New Ontario rules boost on-call costs

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New labour rules in Ontario will make it difficult for small contractors to keep employees on call for night-time and weekend emergencies.

The Ontario Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which took effect Jan. 1, will require employers to pay workers three hours wages at their regular pay rate for every 24-hour period that they are on call.

Brad Cross, owner of Cross Heating & Air Conditioning in Listowel, Ont., estimates that will cost his company an additional $35,000 per year. “We don’t receive a lot of calls after hours; we may only get one a week,” he added.

The change is just one of many in the new legislation. While the media focus has been on an increased minimum wage, there are numerous other changes that affect small businesses, noted Warren Heeley, president of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI).

“This is a major revamp of the Employment Standards Act and there are a whole lot of changes in there… There are now 13 provisions dealing with time off, with issues like being on call, (etc.), where in the past there were just two or three.”

Cross has typically operated with each technician on call for one week per month. He has looked at different options to comply with the new legislation and none are particularly appealing. As owner, he can do the on-call. “I’m not sure that’s fair to owners. I did on-call for 15 years straight.”

The second option is to not offer after hours service; the third is to pay the extra and try to schedule more work for after hours. “The bigger contractors would be happy with this because they run shiftwork, so it’s easy for them to pick up those customers.”

HRAI ran an information session for its members on Dec. 18. The government has gone through a long process to come up with the changes, noted Heeley. “Trying to get them to back up on any of this is going to be really difficult.”
Employment standards issues are not typically something that HRAI would be involved in, he added, but this sort of radical change is unusual. “It’s been a real eye opener over the past few months.”

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