that is ‘open for business’ but closed for workers.
The consequences have been dire. In 2009-2010, for example, Ontario employers withheld over $62 million from their employees, many of them vulnerable workers. The lack of employment standards enforcement doesn’t just affect individuals; it is equally harmful for Canadian society as a whole.
Firstly, lack of enforcement means that the minority of employers who repeatedly violate employment laws gain an unfair competitive advantage over the majority of employers who comply. This ultimately pressures compliant employers to reduce compensation and cut hours to stay in the business. Secondly, lack of enforcement means that vulnerable workers must rely more and more on social programs to make up for their unpaid wages. This places an unnecessary additional burden on scarce government resources that could be better spent in ways other than subsidizing payrolls.
Governments need to do more to ensure employment standards are respected. Governments’ recent emphasis on self-enforcement is not entirely a bad idea. But to promote genuine self-enforcement, governments need to recognize that the power dynamic between employee and employer can only be more equal in a unionized context. Given the opportunity, strong unions will help promote respect for employment standards not only for their own members, but also for non-unionized workers.
Employment standards are critical for today’s workers. Let us work to build a better future for all workers.