Canadian suppliers 'hot' over proposed changes in labor regulations

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, says his members take issue with three changes proposed in Labor Minister Kevin Flynn's two-year review of Ontario workplaces. Photo credit: Arne Glassbourg

Canadian auto parts manufacturers say proposed changes to Ontario’s labor laws would make them less competitive and cost the province new auto-related investment.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, says his members take issue with three changes proposed in Labor Minister Kevin Flynn’s two-year review of Ontario workplaces.

The nearly 400-page Changing Workplaces Review document includes proposed revisions to the minimum wage, the union certification process and how temporary workers are treated.

The document suggests raising the minimum wage to C$15 per hour ($11 U.S.); allowing union certification through the total number of signed cards obtained rather than through a secret-ballot vote, which is currently the case; and giving more job security to temporary workers.

“Guys are mad. It’s created a reaction with a temperature I have yet to see during my three years on this job. The industry is hot,” Volpe said. “There’s no one screaming for labor reform in advanced manufacturing.”

He said all three proposals hurt the Canadian industry’s competitiveness.

Volpe said his industry already pays more than the minimum wage and that a higher minimum wage “shallows the pool of available workers for us” and might discourage people from accepting an auto job that requires shift work.

“They’re trying to solve a problem in Toronto that’s going to affect competitiveness in London, and Windsor and Ingersoll and all the towns in between,” he said.

Perception of risk

Volpe said an easier union certification process would make Ontario less competitive against right-to-work states in the United States.

“It may not lead to increased certification but it certainly leads to a perception by our competitors that it’s a real risk,” Volpe said. “The reality is, we have very good relationships with the workforce in Ontario.

Volpe said that, yes, there are temporary workers in the auto parts sector but that “there’s a difference between “temporary employment and precarious employment.”

“When an OEM has a hot product, or has decided an incentive on a vehicle is necessary and it spikes volumes beyond prediction, a supplier will bring people on to meet that just-in-time demand,” he said. “If auto suppliers are required to treat them as permanent, you eliminate the flexibility that is required.”

He said being forced to hire more full-time employees -- or pay more for temporary ones -- is a cost some manufacturers can’t absorb and it makes bidding uncompetitive.

In an op-ed piece in the Huffington Post Canada website, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said, “there is broad public support for the changes being proposed.” And in a letter to a letter to Flynn and Premier Kathleen Wynne, he said, “workers in Ontario have long suffered under woefully-out-of-date employment laws.”

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, he criticized auto-parts executives for opposing reforms.

“Here are people who are in the auto industry. You would think it would be in their best interests to have Ontarians being able to buy a car,” he said. “You can’t afford a car making minimum wage.”

The province hasn’t said when the document goes before cabinet, although Dias and Volpe both said it was to be presented this week.

You can reach Greg Layson at -- Follow Greg on Twitter: @GLaysonANC

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