The legislation could have negatively impacted rural communities with voluntary firefighters
By Kaitlynn Anderson
Provincial government representatives have resolved some of the issues that rural Ontarians had with the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act 2017.
Rural residents worried that Bill 148 could interfere with the quality of emergency services and increase municipal budgets, as the proposed legislation would have required local governments to pay volunteer firefighters equally to regular firefighters.
Local governments also would have had to pay standby workers – including volunteer firefighters and public works employees responsible for snow removal –for three hours each day they are on call, regardless of whether they are required to perform their duties or not.
These changes could have led to budget increases of over $1 million in many municipalities, according to multiple sources.
In an August letter to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Ministry of Labour, Paul Shipway, CAO of the Municipality of Bayham, addressed these concerns.
The letter contained a Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
“Voluntary firefighters have very different work expectations than those of full-time fighters, as all voluntary firefighters know that they can be on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week when they take the job – in reality, this is the essence of the job,” the AMO stated in the July Submission.
“The volunteer firefighter is primarily motivated to be a part of a voluntary fire service as their civic duty to the community that they and their families live in, not for monetary compensation.”
While the province has around 11,000 full-time firefighters and 340 part-time firefighters, volunteer firefighters make up the majority of the force, representing over 19,000 employees, the AMO said.
As the average wage of a voluntary firefighter is $25 per hour at the scene, the on-call payment requirements of the legislation would have increased the cost of services by $25,375 per volunteer firefighter per year ($75 per day x 365 days per year).
“If a municipality had 200 volunteer firefighters, this proposal alone will cost $5,475,000 per year without any increase in service to the community,” the report said. “This cost is wildly prohibitive for small, rural and northern municipal governments and may likely force municipal councils to reduce the level of service they are able to provide to their communities.”
Thankfully, the government has addressed these concerns through proposed amendments to the Act, according to a recent letter from Bill Mauro, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, and Kevin Flynn, the Minister of Labour.
“We're proposing that Bill 148 be amended at the Standing Committee to add exemptions to the on-call pay and the 96 hours’ notice scheduling rules,” they said.
“Specifically, an employer would not be required to provide on-call pay to an employee who was on call, and not required to work, if the reason for the on-call shift was to ensure the continued delivery of essential public services, such as fire, utility and snow removal services.”
The Ministers also addressed amendments to an employee’s ability to refuse work.
“An employee’s right to refuse an employer’s request to work or be on call would not apply if the reason for the request is to ensure the continued delivery of essential public services.”
Bill 148 is currently under review.
Farms.com will continue to provide updates on the legislative process.
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