OPINION: Employers can’t claim a monopoly on risk

Originally published in the Chronicle Herald.

by Jason Edwards

Re: the Aug. 17 opinion piece, “Walk a mile in an employer’s shoes,” by Andy MacGregor, a self-described “second-generation business owner.”

Mr. MacGregor’s piece is intended to undermine the recent report produced for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives by Acadia sociologist Rebecca Casey. The report compares employment standards in Nova Scotia to those of other provinces and comes to the unsurprising conclusion that we fall far behind.

Mr. MacGregor’s Counterpoint does not achieve its objective. His stunning “woe is me” attitude does nothing to garner sympathy for the employing class. Instead, his piece exposes the entitlement of employers who want to tighten employment standards for their own benefit, to the detriment of everyone else.

There is nothing in the piece to refute the simple fact that Nova Scotia’s employment standards are grossly inadequate. The minimum wage is far too low; there is inadequate vacation time; our work week is too long (overtime begins after 48 hours); and there is little protection from harassment and bullying at work.

Mr. MacGregor suggests that employment standards simply don’t work in primary industries, such as fishing and forestry. Here, Mr. MacGregor’s lack of familiarity with the Labour Standards Code is on full display. As the report aptly points out, there are numerous exclusions from employment standards — many for employees in the very industries he mentions.

Furthermore, the simple fact that someone works in an industry with irregular hours of operation is not an excuse for them to be condemned to working under Gilded Age-level regulation. Everyone deserves dignity and fairness at work, wherever and whenever they are employed.

Mr. MacGregor asks to see “the math” on how anyone could afford an expensive fishing boat or harvester working only 40-hour weeks. The math is not complicated. People who own their own vessels or equipment are employers; their income is generated by their and their employees’ labour.

Mr. MacGregor suggests that business owners suffer from insecurity of income and should be rewarded for undertaking risk. The reality is that most Nova Scotians get by on their employment income. As the report points out, for many employees, their employment can be terminated by their employer at any time, with only a few weeks’ notice. Most people also do not have enough savings to get by for very long without income. Business owners cannot claim a monopoly on risk.

Not so subtly, Mr. MacGregor suggests that because the author of the report may be from Ontario, she can’t possibly understand Nova Scotia’s economy and labour market. This ad hominem attack is not only unhelpful, it belies Mr. MacGregor’s inability to identify inaccuracies in the report. Even if the author is from Ontario, which I do not know, that province, like every other, engages in agriculture and primary resource extraction.

It’s long been recognized that the path forward for growing our economy and filling labour market gaps is to attract inter- and extra-provincial immigrants. Dismissing an idea because its source is a “come from away” is not the way to do that. We are better than that rhetoric.

Any reasonable person reading Mr. MacGregor’s piece would conclude that some employers simply want their operations subsidized with low wages and inadequate regulation. It is not the job of the massive majority of Nova Scotians — workers — to subsidize the incomes of the employing class.

Nova Scotia should follow other provinces — including B.C., Ontario and the federal jurisdiction — and undergo a full review of the province’s employment standards. As the report so clearly shows, we have fallen far behind.

Jason Edwards is a labour and employment lawyer and organizer of the Halifax Workers’ Action Centre

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