Last fall, the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy Committee, with the support of the College of Bishops, put forward a motion calling on the provincial government to support Ontario’s most vulnerable workers by passing legislation to implement the following measures:
1) 10 days of employer-paid sick leave per year for all workers, without requiring workers to submit doctor’s notes, with an additional 14 days’ sick leave during public health emergencies.
2) Require employers to give workers a minimum number of hours per week (based on the job) and to give reasonable advance notice of work schedules.
3) Require employers to provide equal pay and benefits to all workers doing the same work, whether they are part-time, temporary, or contract workers, and regardless of immigration status.
Parishes were provided with a backgrounder and links for further reading, as well as a video featuring members of the Social Justice and Advocacy and Poverty Reduction committees responding to questions that had been gathered from Anglicans around the diocese. Parishes were also given the flexibility to amend the motion as they saw fit.
By early May, 65 parishes had communicated to the Social Justice and Advocacy consultant, Elin Goulden, that they had passed the motion in some form. The vast majority of these, 53 out of 65, either passed the motion substantially as written or amended it only to strengthen it. Several of these parishes took the opportunity to review their own employment policies regarding parish staff to ensure they were in line with what the vestry motion was asking. Other parishes modified the motion somewhat, several suggesting that smaller businesses be partially or wholly exempted from or compensated for offering paid sick leave.
The motion generated lively debate in many parishes. Several parishes reported that members of their congregation with personal experience of workplace precarity spoke about how lack of these workplace protections had affected them. A parishioner at Church of the Atonement, Alderwood spoke of the lack of consistent work scheduling as having prevented her from taking on the role of churchwarden when invited to do so. At St. Theodore of Canterbury, a parishioner who is a human resources professional spoke in favour of the motion, noting that taking care of one’s employees was simply good business practice.
There were also parishes who wrote in to say that they were deferring the motion to a special vestry so they could give adequate time to consider the motion. Several of those have yet to report back. And one parish, while opting not to put the motion before its vestry, nevertheless commended the motion to parishioners, inviting them to write to their local representative about the issue and to make it an important issue in conversations with parties or candidates in the provincial election, and committed to looking at how they as a parish could move toward more equitable treatment of their own employees.
A review of the diocese’s incumbent’s returns in early May indicated that as many as 120 parishes, or over 60 per cent of the parishes in the diocese, had passed this year’s motion. While the incumbent’s return does not indicate whether a parish has amended the motion, this figure points to a broad base of support across the diocese for improved conditions for all workers in Ontario.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fault lines in precarious work, the cracks through which the most vulnerable frontline workers — who are overwhelmingly women, members of racialized communities or newcomers — end up falling through,” says Ms. Goulden. “Bringing about changes to provincial employment legislation to protect these most vulnerable workers would help strengthen our workforce and our communities.”
As Ontarians go to the polls on June 2 to choose their next provincial government, Anglicans are encouraged to read the provincial election resource, “Opening the Door to a Just Conversation,” available on the Social Justice and Advocacy page of the diocese’s website, www.toronto.anglican.ca, and to ask questions of their local candidates around their parties’ plans for justice for workers, among other issues.
“Let Jesus’ command for us to love our neighbours as ourselves inform these conversations and help us discern wisely for the welfare of all,” adds Ms. Goulden.