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Province overrules city council

Jun 05, 2017

Council’s refusal to pay a living wage to all its employees was largely overruled last week by the Wynne government’s announced provincial labour reforms. The sharply increased minimum wage, longer holidays, and more personal days off will also make it less attractive for the city to privatize jobs like security at city hall and the water treatment plant.

In addition, the province’s revised growth rules that come into effect this summer appear to significantly challenge Hamilton’s sprawl plans. These include more stringent intensification requirements for greenfield development and the rejection – for the fourth time – of council attempts to shrink the Greenbelt.

Council had sought the removal of 104 hectares of tenderfruit lands from lower Stoney Creek and an additional 28 hectares in Waterdown. While nearly all these were rejected more than a year ago, council repeatedly endorsed removal of a four hectare Winona property at the corner of Fifty Road and Barton Street.

This was originally endorsed by the city nearly planning committee in June 2015 even before staff proposed how such removals would be identified. It was again included with the other proposed removals in December 2015. Subsequently, co-owner Sergio Manchia convinced councillors to try twice more on the Fifty Road and Barton piece, but the final mapping released last month continues to keep it in the Greenbelt.  

The city also objected to the provincial proposal to increase the minimum density on greenfield development to eighty residents per hectare, and the requirement to locate at least 60 percent of new growth inside the existing developed part of the city. Again, the final plan includes both new anti-sprawl measures with partial implementation by 2022 and full ones by 2031.

The greenfield density rule undermines city council’s determination to expand the urban boundary around Elfrida southward and eastward from the intersection of Rymal Road and Upper Centennial Parkway. The provincial government removed that future expansion from the city’s official plan in 2014 and council responded by joining an Ontario Municipal Board appeal launched by the Elfrida-area developers.

The Wynne government’s decision to raise the minimum wage to $14 an hour next January and by another dollar the year after still doesn’t get low-income workers up to the current $15.85 necessary to get out of poverty in Hamilton, but it will significantly bolster the take-home pay of 500 city workers left behind by council’s rejection of higher wages for low-wage part-timers. More than a third of these are library staff.

Spending $923,000 to provide a living wage to all city employees by July 2018 was pushed unsuccessfully by downtown councillors Mathew Green, Jason Farr and Aidan Johnson during this year’s budget deliberations. That would have added about four dollars to the average property tax bill. Even when they amended the proposal to phase in the increases over four years, the three were only able to attract the additional support of one councillor (Terry Whitehead).

Besides the jump in minimum wages, there are more than a dozen other provincial reforms such as: more paid vacations; equal hourly pay for temporary and part-timers; ten days a year of personal emergency leave; guaranteed pay when some shifts are cancelled; easier union organizing; and stronger rules against misclassifying workers as ‘independent contractors’. These changes may help dissuade the city from trying to reduce employee costs by privatizing municipal work as is currently done for security at city hall and the water treatment plant.

The provincial labour law reforms will have far greater impact on the private sector where the vast majority of low-paid Ontario workers are employed. Even before the changes, all full-time city staff earned more than $14.85 an hour and 86 percent of part-time and temporary city employees were also at or above that living wage standard.

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