Should New Brunswick Do What Ontario Did?

Since the economic recession of 2008, there has been a shift in workplaces across all sectors in Canada. We are seeing an increase in precarious work, with more part-time and casual workers than ever, and stagnant wages despite rising economic gains, even in New Brunswick[1].

Precarious work generally describes unstable work conditions and limited rights and protections in the workplace due to a rise in temporary, part-time, contracted or subcontracted work[2]. It is difficult to have a full picture of precarious work in Canada because of the nature of precarious work. However, the rise in part-time and temporary work in specific sectors suggests the rise of unstable work for many New Brunswickers. A new report by Chartered Professional Accountants Canada highlights a sharp rise in part-time and temporary work in educational services, information, culture and recreation, and accommodation and food services. The report observes that workers in these last two sectors make 12% and 30% less average dollars per hour than other Canadians[3]. There is also mention that younger Canadians, particularly women, and older Canadians are most affected by precarious work, and that education levels don’t protect you from unstable work. The CPA Chief Economist points out:

Among young Canadians, men and women of nearly all education levels have experienced a sizeable increase in the likelihood of part-time employment (…) [this supports] the notion that young people are obtaining higher education, but finding it increasingly difficult to find full-time work after graduation. (p. 11)

In New Brunswick, since 2008, there has been an increase in workers who could not find full-time work who looked for full-time work in the last month[4]. In 2016, New Brunswick communities also made up three out of the 10 economic regions with the lowest average hourly wages in Canada[5]. It is telling that over the last 10 years, in New Brunswick, there has been an increase in the proportion of minimum wage workers who are full-time employees, older workers, workers with job tenure over five years and workers with post-secondary education[6]. This means that New Brunswickers entering the workforce are faced with precarious work, and that there is no upward mobility for those who have always faced precarious work.

The rates of unionization are also falling in Canada, from 37.6% in 1981 to 28.8% in 2014, with a sharper decrease among men and young workers[7]. This indicates that less people have access to stable jobs that provide decent wages, good benefits, respectful working conditions and access to rights protection and advocacy. In 2016, in New Brunswick, 94% of workers earning minimum wage were not unionized[8].

New Brunswick labour laws have been sporadically updated throughout recent years. There has been an added statutory holiday on the third Sunday in February every year, the forthcoming introduction of a first contract arbitration legislation and the review of employment standards for young workers. However, the shifting labour and economic landscape and the aging of New Brunswick’s population creates an environment in which a complete review and reform of the laws that govern working people in New Brunswick is needed. Such an exercise was undertaken in 2015 in the province of Ontario, with the Changing Workplaces Review. This process was lead by special advisors C. Michael Mitchell, an experienced labour and employment lawyer, and The Honourable John C. Murray, a neutral, full-time arbitrator and mediator. The advisors reviewed the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 and produced a report. The report, containing 173 recommendations, led to the tabling and passing of Bill 148: Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, which greatly increased workers rights under these laws. The new bill raised the minimum wage to $15/hour, increased the amount of critical illness and parental leave, added a domestic violence leave, added rights for independent contractors, changed scheduling provisions to give more stability for workers, and makes it easier for workers to unionize.

New Brunswick workers deserve these improvements as much as Ontario workers do. It is high time that we undertake a review of New Brunswick’s Employment Standards Act, Industrial Relations Act, Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Civil Service Act. Such a review should be undertaken by independent, third party experts in labour law, chosen by a panel made up of equal parts employee and employer representatives, to ensure the rights of workers are upheld and enhanced and not clawed back. This thorough review process would be a great way to start tackling precarious work in our province.

Read other recommendations to improve New Brunswick in “Building a more equal society: a progressive election platform for New Brunswick in 2018“.

Gabrielle Ross-Marquette is a CUPE Research Representative for the Maritimes Regional Office.


[1] Statistics Canada (2017). Unionization rates falling,

[2] Government of New Brunswick (2017). New Brunswick Minimum Wage Factsheet, Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour,

[1] Government of New Brunswick (June 2017). RBC revises New Brunswick’s GDP growth projection upward,

[2] International Labour Organization (2011). ACTRAV Symposium on Precarious Work,–en/index.htm.

[3] Chartered Professional Accountants Canada (2018). Navigating Precarious Employment in Canada: Who is Really at Risk?,

[4] Statistics Canada (2018). CANSIM Table 282-0013,

[5] Statistics Canada (2017). The 10 economic regions with the lowest average full-time hourly wage,

[6] Government of New Brunswick (2017). New Brunswick Minimum Wage Factsheet, Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour,

[7] Statistics Canada (2017). Unionization rates falling,

[8] Government of New Brunswick (2017). New Brunswick Minimum Wage Factsheet, Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour,